Roman Roads and Pollution

A Roman street in PompeiiI’ve blogged recently about a collection of Roman coins, but let’s examine some of the flip side of Roman economy: roads and pollution. In this post I want to present you with several resources about the far-reaching effects of the far-reaching effects of the empire, from unusual angles.

First, Roman Roads are generally considered the epitome of Roman engineering and a great enabler in their conquest and hold over their vast empire. There are plenty of articles on the next about the subject, but here are links to three interesting ones:

  • First, a more general article about Roman roads. Besides the general information on construction, what makes it interesting is the highlight on the Roman obsession about building in straight lines (as conceivably the shortest, if not easiest, route) and what they had to do to compensate: bridges, viaducts, & tunnels.
    https://www.ancient.eu/article/758/roman-roads/
  • All this focus on straight lines required knowing what to build where. It’s pretty amazing to think how they were able to determine the best course, over hills and gullies, without our modern satellite-enabled understanding of cartography. Rather than focus on construction, here’s an article that deals with the tools and technology used by Roman engineers to survey the land prior to construction: https://explorable.com/roman-roads
  • Lastly, an article on the Via Egnatia, the road that connected Rome with Constantinople. This road was the most important route between the east and west parts of the Empire, and has seen more than its fair share of travellers along the millennia, from merchants to armies. There are some interesting photos about its current remains: https://www.thevintagenews.com/2017/10/25/via-egnatia-the-ancient-roman-road-that-connected-rome-with-constantinople-2/

All this talk about building an empire and moving troops and goods from one side of the world to the other, leads us to the other aspect of this post – the side-effects. Together with a booming population came production – and pollution.

By digging into millennia of ice deposits in Greenland, archaeologists get a surprisingly accurate way to trace the economic impact of wars, plagues, and imperial expansion in Classical Europe. You can read the full article here:

https://arstechnica.com/science/2018/05/greenland-ice-cores-track-roman-lead-pollution-in-year-by-year-detail/

Interestingly, one of the key deposits is lead. This metal was a major driver in the Roman economy, and features heavily in In Numina. Of course, Felix wasn’t so much interested in construction as in the more sinister usages of lead sheets, but you’d have to read the book to find out about that. (Also, he’s definitely not responsible for any large-scale lead deposits that made their way into the atmosphere; at least not in our world…)


I hope you found those articles interesting. These are the sort of articles my curious and wandering mind comes across as I build up the research material for the Felix novels. While it may not find it’s way directly to the pages, it helps me hold a better picture of the world and the forces that shape it in my mind. And that leads to a richer tapestry in my storytelling.

What are your research topics?

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