International Roads

Mar 2018
728
UK
#1
Some ancient civilizations were famous for building major empire spanning road networks, such as the Romans or Achaemenids. Are there any such instances of major roads being built from one state to another? I can think of trade and communication being a major incentive, but it does make one far more vulnerable militarily. I imagine the logistics of constructing and maintaining it (who is reponsible for what, how do you coordinate it, etc...) are not negligible either.

I was thinking that there could be instances of Greek city states doing this? Specially with the constantly shifting network of alliances and suzerainty meaning that a domestic road one day would become an international one the next.

A related side point is whether roads (apart from the major Roman/Persian highways) were state-sponsored, or grew naturally from trade routes and were under the care of more low-level, local administration.
 
Likes: JoanOfArc007

Chlodio

Ad Honorem
Aug 2016
3,933
Dispargum
#2
The Alaska-Canada Highway built during WW2 to connect the 48 states to Alaska crossed Western Canada. I think it was mostly built with American money, since the US would benefit from the road more than the Canadians would, at least at that time. The purpose of that road was military, to defend Alaska from possible Japanese invasion.

There's also the Chunnel.
 
Mar 2018
728
UK
#3
The Alaska-Canada Highway built during WW2 to connect the 48 states to Alaska crossed Western Canada. I think it was mostly built with American money, since the US would benefit from the road more than the Canadians would, at least at that time. The purpose of that road was military, to defend Alaska from possible Japanese invasion.

There's also the Chunnel.
This being the ancient history sub-forum, I was implicitly talking about that period of history. Now days international roads are almost the nom: in Europe, just about every motorway is an international one.
 
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
#5
Some ancient civilizations were famous for building major empire spanning road networks, such as the Romans or Achaemenids. Are there any such instances of major roads being built from one state to another? I can think of trade and communication being a major incentive, but it does make one far more vulnerable militarily. I imagine the logistics of constructing and maintaining it (who is reponsible for what, how do you coordinate it, etc...) are not negligible either.

I was thinking that there could be instances of Greek city states doing this? Specially with the constantly shifting network of alliances and suzerainty meaning that a domestic road one day would become an international one the next.

A related side point is whether roads (apart from the major Roman/Persian highways) were state-sponsored, or grew naturally from trade routes and were under the care of more low-level, local administration.
There is a whole debate about warfare in the Archaic period, and I'm honestly not terribly convinced borders and suzerainty changed that much. Sure, it happened, but most of this seems to be something that happened after the Persian and Peloponessian wars and in later eras - that is, increasingly at a time when city states were either not the dominant political unit in the Greek world (especially not the dominant autonomous political unit) or very atypical city states like Athens and Sparta had a dominant role.

With this being said, I am 100% positive there must have been interlinking roads between Greek citystates in the Classical and Archaic period (in fact I've seen such roads, or at least computer renditions of them on ArcMap...). They probably were not "international" though, and I really think we should be clear what it is we're talking about. Most Greek city states were quite small (think 5000 citizens): such a city state is not going to have the resources to maintain an "international road" in the sense we use the term, like an ancient equivalent of the E4 or whatever. Most of these roads were probably dirt roads, and probably just came into being because a bunch of farmers banded together on two sides of the border and felt that "hey, why not make a road? You're not total **** neighbours, and we both hate the other bastards on the other side of the mountain more so let's trade some for now." I am unconviced there were any systematic attempts at such road building during the archaic and classical periods, and I don't see why there should have been? It's not like the distances involved are that great, almost all Greek city states are close to the sea, and none of them ever had a vast Empire to maintain, except Athens - but that Empire was essentially naval.

Maybe Sparta had a system of roads in the Peloponesse during the archaic/classical eras. I wouldn't know, but that would make sense given it's status as a hegemon and the geography of the area, I think it would be the best candidate for somewhere in Greece to find an "international road" during this period, probably running up to Corinth at that time - just as a guess.

All this being said, I can't emphasise the smallness of archaic and classical Greece enough. Athens is probably the third largest city state by area if I don't misremember (Ober, 2015) and you can practically walk from the southern tip of Attica to the northern border next to Boeotia in what... two days? Should be 80 km or something like that if we count roughly 40 to Martahon from Athens proper. The circumstances for creating a vast road network like the Romans did seem to me to be lacking.
 
Last edited:
Mar 2018
728
UK
#6
There is a whole debate about warfare in the Archaic period, and I'm honestly not terribly convinced borders and suzerainty changed that much. Sure, it happened, but most of this seems to be something that happened after the Persian and Peloponessian wars and in later eras - that is, increasingly at a time when city states were either not the dominant political unit in the Greek world (especially not the dominant autonomous political unit) or very atypical city states like Athens and Sparta had a dominant role.

With this being said, I am 100% positive there must have been interlinking roads between Greek citystates in the Classical and Archaic period (in fact I've seen such roads, or at least computer renditions of them on ArcMap...). They probably were not "international" though, and I really think we should be clear what it is we're talking about. Most Greek city states were quite small (think 5000 citizens): such a city state is not going to have the resources to maintain an "international road" in the sense we use the term, like an ancient equivalent of the E4 or whatever. Most of these roads were probably dirt roads, and probably just came into being because a bunch of farmers banded together on two sides of the border and felt that "hey, why not make a road? You're not total **** neighbours, and we both hate the other bastards on the other side of the mountain more so let's trade some for now." I am unconviced there were any systematic attempts at such road building during the archaic and classical periods, and I don't see why there should have been? It's not like the distances involved are that great, almost all Greek city states are close to the sea, and none of them ever had a vast Empire to maintain, except Athens - but that Empire was essentially naval.

Maybe Sparta had a system of roads in the Peloponesse during the archaic/classical eras. I wouldn't know, but that would make sense given it's status as a hegemon and the geography of the area, I think it would be the best candidate for somewhere in Greece to find an "international road" during this period, probably running up to Corinth at that time - just as a guess.

All this being said, I can't emphasise the smallness of archaic and classical Greece enough. Athens is probably the third largest city state by area if I don't misremember (Ober, 2015) and you can practically walk from the southern tip of Attica to the northern border next to Boeotia in what... two days? Should be 80 km or something like that if we count roughly 40 to Martahon from Athens proper. The circumstances for creating a vast road network like the Romans did seem to me to be lacking.
Thanks for the answer! I guess that Greece is not the place to be looking for this then.

What about the silk road as @Naomasa298 suggested? Or was that also more a chain of dirt roads than anything centrally planned. Or perhaps between Neo-Assyria and Neo-Babylon? Presumably there were some sort of road networks there before the Persian royal roads?
 

Naomasa298

Forum Staff
Apr 2010
33,712
T'Republic of Yorkshire
#7
The Silk Road comprised several major highways, including the Persian Royal Road and the road networks in China and Greece, but I don't know if any of the paved sections crossed international boundaries.
 
Last edited:
Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
#8
The Silk Road comprised several major highways, including the Persian Royal Road and the road networks om Cjoma and Greece, but I don't know if any of the paved sections crossed international boundaries.
Thanks for the answer! I guess that Greece is not the place to be looking for this then.

What about the silk road as @Naomasa298 suggested? Or was that also more a chain of dirt roads than anything centrally planned. Or perhaps between Neo-Assyria and Neo-Babylon? Presumably there were some sort of road networks there before the Persian royal roads?
It would be difficult to say, I guess. I mean I'm not that familiar with either Assyria or Babylon but how fixed can those boundaries have been? Isn't it more the case that the borders of Empires were generally places that were more or less in flux, unless they were fortified - essentially marking out the maximum extent of that power's influence.

My guess is that all of these factors basically argue against the existence of truly international roads before the modern era, but this is - to emphasize - just speculation.
 
Likes: Futurist
Jan 2015
2,902
MD, USA
#9
I'm not sure I even understand the question--there were roads all over, from at least the Bronze Age. Because there was ALWAYS trade, and trade needs roads (as well as ships!). Heck, flint and obsidian were traded pretty widely in the Stone Age! Naturally most trade was pretty local, but we know some commodities went farther. It was most likely shortish "steps", a few city-states, or between coastal ports and the interior of whatever region. So it was no problem to find roads that crossed from one state or capital to the next, across rivers or through mountain passes, etc.

As I understand it, there was no specific "Silk Road", it was rather a long chain of individual trade links that spanned Asia.

The threat of invasion was irrelevant compared to the need for commerce. Plus, most states would be thinking of a road as a way to attack their neighbors! Sure, some of them built forts or walls to guard certain passes, so they *were* thinking defensively at least sometimes. But the fear of attack from the outside didn't mean cutting themselves off from the prosperity of imports and exports.

Matthew
 
Likes: Futurist
#10
On the matter of fear of attack vs need for commerce, it's notable that when the Roman emperor Galerius defeated Narseh of Persia in 298, the resulting Treaty of Nisibis determined, among other things, that the Mesopotamian fortress town of Nisibis, transferred to the control of Rome, would be the spot of Roman-Persian transactions (Peter the Patrician, fragm. 202 (Banchich)). This was the one clause of the treaty that Narseh objected to (in vain), and, as Dignas and Winter have argued (2007: Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals, pp. 29-32, 125-130), it speaks to the fundamentally defensive war aims of the Tetrarchs on the eastern frontier. So here we appear to have evidence for the tension between the needs of commerce vs perhaps the fear of spies and more broadly the needs of defence.