International Roads

Mar 2018
896
UK
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
I think it depends on what you mean by road. One meaning of road is in the "silk road" sense, that is, almost metaphorical, talking about a link between places. Another meaning is in "dirt roads" or something similar; basic things that arise naturally from many travellers taking the same route. But I was thinking more in terms of "engineered roads", things deliberately built by some sort of centralised power. Typically with foundations and paving, such as those built by the Roman legions.

The first two must have had international branches since the dawn of history and beyond. But what about the "engineered road" type? Did the Senate ever commission the construction of a road from the empire to somewhere outside of it? What about the Persian Royal roads?
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,011
MD, USA
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.
Sure, but there's no reason to think that a border fort like that would inhibit the flow of legitimate commercial traffic. It's just there to stop raiders and armies.

Matthew
 
Oct 2018
1,863
Sydney
Sure, but there's no reason to think that a border fort like that would inhibit the flow of legitimate commercial traffic. It's just there to stop raiders and armies.

Matthew
It's not so much the fact of the border fort that's significant, but that the clause appears to suggest that Nisibis alone would be the point of transactions, which has been interpreted as applying to trade. This could have meant the geographical limiting of trade opportunities.
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,011
MD, USA
I think it depends on what you mean by road. One meaning of road is in the "silk road" sense, that is, almost metaphorical, talking about a link between places. Another meaning is in "dirt roads" or something similar; basic things that arise naturally from many travellers taking the same route. But I was thinking more in terms of "engineered roads", things deliberately built by some sort of centralised power. Typically with foundations and paving, such as those built by the Roman legions.

The first two must have had international branches since the dawn of history and beyond. But what about the "engineered road" type? Did the Senate ever commission the construction of a road from the empire to somewhere outside of it? What about the Persian Royal roads?
Okay, good questions! My first reaction is that it would be very unusual for any state or empire to construct good roads OUTside their borders. They might have interest in keeping a local bridge or ford or pass open, but if no one else owned that area they would simply expand their border to include it. De facto, if not an intentional "imperialistic" move. Otherwise, land outside a border belonged to someone else, and it would be *their* responsibility to build or upgrade or maintain any road beyond a typical cleared track. Probably a lot of maintenance was just done by whomever lived nearby and used the road. I know in medieval Saxon England, road maintenance was one duty of the local fyrd or militia--you were more likely to be called up for public works than for warfare. Mind you, I don't think anyone would build a *new* road to the border of their territory and then just stop, making a "road to nowhere". It would be a matter of simply improving established pathways, so a better road might just peter out into smaller one.

I'm sure the actual construction methods varied widely! Not sure how common actual cobbled or flagstone pavements were before the Romans went bonkers with them. Though I have also heard that a LOT of Roman roads farther out in the Empire were not the sophisticated layered construction with nice flat pavement, but more likely gravel. (Better to march on, for starters!) We have Roman letters talking about how crappy the roads in Britain got during the winter, so yeah, gravel or packed dirt. Archeologists have found lengths of preserved wood paving in a few places. Lots of other roads wouldn't be much more than cleared tracks, perfectly adequate for walking or mules or carts (aside from the mudholes!).

Matthew
 
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Apr 2018
979
Upland, Sweden
Thanks for the answer! I guess that Greece is not the place to be looking for this then.
It just struck me that I might not have given the whole story for the Greek world.

While what I said is probably true in mainland Greece, I think Magna Graecia pre-Roman conquest could be one of the best candidates in the Med to find an ancient equivalent to an International Road. That would actually make quite a lot of sense, as these cities were richer but more concentrated along the coast - some kind of cooperation in road building with the more rural local Italians and the Roman territories to the north doesn't seem to implausible.

Another possible candidate might be the Greek colonies around the black sea. Most greeks were concentrated along the coast, in or near cities, with the interior being populated largely by non-Greeks. It would make sense for the greeks to sponsor roads inland, in what is really not their territory in order to make commerce flow better. How such roads were maintained and what standards they were... myeh. Different question.

All this is just pure speculation though, especially the situation in Southern Italy is probably quite difficult archaeologically as any eventual roads that might have existed now probably have roman roads on top of them. Another thing to remember is that an ancient road could in many ways probably treated as a "sunk cost" - unlike modern concrete/ asphalt high ways... traffic was quite a lot sparser and less tearing in those days.



I wonder if there is any ancient treaty of some kind touching upon these issues. I don't know of any, but it would be fun to find out!
 
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Ichon

Ad Honorem
Mar 2013
3,729
Egypt is perhaps the first place that leaps to my mind- most trade was conducted via waterways but Egypt did build some other systems in territories it did not totally control to facilitate both trade and movement of its own army in future offensive campaigns that went thru that territory to areas more frequently contested and valuable.
 

dreamregent

Ad Honorem
Feb 2013
4,379
Coastal Florida
Egypt is perhaps the first place that leaps to my mind- most trade was conducted via waterways but Egypt did build some other systems in territories it did not totally control to facilitate both trade and movement of its own army in future offensive campaigns that went thru that territory to areas more frequently contested and valuable.
e.g. the Way of Horus linking Egypt and Canaan...