BMCR 2005.05.45

The Roads of the Romans. Translated by Steven Sartarelli

, Roads of the Romans. Los Angeles: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003. 132 pages : color illustrations ; 25 cm. ISBN 9780892367320 $29.95.

The book written by Romolo Augusto Staccioli, professor of Etruscan Studies and Italian Antiquities at the University of Rome La Sapienza, is lavishly illustrated with excellent photos which constitute its major and quite independent part. To my mind, the names of the photographers who have successfully achieved their objectives should be indicated on the cover of the book together with the author of the text.

The text, in fact an essay of less than 40 pages, consists of five chapters:

1. The Streets of the City

2. The Roads Outside the City

3. The Consular Roads

4. The Great Roads of the Empire

5. The Most Durable of Monuments (this provides some information on the configuration of the roads, their surfaces, technologies of construction, bridges, viaducts, tunnels, linguistic vestiges of Latin terms in the later periods).

There are two maps (of Italy and Europe, pp. 52-53, 84-85) in the middle of the book, a bibliographical note (p. 128), which lists 10 very important studies on Roman roads, and an index (pp. 129-132) at the end.

While I was reading The Roads of the Romans, I wondered what its purpose was and who its audience might be. It is obviously not an academic text since it is lacking in the necessary analysis and apparatus. To be a guide for tourists (Staccioli has recently issued several guides to Rome and the history of ancient Rome) it is rather fragmentary and devoid of practical information. If it is compiled for scholarly purposes its text needs vivid discussions and examples taken from sources of the functioning of the roads and everyday life along them. In the first chapter, “The Streets of the City”, where Staccioli very briefly addresses the problems of garbage, safety, lighting along the roads, narrowness of the streets in Rome, services responsible for the paving and upkeep of the streets, the traffic, business life along the streets, crowding, confusion and noise, he gives some textual illustrations from Tacitus, Juvenal, Suetonius, Martial, Horace, Seneca and Roman laws. Unfortunately, he has not arranged the entire book in this way. His essay is filled with enumeration of stations and places through which Roman roads go. Thus the reading of the book sometimes turns into an exercise reminiscent of scholarly dealing with some chapters of Xenophon’s Anabasis or medieval itineraries: “In the south of Italy, also at the behest of Consul Popilius Laenas in 132 B.C., a second and more important Via Popilia was opened, which became the major road axis on the Tyrrhenian side of the southern peninsula. It set out from Capua (and therefore from the Via Appia), and, after passing through Nola, Eburum (Eboli), the Vallo di Diano, and Forum Popilii (modern Polla) (FIGURE 58), reached the elevated Crati valley. From there it proceeded on through Cosentia (Cosenza) and Hipponium (Vibo Valenza) before coming to an end at Rhegium (Reggio) after a total of 320 miles (473 km)” (p. 76) (see also pp. 34-51 passim). Could this very useful information be clearly presented in the form of a map or maps with the legend indicating the dates of construction and names of the officials? The maps in the book show only the major roads and places along them.

I would regard The Roads of the Romans as an album where the text is just an auxiliary part and which can be used for its illustrative material or as a reference book.