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Thread: The importance of Roman roads

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    The importance of Roman roads

    Anyone interested in doing a peer review? I am posting a link to a paper I am writing for my Junior (BS) level ancient civilizations class. No offense to my class mates but they are not in WAB's league. The work cited is still a work in progress but all the basic info is there so no plagiarism. Just a matter of taking the information and formatting everything.

    I am arguing that one of the keys to understanding Rome, what it was, and its legacy today is understanding the impact of the roads. I am arguing their military, cultural and commercial importance both as they served Rome, and as they handicapped the later Empire by serving as invasion avenues and disease vectors.

    Jason's draft.docx

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    Senior Contributor Mihais's Avatar
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    I think you covered most important aspects.Roman state policy,supporting the building and maintenance of roads is not unique in the ancient world,but its scale and quality of the roads is.You could as well add bridges here.
    You can see on Trajan's Column,legionaries building both castra and roads during the campaign.So the intent of conquering(as well as securing the LOC's) a new province is signaled by this effort of connecting the empire's infrastructure to that of the future province(during the Dacian campaigns it also saved them from a disaster).There is a direct link between the Roman power and the building of infrastructure.

    p.s Just a petty observation-it's Claudius Gothicus not Gothica.

    pps You could also argue that Roman armies moving in the wilderness,outside the infrastructure network led to Teutoberg disaster.Also the failure to build a proper road network led to Hadrian abandoning the newly conquered provinces of Assyria and Mesopotamia.Repeated failures of Roman arms in the East can also be linked to the collapse of their LOC's,due to both distances and lack of roads.
    Last edited by Mihais; 08 Nov 09, at 10:42.
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    Seems pretty good to me.
    If space allows maybe you could put together two examples one for the military and another for the cultural on how the roads affected events.
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    thanks guys

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mihais View Post
    You could also argue that Roman armies moving in the wilderness,outside the infrastructure network led to Teutoberg disaster.A
    I did some quick digging and...

    The mountains had an uneven surface broken by ravines, and the trees grew close together and very high. Hence the Romans, even before the enemy assailed them, were having a hard time of it felling trees, building roads, and bridging places that required it.
    [Cassius Dio, Roman History, 56.20.1]

    Cassius Dio ? Book*56

    it seems the Legions were hit in the midst of building roads as they advanced. This makes sense because they thought they were in friendly territory and thus the guard would have been light with most hands to axe and spade not gladius and scutum.

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    Senior Contributor Mihais's Avatar
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    While Teutoberg was a lot more than simply the lack of roads,fact is the Romans had nowhere to fall back.What they were doing there was most likely clearing a way for the wagons.Hardly a proper LOC.While nobody could have probably saved Varus from himself,a disaster could have been avoided if he had a proper garrisoned fortification one day of march behind and a good road to link him from that garrison.See also the quick reaction of both the armies of Asprenas and Tiberius.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mihais View Post
    While Teutoberg was a lot more than simply the lack of roads,fact is the Romans had nowhere to fall back.What they were doing there was most likely clearing a way for the wagons.Hardly a proper LOC.While nobody could have probably saved Varus from himself,a disaster could have been avoided if he had a proper garrisoned fortification one day of march behind and a good road to link him from that garrison.See also the quick reaction of both the armies of Asprenas and Tiberius.
    Yes, but to get that LOC, you have to build roads. Varus thought he was in safe territory and so the guard was probably light with most men hard at work. We don't really know how strung out the legions were the sources conflict. But from at least one of the battlefields, they have found evidence of the legions, cavalry, admin troops, slingers, and camp followers in one location. They also found the remains of a earthen and timber wall. While most accounts say the Germans built this, given the concentration of so many different types of persons in one location, it might have been roman construction as an attmept to fortify and make a last stand.

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    Senior Contributor Mihais's Avatar
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    LacusCurtius ? Tacitus, Annals ? Book*I Chapters*55?71

    See mostly paragraphs 63-68,Arminius' attack on Caecina's army.A larger and more prepared and better led Roman force barely escaped.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mihais View Post
    LacusCurtius ? Tacitus, Annals ? Book*I Chapters*55?71

    See mostly paragraphs 63-68,Arminius' attack on Caecina's army.A larger and more prepared and better led Roman force barely escaped.
    The passages you direct me to again show the Germans attacking while the Legions were busily at work on building. It seems to be a pattern not of drawing he Romans into wild country but attacking them before they can tame the country side.

    Also we don't know how poor a commander Varus actually was. We are reasonably sure he ignored the advice of Segestes. But the only accounts from the battle itself are from non-military or lower ranked persons as none of the command staff survived. Of the post battle accounts by the various Roman historians, no two exactly agree.

    Nor would I be so hasty to declare that Germanicus was a better commander based solely on the annuals. Knowing the fate of Varus and his army he very nearly managed a recreation of it. As later actions show, leaving the Germans alone let those tribes rapidly devolve into intercine quarrels that kept them out of Rome's hair for centuries.

    We don't know enough about the battle itself to make those kind of judgements. We don't know if the legiosn were destroyed piece meal, and there are as yet undiscovered fields full of bones and artifacts, if the one field discovered was a last stand, or the whole of the battle. Based on the amount of coins and other valuables found there, and the scarcity of military equipment (enough to identify several different unit types) I think the field of Gold was a last stand where doomed men shoved their wealth into the ground and then turned to meet their fate.

    This is backed up in turn by the nature of the artifacts found besides coins. sling bullets (light troops), a silver cavalry mask (cavalry), a clasp identifying a member of the First Cohort (admin and engineers), cooking utensils, and ladies items. This looks a lot like the fastest/lightest troops, REMFs, specialist troops and civilians tryign to fort up while the Infantry tried to stem the flood.

    We don't know how long the infantry lasted, or even how many enemy they faced, but they lasted long enough for all this different troop types and civilians to come together in some semblance of organization.

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    "All roads lead to Rome".

    They were originally built to facilitate the movement of troops throughout the Empire, hench the saying above.

    During their conquests they realised Countries had a lot to offer the empire i.e. Great Britain had silver and wool which the Romans sent back to Rome for jewellery and clothing. As time progressed roads allowed for people to travel far quicker, holidays etc.
    Last edited by Kernow; 09 Nov 09, at 00:12. Reason: Spelling Mistake.

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    Senior Contributor Mihais's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    The passages you direct me to again show the Germans attacking while the Legions were busily at work on building. It seems to be a pattern not of drawing he Romans into wild country but attacking them before they can tame the country side.
    Your paper is on the role of roads.Here you have 2 Roman armies getting attacked while trying to build theirs(although these are mere paths for the wagons,which is proved by the fact that although he follows a known path,Caecina must build his own road for the supply train).You also get quite a vivid account on how Caecina thought about the said road,in contrast with the German warriors marching on forrest trails to intercept them.As long as the Romans could not move at ease,they were not in control of the territory.

    The Romans considered this battle an attempt to repeat Teutoberg.The Germans probably considered the same,although we don't know for real what Arminius actually said.But the fact that Tacitus put those words in his mouth is enough evidence.What I consider to be relevant are the ability of the Germans to fight well on their chosen terrain,the fact that Roman armies were prone to panic,even if not surprised.Reading what happened to Caecina and how close the outcome was,the fate of Varus doesn't look like a big surprise.You probably noticed that in the final German war council Arminius argues to let the Romans go(and ambush them further away),while the other chiefs want to attack, to gain a bigger loot.I dare to launch the hypothesis that they expected a light resistance precisely because they experienced light resistance (from the REMF's and camp followers)while assaulting the camp at Teutoberg.Sadly,not enough sources survived so all we have are educated(more or less) opinions and interpretations.

    You've probably noticed that in the beginning of the chapter,at the start of the campaign Germanicus detaches a force to build the roads,while the mobile troops rush forward.For better or worse,Rome and roads are one.
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    He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. Luke 22:36

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mihais View Post
    Your paper is on the role of roads.
    Yup and your ealrier insight got Tetoburger added.

    Here you have 2 Roman armies getting attacked while trying to build theirs.
    This is where I think we take different takes. You seem to argue that where the roads aren't, Rome loses for lack of supply. I am saying that at least for Varus, the legions did not know they were in hostile territory and so where building the roads to support themselves and were attacked, probably with a good many men out of armor and working with axe and spade.

    the fact that Roman armies were prone to panic,even if not surprised.Reading what happened to Caecina and how close the outcome was,the fate of Varus doesn't look like a big surprise.
    I would counsel against making that type of an assumption. soft spined armies don't overrun good portions of the known world. The Roman soldier proved himself time and again.



    [/quote]I dare to launch the hypothesis that they expected a light resistance precisely because they experienced light resistance (from the REMF's and camp followers)while assaulting the camp at Teutoberg.Sadly,not enough sources survived so all we have are educated(more or less) opinions and interpretations.[/quote]

    What about the other 2-3 legions and aux troops they had to get through first? It sounds more like Germans got gold fever and it clouded their judgement. Arminius was not just a German, but a Roman Equite. He had spent considerable time among the Romans and knew that fighting them on a feild of thier picking, on their terms would be a disaster. The other chiefs probalby only had the experience of Tetoburger Wald and smaller skirmishes.

    You've probably noticed that in the beginning of the chapter,at the start of the campaign Germanicus detaches a force to build the roads,while the mobile troops rush forward.For better or worse,Rome and roads are one.
    Yup, and both campaigns against the Germans show that the Legion is hardly the mythic war machine if its caught with a significant portion of its strength busy building roads

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    Quote Originally Posted by zraver View Post
    Anyone interested in doing a peer review? I am posting a link to a paper I am writing for my Junior (BS) level ancient civilizations class. No offense to my class mates but they are not in WAB's league.
    I'm nowhere near being a peer to you (what with my grand total of a high school diploma to brag about) but that little statement just made my chest puff out in pride
    TwentyFiveFortyFive

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    Quote Originally Posted by TopHatter View Post
    I'm nowhere near being a peer to you (what with my grand total of a high school diploma to brag about) but that little statement just made my chest puff out in pride
    Its just honesty, the level of discussion here is awesome and so very wide ranging and so often backed up by documentation. Its my home on the web for a reason.

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    final version for submission. Last minute tinkering gave me the missing link besides Mihais' directing me to the Tetoburger Wald. I was hopefully able to wrap it all together in a narrative the is accurate and more importantly makes the association between the roads and our modern world to today.

    Jason's draft.docx

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