On my walks, I cannot help but to peruse the legion of building projects that are going up all around me. I watch them materialized from hole in the ground to monster home. There are for example three monoliths rising from the clay a hop and a skip away from my house. Per typical urban planning, they tore down one home and are cramming in three on the same lot. The new homes loom larger than life. I cannot help but suspect their building methods, especially because the buildings seem to spring up in the course of a day. You can walk in the morning, and by evening see something like walls or roof materialize before your eyes. Although things look good brand spanking new, I am not sure they will last.
In the midst of all this, I read an article on the construction of Roman roads. Remember the saying that was once true, “All roads lead to Rome”. Although I have walked on the Appian way and otherwise heard about Roman roads, I’ve never seen anyone break down the construction of the roads in such detail. It makes you realize the Romans doing this figured out all the angles in advance. Somebody gave this a lot of thought so that the work would be done well. The proof of that, is that Roman roads still exist, and often lay beneath modern highways and biways.
We might think of Roman methods as primitive. They did not have the kind of digging and grading machines we have now, neither the access to materials. They had to go local, and someone built these road under the hot sun with manpower, methodically and slowly, hoping that the work would matter on into the future. It’s the invisible elephant of any building project - the question of longevity.
Built to last meant the Romans excavated a bed beneath every road that would ensure drainage, and therefore, the road. On the bottom was large rubble, covered with finer rubble, then fine aggregate and stone dust. All this would be topped with clay to bind everything together, then on top of that a layer of finely laid cobblestone. The road would have retaining stones that would define its borders to discourage erosion. If you’ve ever laid down a brick patio you know how this all goes. But there’s more. There was also the macro view, scoping out what modern engineers now accomplish easily with sight levels and surveying equipment. The Romans did not have these, they had to judge these things by more primitive methods, but they seem to have worked. The roads also had pre planning to dissuade human predators, a ditch dug on either side that would not only facilitate drainage, but also stop carts or horses from charging in a flank attack.
The roads were sufficient for legions of centurions on long marches over course of the empire. The armies would keep track of their marches via mile stones along the way that would mark 1000 paces. The roads had to be smooth enough for this foot traffic, and also strong enough to accommodate carts and the hoofed feet of horses. How odd that ancient Rome is long gone but their roads are still there. It makes me think of the homes going up and the questionable methods used. How you do something matters. It’s like they say, the journey matters as much as the destination, or at least it SHOULD.
Methodology matters. The Romans proved it, with good roads that could teach us a few lessons today. I think of it whenever I drive over a pot hole in the road in the spring. The Romans whatever their other faults must have had in the back of their minds...“I am building for an empire” - and it showed. I may have a few building projects in my life just yet. It would be nice if, like the Roman roads, they will outlast me. I can feel the itch, coming into spring.