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kottke.org posts about Roman Empire

A subway-style map of the Roman roads of Britain

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 26, 2017

Trubetskoy Britain Map

After completing his subway-style map of the roads of the entire Roman Empire, Sasha Trubetskoy began work on a highly requested follow-up: a similar map of the Roman roads in Britain.

This was far more complicated than I had initially anticipated. Not only were there way more Roman Roads in Britain than I initially thought, but also their exact locations and extents are not very clear. In a few places I had to get rather creative with the historical evidence.

As Wikipedia notes, most of the roads were completed by 180 AD and many of them are still in use today.

After the Romans departed, systematic construction of paved highways in the UK did not resume until the early 18th century. The Roman road network remained the only nationally-managed highway system within Britain until the establishment of the Ministry of Transport in the early 20th century.

A subway-style map of Roman Empire roads circa 125 A.D.

posted by Jason Kottke   Jun 07, 2017

Roman Empire Subway

After much research, Sasha Trubetskoy has completed a subway-style map of the road system of the Roman Empire. From about 300 BC, the Romans built or improved over 250,000 miles of roads (50,000 miles were stone paved) that extended into the farthest reaches of the Empire: from Spain to modern-day Iraq to Britain to northern Africa.

Creating this required far more research than I had expected — there is not a single consistent source that was particularly good for this. Huge shoutout to: Stanford’s ORBIS model, The Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary (found a full PDF online but lost the url).

The lines are a combination of actual, named roads (like the Via Appia or Via Militaris) as well as roads that do not have a known historic name (in which case I creatively invented some names). Skip to the “Creative liberties taken” section for specifics.

(via @zachklein)

The Romans invented the Swiss Army Knife?

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 11, 2010

Fashioned sometime in the third century A.D., this Roman multi-tool was made for eating.

Roman Multitool

Like the common Swiss tool, the Roman version has a lot of foldaway implements stowed inside: a knife, spike, pick, fork and a spatula. Unlike the modern-day equivalent, the Roman Army Knife has a useful spoon on the end, making it likely that this iron and silver artifact, found in somewhere in the Mediterranean countries, was meant for eating with.

Complexity and the fall of Rome

posted by Jason Kottke   Oct 28, 2010

In Jospeh Tainter’s The Collapse of Complex Societies, the author argues that the fall of Rome happened because “the usual method of dealing with social problems by increasing the complexity of society [became] too costly or beyond the ability of that society”. Basically when Rome stopped expanding its territory, the fallback was relying solely on agriculture, a relatively low-margin affair.

The distances, now no longer adjacent to easily accessible coastline, were making the cost of conquest prohibitive. More to the point, the enemies Rome faced as it grew larger were vast empires themselves and were more than capable of defeating the Roman legions.

It was at this point that Rome had reached a turning point: no longer would conquest be a significant source of revenue for the empire, for the cost of further expansion yielded no benefits greater than incurred costs. Conjointly, garrisoning its extensive border with its professional army was becoming more burdensome, and more and more Rome came to rely on mercenary troops from Iberia and Germania.

The result of these factors meant that the Roman Empire began to experience severe fiscal problems as it tried to maintain a level of social complexity that was beyond the marginal yields of it’s agricultural surplus and had been dependent upon continuous territorial expansion and conquest.

Hopefully I don’t have to draw you a picture of how this relates to large bureaucratic companies.