February 25, 2024

At the moment, I hap­pen to be plan­ning some time in France, with a side trip to Bel­gium includ­ed. Mod­ern intra-Euro­pean train trav­el makes arrang­ing the lat­ter quite con­ve­nient: Thalys, the high-speed rail ser­vice con­nect­ing those two coun­tries, can get you from Paris to Brus­sels in about an hour and half. This stands in con­trast to the time of the Roman Empire, which despite its polit­i­cal pow­er lacked high-speed rail, and indeed lacked rail of any kind. But it did have an expan­sive net­work of roads, some of which you can still walk today, imag­in­ing what it would have been like to trav­el Europe two mil­len­nia ago. And now, using the web­site OmnesVi­ae, you can get his­tor­i­cal­ly accu­rate direc­tions as well.

Big Think’s Frank Jacobs describes OmnesVi­ae as “the online route plan­ner the Romans nev­er knew they need­ed.” It “leans heav­i­ly on the Tab­u­la Peutin­ge­ri­ana” — also known as the Peutinger Map, and pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured here on Open Cul­ture — “the clos­est thing we have to a gen­uine itin­er­ar­i­um (‘road map’) of the Roman Empire.”

Though not quite geo­graph­i­cal­ly accu­rate, it does offer a detailed view of which cities in the empire were con­nect­ed and how. “Geolo­cat­ing thou­sands of points from Peutinger, OmnesVi­ae refor­mats the roads and des­ti­na­tions on the scroll onto a more famil­iar­ly land­scaped map. The short­est route between two (ancient) points is cal­cu­lat­ed using the dis­tances trav­eled over Roman rather than mod­ern roads, also tak­ing into account the rivers and moun­tains the net­work must cross.”

You can use OmnesVi­ae just like any oth­er way-find­ing appli­ca­tion, except you enter your ori­gin and des­ti­na­tion into fields labeled “ab” and “ad” rather than “from” and “to.” And though “for some cities cur­rent day names are under­stood,” as the instruc­tions note, it works bet­ter — and feels so much more authen­tic — if you type in cities like “Roma” and “Lon­dinio.” The result­ing jour­ney between those two great cap­i­tals looks ardu­ous indeed, pass­ing at least three moun­tain­ous areas, thir­teen rivers, and count­less small­er set­tle­ments. And accord­ing to OmnesVi­ae, no roads led to Brus­sels: the clos­est an ancient trav­el­er could get to the loca­tion of the mod­ern-day seat of the Euro­pean Union was the Wal­loon vil­lage of Liber­chies — which, as the birth­place of Djan­go Rein­hardt, remains an impor­tant stop for the jazz-lov­ing trav­el­er of Europe today.

via Big Think

Relat­ed con­tent:

The Roads of Ancient Rome Visu­al­ized in the Style of Mod­ern Sub­way Maps

How the Ancient Romans Built Their Roads, the Life­lines of Their Vast Empire

The Roman Roads and Bridges You Can Still Trav­el Today

How to Make Roman Con­crete, One of Human Civilization’s Longest-Last­ing Build­ing Mate­ri­als

The First Tran­sit Map: a Close Look at the Sub­way-Style Tab­u­la Peutin­ge­ri­ana of the 5th-Cen­tu­ry Roman Empire

How Did Roman Aque­ducts Work?: The Most Impres­sive Achieve­ment of Ancient Rome’s Infra­struc­ture, Explained

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.


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