All the Roman Roads of Italy, Visualized as a Modern Subway Map

At its peak around the year 117 AD, the mighty Roman Empire owned five mil­lion square kilo­me­ters of land. It ruled more than 55 mil­lion peo­ple, between a sixth and a quar­ter of the pop­u­la­tion of the entire world. The empire, as clas­si­cist and his­to­ri­an Christo­pher Kel­ly describes it, “stretched from Hadri­an’s Wall in driz­zle-soaked north­ern Eng­land to the sun-baked banks of the Euphrates in Syr­ia; from the great Rhine-Danube riv­er sys­tem, which snaked across the fer­tile, flat lands of Europe from the Low Coun­tries to the Black Sea, to the rich plains of the North African coast and the lux­u­ri­ant gash of the Nile Val­ley in Egypt.” All that pow­er, of course, orig­i­nal­ly emanat­ed from Italy.

The builders of the Roman Empire could­n’t have pulled it off with­out seri­ous infra­struc­tur­al acu­men, includ­ing the skill to make con­crete that lasts longer than even the mod­ern vari­ety as well as the force­ful­ness and sheer man­pow­er to lay more than 400,000 kilo­me­ters of road.

Not long ago, map­mak­er Sasha Tru­bet­skoy took it upon him­self to ren­der Rome’s impe­r­i­al road sys­tem in the style of a mod­ern sub­way map; pop­u­lar demand put him to work on an aes­thet­i­cal­ly sim­i­lar map of Britain’s Roman roads not long after. Now he has turned his skills back toward the land where the Roman Empire all start­ed: above, you can see his “sub­way map” of the Roman roads of Italy.

“It was for­tu­nate enough that Italy’s Roman roads are quite well-stud­ied and doc­u­ment­ed, espe­cial­ly when it comes to their actu­al ancient names,” Tru­bet­skoy writes of this lat­est project. “This meant that I had to do less artis­tic inter­pre­ta­tion in order to make this look like a sen­si­ble, mod­ern chart. That said, there are still some cas­es where I had to cre­ative­ly recon­struct cer­tain roads, and I make it clear in the leg­end which roads those were.” As for the col­or-cod­ed sidelin­ing of Sici­ly and Sar­dinia, “this is a map of Italia (Italy) as the Romans saw it, which did not include those islands. On the oth­er hand, it did include parts of what are today Slove­nia and Croa­t­ia.”

You can buy a high-res­o­lu­tion ver­sion of Tru­bet­skoy’s Viae Ital­i­ae et Suae Vicini­tatis, or Roman Roads of Italy and Its Sur­round­ings, for $9.00 USD at his site. Print­ed at poster qual­i­ty, it could make a suit­able gift indeed for any of the car­tog­ra­phy enthu­si­asts, his­tor­i­cal­ly mind­ed tran­sit fans, Roman Empire his­to­ry buffs, or Ital­ian patri­ots in your life. And in a way, it shows his­to­ry com­ing full cir­cle, since much of our sense of how sub­way maps should look comes from a rev­o­lu­tion­ary 1972 map of the New York sub­way sys­tem. We’ve fea­tured it before here on Open Cul­ture, along­side an inter­view with its design­er, a cer­tain Mas­si­mo Vignel­li. And where do you sup­pose he hailed from?

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Ancient Rome’s Sys­tem of Roads Visu­al­ized in the Style of Mod­ern Sub­way Maps

The Roman Roads of Britain Visu­al­ized as a Sub­way Map

Rome Reborn: Take a Vir­tu­al Tour of Ancient Rome, Cir­ca 320 C.E.

The Rise & Fall of the Romans: Every Year Shown in a Time­lapse Map Ani­ma­tion (753 BC ‑1479 AD)

Design­er Mas­si­mo Vignel­li Revis­its and Defends His Icon­ic 1972 New York City Sub­way Map

A Won­der­ful Archive of His­toric Tran­sit Maps: Expres­sive Art Meets Pre­cise Graph­ic Design

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. His projects include 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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