The Appian Way, Via Appia, is a wonder to the world. Itself it stretches just short of 40 miles. But it was the road that began the first official universal transportation system in antiquity. It connected Britain to Mesopotamia, from the Danube to Gibraltar and from the Alps to northern Africa. It was perhaps the first invention that showed people all over the world how to make the world smaller, how to smooth trade and make it less worrisome. It is one of the wonders of the world because Roman roads, built two millennium ago are still traversable. Much of the Roman road system is still intact and much of it is still in regular use. Large flat hard stones shined with a billion strides of leather, still shine.
Hadrian’s Wall is 50 feet high in some places and stretches all the way across the 73 mile neck of the British Island. This was completed in 120 AD and was the most impressive defensive structure in the Western Hemisphere. In its day it was noteworthy that it went up incredibly fast.
Trajans’ Forum is a vast portico line plaza 1000 feet by 600 feet with circular dome like exedra on opposing sides, each filled with market and meeting space. The entrance is all marble and visitors are met with a large heroic equestrian sculpture of Trajan.
The 50,000 seat Coliseum, The Pantheon and the Baths of Caracalla. These were all more than just architectural masterpieces. These massive undertakings were more than just a show of plenitude, they were vainglorious reminders of Roman Imperial power.
Here is an inscription of the front of a sarcophagus for Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispanus, probably son of Hispallus, a praetor in 135 AD
Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispanus, son of Gnaeus, praetor, curule, aedile, tribune of soldiers and a member of the Board of Ten for Judging Law-suits; member of the Board of Ten for Making Sacrifices.
“By my good conduct I heaped virtues on the virtues of my clan; I begat a family and sought to equal the exploits of my father. I upheld the praise of my ancestors, so that they are glad that I was created of their line. My honors have ennobled my stock.”
The mindset here is not humility for the life he enjoyed. It’s pride for the accomplishments that he cannot take with him as he lies on his death bed. It is ego and the power of ego to make things, even Empire. People here felt they were better off and perhaps better because they were part of a massive global empire that set the rules for others.
At warfare, Rome formalized and created the strategies that have survived posterity. Even when defeated, Rome simply went home, raised and trained a bigger army and went to crush opponents. It was the patient and confident power and weath of the empire that alloed it to fight on multiple fronts while citizens at home knew no better.
Just like today.
Oddly, most of the braggadocio configuration of Empire, the enterprising lush paved cities, open air art, the games, the literature and the libraries and its vast Mediterranean navy, all of this evanesced into the real power of Rome: its ineluctable influence on history. It was 2 million square miles, had purview over 70 million people, about 1/5 of world’s population. It established and progressed law, philosophy, art, government, the arts, mathematics, innovations, construction, warfare, language, culture and science.