Behold four additional illustrations of the ancient Roman inventiveness - some of them may really amaze you.
1. Traffic Code
That the Roman road system was quite sophisticated is a well-known fact. According to modern calculations, more than 400, 000 kilometers of highways crossed the Roman Empire with approximately 400 main connecting points. As we can well expect, the Romans used their organizational talent to arrange the smoothness of the circulation in and out of the cities by inventing and applying strict transport rules, i.e. by imposing the first traffic code in Europe.
A special force was entrusted with the supervision of the roads. Its members (Vigiles) were a sort of night watches, responsible for the firefighting, the nocturnal order, and the day traffic on the streets. They had the right to remove the stands of the street merchants when they troubled the pedestrians on the sidewalks. Also, their service was regularly needed when two or more cart drivers disputed over the right to pass through the tight urban roads (never marked as one-way, even the narrowest of them).
For alleviating the downtown circulation, Julius Caesar appointed fringe “parking” places on the outskirts of the city for the private vehicles which couldn’t ride inside the city from dawn until two hours before dark. So, if a traveler came to Rome during the day hours, he would have to park his carriage at the gates and continue either walking or in a portable couch (lectica).
The town roads were equipped with gutters for draining the rainwater, as well as sidewalks for the pedestrians and even zebras. Pedestrian crossings excavated in Pompeii give us the image of an average ancient Roman zebra – a set of higher blocks (ranged in distance between them) crossing the street from the one side to the other. The walkers could traverse over the blocks without touching the road dirt, and the carts’ wheels could pass through the blocks’ slots.
Pedestrian crossing in Pompeii
The archaeological data suggests that the Romans had a left-side traffic (a big amount of the grooves on the roads leading to one possible way were on the left side). Milestones were erected in all over the Roman roads. They were called miliaria and marked a distance of one thousand steps (about 1620 yards or 1480 meters). Milestones were built in a form of a circular column, put on a rectangular base, where, in an eye-height was curved the distance to the Roman Forum, the names of the officials who made or repaired the road, and when that had happened.
2. Holidays & Leisure Travels
A mid-15th century copy of the Ptolemy's world map, based on Ptolemy's Geography (c. 150 B.C.)
The highly developed road system made possible for the Romans to discover the holidays and leisure trips.
The concept of having free time was born in Rome around first century AD with the appearance of the Empire. As the constant presence of the (already former) ruling class was not needed anymore in the city, the representatives of the elite started to retreat in country villas, where they fulfilled their free time with various activities. In Latin, this leisure time was called otium, and it was supposed to be spent in rather noble occupations such as reading, writing, philosophizing, etc. then in laziness and idleness.
Organizing holidays and touristic travels in short and long distances was a part of this novel social concept of having and spending free time. The region around Naples (including the famous Pompeii) represented the favorite seaside resort of the Romans. Wealthy people had their vacation villas in this area coexisting with the houses of the locals where they passed long periods of their otium.
Trips to remote distances also gained popularity in ancient Roman society. Wealthy families, scholars or even emperors have tried what today is one of the biggest world industries – the touristic travels. If one was interested in the past, he would go to Greece - not in the islands (as it today), but mostly in Athens where he could visit the Acropolis, the Plato’s Academy or the Aristotle’s Lyceum. Other attractive historical place was the Troy (modern Turkey) and its ruins. If a person liked more exotic experiences, he would go to Egypt – to the city of Alexandria, but also to the South (with boats on the river Nile) visiting old tombs and the Pyramids.
During these travels, the first tourists in antiquity would use guide books the same way we do today. Though not many of them have been preserved, it is known that such type of literature was quite widespread among the Romans. One of the most popular books of that genre (and the only one that has survived intact until present) is “Description of Greece” of Pausanias written in the second century AD.
3. Shopping Centers & Malls
Night view of Mercatus Trajani, Rome
Believe it or not, but the idea of a multi-functional place that combines different leisure activities at one location was invented almost two millennia ago in ancient Rome. In some cases, those sites were called markets (mercati), in others, they were simply known as baths (thermae). Nevertheless, they both shared one common goal – to attract as many people as they could to come and spend their money at the spot.
One of the biggest shopping centers in Rome was the so-called The Trajan Market (Mercatus Trajani). It was huge brick constructions covering 60, 000 m² that hosted shops, restaurants, halls for different performances (auditoria), and even a public library. In the 150 separate rooms in the market, all sorts of goods and merchandises were sold. Also, on the second floor, a part of the Emperor’s administration was located and supervised the grain, oil, and wine supplying of Rome from there.
Another impressive commercial place was the complex called the Baths of Caracalla (Thermae Antonianae). Built at the beginning of the third century AD, that place was much more than it could be expected from mere baths. It was rather a multi-functional recreation center consisting of a huge bathhouse, gyms, libraries, massage rooms, saunas, gardens, art galleries, restaurants, and various shops. The Baths of Caracalla were spread over 200, 000 m² and according to some modern calculations, it could have hosted between 6, 000 and 8, 000 people per day. How busy such a place would have been – with all those Romans that swam, exercised in the gyms, strolled among works of art, ate, had a walk in the gardens, drank wine or spent money in the shops around!
As many households in the Roman Empire did not have kitchens and cooking equipment (only the reach possessed a proper kitchen and a cook), the population of the ancient Roman cities satisfied their hunger eating outside “on the go.” The food they consumed in special restaurants called thermopolia came at an affordable price and looked pretty much to what we would point today as a fast-food.
The ambiance of those establishments was very close to the modern one – a big counter with holes in it (of incorporated earthenware vessels) for containing hot or dry food, several tables with chairs, and a pictured menu with the specialties of the house. There was one significant difference though - the thermopolia were ran as small family businesses and the big international franchised chains that we have today have not existed yet.
And what was the food offered there alike? The latest Pompeii’s research showed that a big percentage of the people of the city had extremely healthy teeth. The scientists explain that fact with a balanced and healthful diet, consisting of fresh and dried fruits and vegetables, pickles, grains, but also of the preferences of a lightly cooked food. In fact, the menu of the fast-food restaurants was far from the sophisticated meals of the banquets of the reach. The street cuisine offered wheat or barley porridge, lentils, peas, boiled vegetables, eggs, meat stews, sausages, pork bites, roasted fish or chicken, salted or smoked ham, and of course bread and wine.
One inscription found in Pompeii boasted the culinary abilities of an owner of a thermopolium. It said that once the ham was cooked and served to the customer, he would prefer to lick first the pan it was cooked in and only after to eat the ham itself. Now, that sounds like a real delicacy. What do you think?