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Roman streets

Грачева А.Д.

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The description of ancient Roman streets should be based on the example of cities such as Rome and Pompeii. Rome, as the capital of a growing state by the end of the republican period, was a large, densely populated city with a large number of multi-storey buildings (insula) and many small, narrow streets ( the widest of them is about 6-7m). The small width of the streets in the ancient cities of the Appennine Peninsula was caused by the saving of living space within the city limits, limited by the fortress wall. It wasn't safe to live outside of it, being attacked. The scorching sun and the need for shade in southern cities sometimes made the close proximity of houses an advantage, as the heat was softened in narrow streets by the shadow of houses. (Sokolov G. I. Iskusstvo Drevnego Rim.P.46.).

It was enough for a foreigner, and just not a local resident, just to get lost in a huge city. If the main street of the quarter always had a name, then small streets, dead ends and alleys often remained nameless. (Sergeenko E. M. Life of ancient Rome, p. 18.). And this is not all the troubles that could await a visitor. The main, central streets, received their names from the artisan or merchant who lived on them, from a legendary incident that allegedly took place on this or that street; or the street simply got its name from the person who laid it out, despite the fact that there were a great many such streets, they did not have recognition signs. Simply put, streets and houses were not signed. To find the right street, a person was forced to focus, for example, on commercial shops or workshops, on the house of some noble person, which could be located on one of the streets. Another drawback of Roman streets, in addition to the above, was their tightness and narrowness.

The average width of the street was 5-5. 5 m. and alleys and dead ends could be less than 3 m. It should be noted that the width of the same street varied: for example, the Sacred Road in the widest place was 6.5 m., and in the narrowest - 4.8 m. This street layout was associated with saving residential space. Unlike the small cities of republican Rome, for example, in Pompeii, where traffic on the streets during the day was only pedestrian, in Rome before 45 BC. e. on the streets could move both on foot and on horses and carts, which caused great dissatisfaction of the inhabitants of Rome. Here is how Juvenal describes what is happening in the streets of Rome: "The noise of carts gathered at the turn of a narrow alley, and the curses of drivers can wake even seals! When a rich man has some business to attend to, he rides in the midst of the parting crowd; and while he is carried over the heads of a big Liburnian, he reads, writes, or sleeps, for nowhere does he sleep so well as in a closed litter. And he arrives before us, no matter how much we hurry, because we are stopped by the crowd standing in front, we are pushed by those coming from behind. One of them bumped me with his elbow, another pushed me with his knee, then another log hit my head, and my head hit the jug. My feet are covered in greasy mud. I am being trampled on from all sides, the nail of a soldier's boot is stuck in my thumb... You have to be a completely indifferent person, who does not want to foresee any accidents, to go to dinner in the city without first making a spiritual will. There is as much death in your path as there are open windows. All you can wish for is to be doused with slops from the opposite windows. And here is the impudent drunkard who is tormented by the fact that he has not yet fought with anyone. " (Juven., III, 222). Such were the streets of ancient Rome.

Fragments of the marble plan of Rome (Forma Urbis Romae). Figure 1756
Holy road (Via Sacra). Rome, modern view
Roman Street. Reconstruction

Now we should move on to considering the layout of streets in other, smaller cities. Pompeii is a good example here. This city, which was destroyed in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79, is a gift for modern archaeologists and historians. After all, it was precisely because of this tragedy that the city, so to speak, was preserved. Unlike Rome, which went through so many eras, each of which left its mark on the city plan, Pompeii was not subject to any changes. The city was covered in volcanic ash, much was damaged, not to mention the number of dead, but the layout of the city, paved streets, first floors of city buildings, mosaics and paintings were preserved. Pompeii was not the capital of the state, and street life in the city, so to speak, proceeded more calmly. Known to us, thanks to excavations, streets and alleys, did not exceed 10 m. in width. The widest of the 7 streets opened to date is Mercury Street, laid from north to south, facing the city center-the forum and was for some time the main axis of the city. The historical names of the streets remain unknown, so during excavations, archaeologists gave names to the streets based on their direction (for example, Stabieva, Nolanskaya - these are streets going to the cities of Stabia and Nola), or by more important and characteristic buildings that faced these streets (Eumachia Street-from the wool market built by Eumachia; Hanging Balcony Street, named after the house whose protruding enclosed balcony defined the view of an entire alley) or, finally, by its overall appearance (Crooked Lane). The Street of Plenty was named after the image on one well located at the beginning of it (this image was taken for the figure of Plenty). (Sergeyenko.M. E. Pompeii, p. 25.). It is important to note that the streets of Pompeii were more landscaped than the streets of Rome: they had pavements with sidewalks: to cross from one side of the street to the other, you could not step on the roadway, but use the rows of stones that lay at almost every intersection, and these stones lay at such a distance from each other that at night the cart wheels Riding horses and using carts during the day was prohibited for safety reasons. Wealthy citizens could travel on stretchers during the day. There were fountains of fresh water coming from the Campanian Mountains in the streets.

Map of Pompeii with the names of the main streets. 2nd floor of the 20th century.
Street of Plenty. Pompeii, modern view
Crossroad. Pompeii, modern view


1. Sergeenko M. E. Pompeii. Moscow-Leningrad, Publishing House of the USSR Academy of Sciences, 1949

2. Sergeenko E. M. Zhizn drevnego Rima [Life of ancient Rome]. St. Petersburg, Neva Publ., 2002.

3. Sokolov G. I. Iskusstvo Drevnego Rima [The Art of Ancient Rome]. Moscow, Iskusstvo Publ., 1971

4. Decimus Junius Juvenal. Satires. Saint Petersburg, Alethea Publ., 1994