CHAPTER II. TRAVEL WITHIN THE EMPIRE
Of the administration in Rome and throughout the provinces enough will be said in the proper place. Meanwhile we may look briefly at one or two questions of interest which will presumably suggest themselves at this stage. Since all this vast region now formed one empire, since Roman magistrates and officers were sent to all parts of it, since trade and intercourse were vigorous between all its provinces, it will be natural to ask, for example, by what means the traveller got from place to place, at what rate of progress, and with what degree of safety and comfort.
In setting forth by land you would elect, if possible, to proceed by one of the great military roads for which the Roman world was so deservedly famous. Not only were they the best kept and the safest; they were also generally the shortest. As far as possible the Roman road went straight from point to point. It did not circumvent a practicable hill, nor, where necessary, did it shrink from cutting through a rock, say to the depth of sixty feet or so. It did not avoid a river, but bridged it with a solid structure such as often remains in use till this day. If it met with a marsh, wooden piles were driven in and the road-bed laid upon them. When it came to a deep narrow valley it built a viaduct on arches.
The road so laid was meant for permanence. A width of ground was carefully prepared, trenches were dug at the sides, three different layers of road material were deposited, with sufficient upward curve to throw off the water, and then the whole was paved with closely-fitting many-cornered blocks of stone. In the chief instances there were sidewalks covered with some kind of gravel. The width was not great, but might be anything between ten and fifteen feet. Along such roads the Roman armies marched to their camps, along them the government despatches were carried by the imperial post, and along them were the most conveniently situated and commodious houses of accommodation. For their construction a special grant might be made by the Roman treasury - the cost being comparatively small, since the work, when not performed by the soldiers, was done by convicts and public slaves - and for their upkeep a rate was apparently levied by the local corporations. Besides the paved roads there was, needless to say, always a number of smaller roads, many of them mere strips of four feet or so in width; there were also short-cuts, by-paths, and ill-kept tracks of local and more or less fortuitous creation.
Beside the great highways stood milestones in the shape of short pillars, and generally there were in existence charts or itineraries, sometimes pictured, giving all necessary directions as to the turnings, distances, stopping-places, and inns, and even as to the sights worth seeing on the way. Wherever there were such objects of interest - in Egypt, Syria, Greece, or any other region of art, history, and legend - the traveller could always find a professional guide, whose information was probably about as reliable as that of the modern cicerone. In Rome itself there was displayed, in one of the public arcades, a plan of the empire, with notes explaining the dimensions and distances.
The vehicle employed by the traveller would depend upon circumstances. You would meet the poor man riding on an ass, or plodding on foot with his garments well girt; the better provided on a mule; a finer person or an official on a horse; the more luxurious or easy-going either in some form of carriage or borne in a litter very similar to the oriental palanquin. To carriages, which were of several kinds - two-wheeled, four-wheeled, heavy and light - it may be necessary to make further reference; here it is sufficient to observe that, in order to assist quick travelling, there existed individuals or companies who let out a light form of gig, in which the traveller rode behind a couple of mules or active Gaulish ponies as far as the next important stopping-place, where he could find another jobmaster, or keeper of livery-stables, to send him on further. The rich man, travelling, as he necessarily would, with a train of servants and with full appliances for his comfort, would journey in a coach, painted and gilded, cushioned and curtained, drawn by a team showily caparisoned with rich harness and coloured cloths. This must have presented an appearance somewhat similar to that of the extravagantly decorated travelling-coach of the fourteenth century. The ordinary man of modest means would be satisfied with his mule or horse, and with his one or two slaves to attend him. On the less frequented stretches of road, where there was no proper accommodation for the night, his slaves would unpack the luggage and bring out a plain meal of wine, bread, cheese, and fruits. They would then lay a sort of bedding on the ground and cover it with a rug or blanket. The rich folk might bring their tents or have a bunk made up in their coaches.