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C - 29 : Between two Capitals - Via Appia - Adriatic - Via Egnatia

Since Venetian times we look at the Adriatic as a north - south axis on which precious goods from Asia and the Middle East are shipped to Europe or European explorers venture East.


It was not always like this. For the Roman Empire, the Adriatic was rather a domestic sea and an obstacle that needed to be crossed. There was limited trading. The Adriatic became only important when there were too many Illyrian pirates or during the Great Illyrian Rebellion during the reign of Augustus which threatened to cut the Empire into two.


The harbours at the entrance of the Adriatic where it is at its narrowest and easiest to cross were thus important. The Romans established a regular ferry service from Brindisi (Brindisium) to Durres (Dyrrachium) which was used by Roman Army, merchants and travelling scholars. These ferries were able to ship several legions simultaneously over the Strait of Otranto (as the narrows are called today). Crossing took about a week - three days for loading - one day for crossing - three days for unloading. We know all of this from Caesar's personal diaries he kept during the civil war. He transported 10 Legions (around 60'000 soldiers) over the straits this way.

Roman Cargo Vessel which Caesar would have used


Durres, the Albanian main port, which we are going to reach on C + 3 (Monday, 29 July) was the starting point of one of Rome's most important roads, the Via Egnatia. Together with the Via Appia it linked the two capitals of the Empire - Rome and Constantinople.

Via Egnatio, the 984km long Roman road linking Durres to Constantinople


The road was paved which allowed the Roman Army to move fast. The Legions carried their logistics on a train of horse carriages and horses. With paved roads they could move in any weather. Legionnaires could march - fully loaded with up to 50 kg of kit - around 30 km a day. Some parts of the Via Egnatia were still used in the early 20th century and are easily visible.

Via Egnatia today in Northern Greece


The distance from Rome to Brindisi is 432 km which Roman Legions could cross in just 14.5 days. The distance from Durres to Constantinople is more than twice as far: 984 km. The Roman Legions would take 33 days to cover the distance.


14.5 days + 7 days + 33 days = 44.5 days or about 1 1/2 month which is an amazing speed for moving a Legion (6'000 soldiers) from Rome to Constantinople. This amazing mobility was the key reason why the Roman Army was so successful for so many centuries. It was able to concentrate superior forces at lightning speed and thus outnumber its opponents. Marching was more important than fighting!


As a side - sailing from Rome to Constantinople was not any faster - it would take about ten days to reach the Peloponnese but then a full months to cross against the prevailing north wind to reach Constantinople. Marching had one giant advantage - it required far fewer ships and was thus way cheaper and far less complicated to plan and execute.


There were about 400'000 km of roads in the Roman Empire - 85'000 km were paved. In essence, this roads were built for military reasons. Merchants and other civilians could use them too but the Legions had always priority. If you are interested in knowing how much time it takes to travel from one corner of the Roman Empire to another, you should use the website below. It makes you a Roman Tribune (General) within a few minutes!



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