THE APPIAN WAY

It was the proud boast of the ancient Romans that all roads led to their city. Rome was the centre and mistress of the world; and as the loneliest rill that rises in the bosom of the far-off mountain leads, if followed, to the ocean, so every path in the remotest corner of the vast empire conducted to the great gilded column in the Roman Forum, upon which all distances without the walls were marked. To the Romans the world is indebted for opening up communications with different countries. They were the great engineers and road-makers of antiquity. This seems to have been the work assigned to them in the household of nations. Rome broke down the barriers that separated one nation from another, and fused all distinctions of race and language and religion into one great commonwealth. And for the cohesion of all the elements of this huge political fabric nothing could have been more effectual than the magnificent roads, by which constant communication was kept up between all parts of the empire, and armies could be transported to quell a rising rebellion in some outlying province with the smallest expenditure of time and strength. In this way the genius of this wonderful people was providentially made subservient to the interests of Christianity. At the very time that our Lord commissioned, with His parting breath, the apostles to preach the gospel to every creature, the way was prepared for the fulfilment of that commission. The crooked places had been made straight, and the rough places smooth. Along the roads which the Romans made throughout the world for the march of their armies and the consolidation of their government, the apostles, the soldiers of the Prince of Peace, marched to grander and more enduring victories.

Of all the roads of ancient Rome the Via Appia was the oldest and most renowned. It was called by the Romans themselves the regina viarum, the "queen of roads." It was constructed by Appius Claudius the Blind, during the Samnite War, when he was Censor, three hundred and thirteen years before Christ, and led from Rome to Capua, being carried over the Pontine Marshes on an embankment. It was afterwards extended to Brindisi, the ancient seaport of Rome on the Adriatic, and became the great highway for travellers from Rome to Greece and all the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. A curious link of connection may be traced between the modern Italian expression, when drinking to a person's health on leaving home, "far Brindisi," and the distant termination of the Appian Way, suggestive, as of old, of farewell wishes for a prosperous journey and a speedy return to the parting guest. The way was paved throughout with broad hexagonal slabs of hard lava, exactly fitted to each other; and here and there along its course may still be seen important remains of it, which prove its excellent workmanship. This method of constructing roads was borrowed by the Romans from the Carthaginians, and was tried for the first time on the Appian Way, all previous roads having been formed of sand and gravel. The greatest breadth of the road was about twenty-six feet between the curbstones; and on both sides were placed, at intervals of forty feet, low columns, as seats for the travel-worn, and as helps in mounting on horseback. Distances of five thousand feet were marked by milestones, which were in the form of columnar shafts, elevated on pedestals with appropriate inscriptions. The physical wants of the traveller were provided for at inns judiciously disposed along the route; while his religious wants were gratified by frequent statues of Mercury, Apollo, Diana, Ceres, Hercules, and other deities, who presided over highways and journeys, casting their sacred shadow over his path. Some of the stones of the pavement still show the ruts of the old chariot-wheels, and others are a good deal cracked and worn; but they are sound enough, probably, to outlast the modern little cubes which have replaced them in some parts. A road formed in this most substantial manner for about two hundred miles, involving cuttings through rocks, filling up of hollows, bridging of ravines, and embanking of swamps, must have been an arduous and costly feat of engineering. Appius Claudius is said to have exhausted the Roman treasury in defraying the expenses of its construction. It was frequently repaired, owing to the heavy traffic upon it, by Julius, by Augustus, Vespasian, Domitian, Nerva, and very thoroughly by the Emperor Trajan. In some parts, where the soft ground had subsided, a second pavement was laid over the first; and in the Pontine Marshes we observe traces of no less than three pavements superimposed above each other to preserve the proper level.

For a considerable distance outside the Porta Capena, where it commenced, the Appian Way was lined on both sides with tombs belonging to patrician families. This was the case, indeed, with all the other roads of Rome that were converted into avenues of death owing to the strenuous law which prohibited all interments within the walls; but the Appian Way was specially distinguished for the number and magnificence of its tombs. The most illustrious names of ancient Rome were interred beside it. At first the sepulchres of the heroes of the early ages were the only ones; but under the Cæsars these were eclipsed by the funereal pomp of the freedmen, the parasites and sycophants of the emperors. At first the tombs were built of volcanic stone, the only building material found in the neighbourhood; but as Rome became mistress of the world, and gathered the marbles and precious stones of the conquered countries into its own bosom, and as wealth and luxury increased, the tombs were constructed altogether of or cased on the outside with these valuable materials. And this circumstance gives us a clue to the age of the different monuments.