Roman Roads in Hispania
To maintain control of their empire and ensure themselves of a regular supply of agricultural and mineral goods, the Romans learned very early on the importance of having their troops at the ready. As it expanded and annexed or defeated its rivals, Rome became increasingly dependent on its communications system. Linking together the increasingly unwieldy bulk was a remarkable network of roads and bridges that spread out like the nerve system from the capital to all of its conquered territories.
Major roads (generally 6 to 8 metres wide) served as links not only between the capital and its provinces (the basis of the proverbial “All roads lead to Rome”), they were also vital within a country, permitting the rapid deployment of troops from one region to another. It should be remembered that the Roman legions, which comprised of some 4.000 to 6.000 foot soldiers and cavalry, moved in large formation and required the best possible roadways to accommodate the numbers, (contrary to popular belief, the Romans did not use chariots in battle). And these famous, straight, paved roads, and powerful bridges, once built were virtually indestructible, since gunpowder and explosives were as yet unknown.
A case in point is the bridge of Alcántara (below), on the Portuguese border. Built of uncemented granite in 105 AD, it is 8 metres wide, 64 metres high and 204 long and, although restored in parts, has survived floods and several attempts at blowing it up. Nowadays it is still in daily use and strong enough to take heavy trucks.
These major roads –and numerous local ones– also made possible the transfer of merchandise and the speedy dispatching of courier services throughout all parts of a country. It was a sophisticated system. For the major routes, travellers could consult maps and itineraries, stay overnight at lodgings located approximately every 50 kilometres (30 miles) along the road, and calculate distances from the milestones erected on the way (at every 1000 Roman paces, or 1,479 metres (1617 yards). More than one historian has pointed out that communications were easier during the Roman domination of Europe than any other period up to the 20th century!
The network of roads in Iberia totalled some 10,500 kilometres.
A major route (the Via Herculea, later Augusta) ran some 1,500 kilomtetres from the Pyrenees along the Mediterranean coast to Cartagena (Cartago Nova) and then inland through Granada, Córdoba, Ecija and Seville (Hispalis) to Cádiz (Gades).
Another major thoroughfare, the Vía de la Plata, ran north from Cádiz, via Seville (Hispalis) and Mérida (Emerita Augusta) to the gold mines of Las Médulas (Asturias), where it joined another road that came west from the Mediterranean via Zaragoza (Caesaraugusta). Inland another main road branched from Zaragoza via Toledo (Toletum) to Mérida. Within this framework many other local routes ensured rapid access to all quarters of the peninsula.
Although visible signs of the Roman roads have largely disappeared (often because they have been built upon by modern thoroughfares; the best sample still to be seen is at Puerto del Pico in Avila) , there are still many bridges to admire. These range from modest, humpback, single-span arches on isolated rural routes to the impressive structures at Alcántara, Mérida, Córdoba and Salamanca, all of which have withstood floods and attempts, during times of conflict, to destroy them.
Anderson, James M Spain 1001 Sights: An Archeological and Historical Guide London 1992
Collins, Roger Spain: An Oxford Archeological Guide Oxford 199
Curchin, Leonard Roman Spain: Conquest and Assimilation London 1991
Richardson, J. S. The Romans in Spain Oxford 1996
Roldán, José Manuel La España romana Madrid: Historia 16 1989
Tovar, A and Blázquez, J.M. Historia de la Hispania Romana Madrid 1976
Merida: Roman bridge: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Puente_romano_m%C3%A9rida.jpg
Roman road in Cantabria: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%C3%A1rcena_de_Pie_de_Concha
Alcantara bridge: http: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alc%C3%A1ntara_Bridge
Roman roads in Hispania: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_roads#Other_areas
Second Roman road map of HIspania: www.tarraconensis.com