Travel

Travel was very slow and uncomfortable in Roman times. Perry travels with Valentia and Carotus from sunrise to sunset, covering about 30 km each day, in a carriage pulled by many mules, with no rubber tyres or comfortable seats. The messenger from the Emperor comes in a special fast carriage for a single passenger, drawn by 3 mules. 

Images show that carriages had big wheels and were high off the ground, but show no steps to get in and out. Some historians think that a servant or driver might have provided higher class passengers with portable wooden steps.

A replica Roman travelling carriage. Photo Marcuc Cyron via Wikimedia Commons

Inns could be dirty and smoky, with uncomfortable beds and even thieves, and rich people stayed at the villas of friends or acquaintances when they could. People like Maximus who were travelling on the emperor’s business were given a special pass to avoid road tolls and be given free carriages, food and accommodation.

To see the 4th century map we used to plan Perry’s journey from the villa to the town house go to How I found out Roman life. The map lists places to stop and the distances between them. 

Milestones showed the distance to the nearest big town, so XXII on the milestone at Forum Voconii meant 22 Roman miles (approximately 33 km) from the nearest big town, Forum Julii (modern Fréjus). The numbers on Roman milestones were carved in the stone and painted red. For more about Roman numbers click here.

A replica Roman milestone from southern France, with the number IIII (4) in the last line indicating four miles to the nearest large Roman town. Photo Piero via Wikimedia Commons

On the milestone, the 4 is written as “IIII”, which was the usual Roman form, but by the 4th century it could also be written as “IV” (5 minus 1). 

From the bumps made by carts on the sides of buildings, archaeologists have worked out that Romans drove on the right, just like people in Europe still do today. However, many people would have travelled on foot or carried parcels on their backs and shoulders, as Anna shows in her illustration of Arelate. 

Some cities had laws forbidding carts in the city during the day (until two hours before sunset) but carts carrying materials for public building or carriages for very important people were allowed. Nobody knows whether there was ever a law like this in Arlelate, but, just in case they did, we made sure the only carriages that entered town during the story were for very important people or carts carrying building materials.

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