Taking the historical city travel guide to Rome in 1st century AD

Another super post by British Museum on historical travel to Rome . There was an earlier post on historical travel to city of Nineveh.

Rome in Latium, central Italy, is the capital of the Roman Empire. The great city is said to have been founded by Romulus, who was raised with his brother Remus by a she-wolf. He was a descendant of the prince Aeneas, who escaped his home city of Troy after it was sacked by the Greeks. However, the city’s origins are likely to have been slightly less romantic, developing in the 8th century BC through the merging of several villages.

Reconstruction of the classical city of Rome as a bird’s-eye view.
Ambrogio Brambilla, c. 1580s. Etching. Find out more.

Spanning seven hills on the left bank of the river Tiber, Rome is located about 22 km (14 miles) inland from the Mediterranean Sea as the crow flies. The area is suitable for farming and characterised by warm weather, but the plains between the hills were originally swampy and subject to flooding. That is why, initially, different villages developed on the hilltops rather than in the Tiber valley.

The city now sits at the centre of an empire which stretches from Spain to Syria and is rapidly growing.

It is not without good reason that gods and men chose this place to build our city: these hills with their pure air; this convenient river by which crops may be floated down from the interior and foreign commodities brought up; a sea handy to our needs, but far enough away to guard us from foreign fleets; our situation in the very centre of Italy. All these advantages shape this most favoured of sites into a city destined for glory.

Livy, History of Rome, 5, 54.4



The saying ‘all roads lead to Rome’ is true. A complex network of roads connects the whole empire to Rome, so wherever you’re coming from you can be sure of finding your way into the capital.

You are likely to see tombs on alongside the roads outside the city. This marble epitaph plaque has a Latin funerary inscription to Titus Flavius Fruendus, by his heirs. c. AD 100. Find out more.

According to Roman custom, all burials take place outside the sacred boundary of the city, so don’t be surprised to see elaborate tombs, memorials and mausolea lining the roads as you approach – they have been set up by wealthy families to commemorate their loved ones. Some have inscriptions asking travellers to respect and pity the dead, while other incorporate benches and invite you to take a rest on your journey.

Rome can be accessed by sea as well as land. This fresco wall painting from a villa at Boscoreale near Pompeii, depicts a coastal landscape with a boat departing from a harbour. c. 30 BC. Find out more.

The city can be reached both by sea and by land. The river Tiber is navigable and, where it meets the Mediterranean is the city of Ostia, which acts as the sea harbour of Rome. The emperor Claudius has recently built an artificial harbour called Portus, 2 km to the north of Ostia. This artificial harbour is connected to the river Tiber by a canal and to the city of Rome by road (Via Campana/Portuensis).



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