The Roman Empire was remarkably industrious when it came to infrastructure, constructing more than 55,000 miles of paved roads across Europe and North Africa. It’s challenging to visualize the vast network, so Sasha Trubetskoy, a student at the University of Chicago, decided to turn it into a subway-style infographic.
Using information about the roads from a handful of sources–like Stanford’s ORBIS model, the Pelagios digital map of the Roman Empire, and the ancient Antonine Itinerary of stopping points along the routes–Trubetskoy pieced together a diagram of the complex network in a visual language most of us can easily understand.
“It’s hard for me to pin down what inspired the project since my ideas are usually pretty spontaneous. I’d seen a lot of fantasy subway maps online, but most of them weren’t very well designed, so I figured I could do better,” Trubetskoy tells Co.Design via email about what sparked the idea. “I chose the Roman Empire as my subject because I have long been fascinated by their engineering, government, and overall infrastructure, which are sophisticated even by today’s standards. The legendary road network was perfectly suited for a subway-style schematic, and there’s something alluring about resurrecting an ancient empire in a modern-looking graphic.”
Like most diagrams of transportation systems, Trubetskoy’s infographic isn’t 100% geographically accurate; it’s more an approximation. He straightened out the lines, organized the stations to retain the proportional distances between them, and had to make editorial decisions about which roads to include (it would have been too frenetic for all of them to be on the map). He also came up with his own terminology for some of the routes which didn’t have historic names. Still, it’s a gorgeous way to view just how masterful the Romans were at transportation planning in a pre-industrial age.
“My aim with this project was to create something that is visually pleasing and simple, yet rich with information,” Trubetskoy writes. “I wanted something that would make people stop and think. But everyone has their own reasons–some marvel at the Romans’ feat of engineering, some are reminded of their home town’s ancient history, others see how similar the ancients were to our modern selves. So there’s not one message, the bottom line is I just wanted to make something cool.”
Trubetskoy is selling his map as a poster for $9. Visit sashat.me for more.