I was driving to Port Hawkesbury today, and there is a stretch of road where the pavement has faded, and looks almost white, a straight line for about a mile into rolling green countryside. As I entered this stretch, I let my eyes drift out of focus for a second, and I pondered. I pondered a white road into the green.
Could you imagine what that represents? Two thousand years ago, white-topped roads stretched across the Roman Empire. A young man from settled Gaul or Hispania might see, upon leaving his deployment, a white road into rolling, green, otherwise untouched hills. What does that mean? Power. Civilization. Strength.
I could imagine walking that road, a soldier in sandals with mail and a spear, moving along the sole line of civilization in all directions. Being a trader, entering the Empire, knowing that road will take me to a city, a place of coin and corruption. Being a raider, using the road as a line to the heart of my hated enemy. And I pondered that it was not just Rome that benefited from these roads.
Roman roads gave the empires of Charlemagne and Napoleon a place to march. Major highways are still built along them. They have controlled for two thousand years the fates of empires and civilizations and strength. Roads are what make our society, today, possible, the idea of rapid communication and movement of goods. Without roads, we are small hamlets, afraid and alone. With roads, we’re a short drive away from our family and friends – or even a long drive, which would once have been two years’ dangerous journey and is now a few days’ safe drive.
And I wondered, as those roads of Rome still move peoples that are so far removed from the Eagles that paraded the smooth-topped streets in the Pax Romana, who will move on our roads in two thousand years? And I was struck by the fact that our untamed wilderness is little and spare, and we are lucky when we can drive into the rolling green.