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Thread: Modern European development driven by Ancient Roman infrastructure

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    Advisor Jovialis's Avatar
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    Modern European development driven by Ancient Roman infrastructure

    A team of Danish economists have argued that European roads built by the Romans 2,000 years ago played a decisive role in the modern economic development of the Continent, the Washington Post reports.

    According to the economists’ research, the density of roads and trade links originally laid down during the periods of when the Roman Republic (second century BCE – first century AD) expanded beyond the Italian peninsula and during the Empire (first century AD – fifth century AD) correlates to the modern level of prosperity for most European cities and countries. The research team went on to say that the study shows the importance of investing in vital infrastructure as it serves as the main driver of economic development.

    The Danish team based their observations on a geographic database for Roman road networks that were compiled by Harvard University’s Digital Atlas of Roman and Medieval Civilizations. The database documents the 80,000 kilometres of roads that the Romans developed across Europe, the Near East, and North Africa during the seven centuries when Rome was the preeminent power in the Western World.

    Part of the research included superimposing the maps of Roman roads over satellite imagery showing the nighttime illumination of Europe in 2010. The Danish team then divided the entire former Roman Empire into a grid of one-degree latitude by one-degree longitude squares and measured the density of Roman roads. They then compared this with the density of modern-day population centres and, once again, found strong evidence that the roads not only facilitated trade, but also innovation in transport and productivity. The infrastructure that developed around those industries most likely had a cumulative effect over the centuries and later became the foundation for urban development across Europe.

    The researchers believe that after Rome’s road system fell into disrepair in North Africa following the empire’s collapse in 476 AD is one explanation for the economic development gap between Europe and other parts of the Middle East that remained a part of the Greek-speaking Byzantine Empire that emerged following Rome’s demise.

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    Advisor Angela's Avatar
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    Well, I certainly believe that roads, or any form of transportation, is a big factor for economic development. English spurted ahead in development in the 19th century, and America as well, because of the rails they put in for train travel. The movement of goods from one place to another in an efficient and cost effective way is essential for development.

    This is a link to that digital atlas.

    Check out the ones for forts and towers. I've studied the Romans for years and never knew there were so many. There are very few in Italy, but when you add cities and settlements they cover most of the boot, but not my father's area, once again, too mountainous.
    You can also zoom in on the area of interest and get more info.

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    It's an interesting study, but I have to be a bit skeptical and ask: what if this is yet another case of correlation is not causation and in fact the pattern of Roman roads fits the modern pattern of demographic concentration and denser infrastructure not because one led to the other, but because both the Roman roads and the modern infrastructure were spontaneously concentrated on lands that,in the past just as nowadays, have strategic geographical location, natural resources, particularly high fertility or other kinds of competitive advantages?
    (Btw are they really sure that unlike North Africans Europeans didn't really leave their roads fall into disrepair along the entire Middle Ages, especially the "dark" ones roughly from 500 to 1000 AD?)

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