Italian Language Blog

All roads lead to Rome – part 1 Posted by on Jun 24, 2009 in Culture

Tutte le strade portano a Roma (all roads lead to Rome) is an expression that we use to mean that there are many different ways to arrive somewhere or achieve something. But a couple of millennium ago this famous expression was a statement of fact.

One of the many great achievements of the Roman empire was its development of an astounding system of ‘autostrade’ (‘motorways’), although of course in those days travel was by foot or horseback, and heavy haulage was by ox and cart.

Between 500 B.C. and 100 A.D. Rome grew from being a little village on the banks of the Fiume Tevere (River Tiber) to the heart of a vast empire stretching from northern England to Syria. Rome’s unique form of government and highly disciplined army allowed her to conquer and subdue her neighbors. Vast sums of money were invested in expansion, and as soon as a new area had been conquered new roads were constructed in order to facilitate the transport of reinforcements and supplies

Traditionally, the new roads were named after the person in authority who initiated their construction. Between 300 B.C. and 80 A.D. for example, the Romans constructed the Via Aurelia, Via Appia, Via Flaminia, Via Flavia and Via Fulvia, all named after eminent Romans. This, however, is not an exhaustive list of all Roman roads, just a selection to give you an idea of their extent and importance. 

La Via Appia

Initiated by Appius Claudius in 312 B.C. the Via Appia originally ran from the ancient city gate, which is nowadays known as the Porta San Sebastiano, to the small town of Formia, about 90 miles to the south. Later the road was extended all the way down to Brindisi on the ‘heel’ of Italy, which was the main trading port between Rome and Greece. During the Roman era the Via Appia was the most important road in the empire, and legend has it that the apostle Peter arrived in Rome by travelling along its route.

La Via Aurelia

The Via Aurelia begins (or ends, depending on how you look at it) at Porta San Pancrazio in Rome. In 241 B.C. Aurelius Cotta ordered a road built which would stretch from the capital, along the coast to Livorno in the north. This was later extended to continue towards Genova and beyond, eventually arriving in France.

La Via Flaminia

Anyone who knows the Ligurian coast of Le Cinque Terre will understand why this was not a favorite route for the Romans, who are famous for their avoidance of curves and hills. North of La Spezia in fact, the mountains and sea cliffs made this stretch of the Italian peninsular a Roman road builder’s worst nightmare! Hence the Via Flaminia, the Roman empire’s main route between the Capital and France. The Via Flaminia was initiated by the socialist Gaius Flaminius in 212 B.C., and followed the valley of the Fiume Tevere upstream towards Rimini on the Adriatic coast. In order to improve the flow of traffic along the road, a tunnel was constructed sometime around 70 A.D., and that tunnel is still in use today.

La Via Fulvia

From Rimini the Via Emilia carried Roman traffic towards Piacenza where it linked with the Via Fulvia, named after Quintus Fulvius who had it constructed in 179 B.C. The final section of the road to France continues on from Piacenza to Rivoli, west of Torino.

La Via Flavia

in 78 A.D. the emperor Flavius Vespasianus ordered the construction of a road from Aquileia to Pula in Croatia. Founded in 181 B.C. as a colony intended to prevent the incursion of barbarian tribes Aquileia was to become the north eastern capital of the Roman Empire. Nowadays it is a UNESCO world heritage site and home of the National Archaeological Museum (one of the most important museums of Roman Archaeology in the world), as well as extensive excavations of the original Roman city. Here is the official web site for Aquileia: and this site (in English) has some information and photos relating to the museum and archeological sites: Museo Aquileia 

I studied Aquileia when I was an archaeology student at Pisa University many years ago, but unfortunately never had the opportunity to visit it. Oh well, as they say ‘tutte le strade portano a Roma’ so maybe someday I’ll find myself there!

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  1. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    I always took “All roads lead to Rome” as meaning that something was inevitable. That is, no matter what you do, you will eventually wind-up in Rome. “There is more than one way to skin a cat” is how I would say, “there are many ways to accomplish the same thing.”

    Interesting: I don’t think it would make sense to an American to say that since “all roads lead to Rome, you just might wind-up in Paris one day.” Can you also use “Tutte le strade portano a Roma” to mean some things are inevitable?


  2. Serena:

    Salve Vince,

    The Italian meaning of ‘tutte le strade portano a Roma’ is exactly the same as the English one. Here is what the Treccani official ‘Vocabolario della Lingua Italiana’ says “uno scopo puo’ essere raggiunto con mezzi diversi”. which means: ‘an aim can be reached by different means’ or, as I wrote in my blog “there are many different ways to arrive somewhere or achieve something”. It definately doesn’t have the meaning of something being inevitable. The final paragraph about one day getting to Aquileia was a kind of joke, or play on the title of the blog.


  3. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    Now that you mention it, I will have to agree with you. It makes sense.

    However, I always considered these wise folk sayings to be self-evident. I don’t remember ever being taught any of these sayings in school.

    It just seems natural to me that if all A is B, then it is inevitable that if A, then B. If all rivers run to the sea, then it is inevitable that rivers will end up in the sea.

    I think the saying that “there’s more than one way to skin a cat” is far more intuitive than “all roads lead to Rome”. But then, when in Rome, one should do as the Romans do. Now that is intuitive.


  4. Vince Mooney:

    Salve Serena:

    On a series note, after due consideration, I don’t believe the Romans would use the phrase ‘Omnes viae Romam ducunt” to mean ‘there is more than one way to accomplish an objective’. The Romans were too logical to mean that. The Romans would have said “Many roads lead to Rome.”

    I believe that the statement that “All roads lead to Rome” was a way to drive home to the world the power, prestige, and authority of the Roman government.

    I see it as an answer to the question a Syrian might have asked, “Why does Rome get to set our taxes, pick our King, and make our laws?”

    Why? “All roads lead to Rome.” That’s why.


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