When Were the First Artificial Roads Built?
The earliest artificial roads, as distinct from the natural routes, trails and paths of primitive man, were probably built by the city Kingdoms of the Tigris-Euphrates Valley in the Middle East where the first wheeled vehicles may have rolled about 5,000 years ago. Among the first road engineers mentioned in history were those who accompanied the army of the Assyrian empire-builder Tiglath Pileser I about 1100 B.C., and constructed a route to enable the conqueror to pursue his enemies through the mountains to the north of Mesopotamia.
The Assyrians set an example to succeeding empires by establishing an elaborate system of roads for the transport of troops and the dispatch of instructions from the central government to local governors. Before the coming of the Romans, the biggest and best organized road systems were those belonging to the Persians who founded their empire about 500 B.C., and the rulers of northern India whose dominions around 300 B.C., were already served by a well-equipped highway more than 2,500 miles long.
A source of great pride to the Persian Empire, which at one time covered the territory now occupied by Iran, Syria, Iraq, Turkey and northern Egypt, was the so-called Royal Road. This stretched some 1,600 miles from the Susa, the capital, to the Aegean Sea, and was provided with staging posts which enabled relays of horses to cover the distance in nine to ten days. Comparatively few of the roads of antiquity were properly surfaced until the great Roman engineers began to set a standard for reliability, directness, ingenuity and strength which has not been equaled until recent times.
The construction of the Appian Way in 312 B.C., from Rome to the important salt deposits of Capua was the start of a network which provided the empire with vital arteries and gave Europe its principal roads for more than 1,000 years. On the main routes the Romans provided fresh horses at regular intervals to carry imperial messages to and from the capital at speeds of up to 150 miles a day. Before the Spanish conquests in South America, the Great Inca Empire, which stretched from Ecuador into modern Chile, was sustained by a 3,200-mile road spanning deep gorges and climbing rocky heights to cross one of the world’s most mountainous regions.
In North America the first big man-made highway was built in Maryland by British army on its way to fight the French. In Europe centuries of neglect was ended with a revival led by two Scottish engineers, John Loudon McAdam (1756-1836) and Thomas Telford (1757-1834). But the world knew nothing to rival the old Roman network until the coming of the automobile produced the 20th Century revolution in overland communications.