If the Roman Empire had managed build a continents-spanning transit system for its empire, it might have looked like this.
Or so says this wonderfully thought-out fantasy transit map from Sasha Trubetskoy, showing the major thoroughfares of the Roman Empire circa 125 A.D. as dozens of stops along multicolored subway lines.
Trubetskoy started poking into the idea after noticing there was a dearth of good maps of Rome’s old road network, let alone train-themed ones. So he decided to go for it, pouring about 50 hours of research and design work into his sprawling “Roman Roads.”
“I enjoy reading about history, though I’m not a huge classics buff,” says Trubetskoy, a 20-year-old statistics major at the University of Chicago.
“But there’s something alluring about Rome’s ability to carve out such a huge and advanced empire, with a legacy that lasts today.”
Trubetskoy’s primary points of historical reference were the Peutinger Table, sort of a gas-station highway map of Rome dating from ancient times, and the Antonine Itinerary, an atlas of thousands of places in the empire with estimated distances calculated among them. He also used Stanford University’s ORBIS tool and the Pelagios Project from Sweden’s Johan Åhlfeldt, which he describes as “kind of like Google Maps for Ancient Rome.”
Trubetskoy didn’t try to represent every single road and town in the empire, going instead for major routes and large-population cities to mark some “stations.”
In certain cases he mapped routes with real titles … the famous Via Appia, for example, the first major road in Rome.
When the historical name didn’t exist or was unknown, he chose creative nomenclatures like the Via Claudia for a road built under Emperor Claudius and the Via Sucinaria (or the Amber Road) to mark an old trade route running from Italy to northern Europe.
“I thought of myself as a Roman government official designing a map that people would actually be using … how do I make it effortless to look at?” he says. “I also had to make sure things were evenly spaced, colors were distinct, and the labels were unambiguous. I started from scratch at least five times before I arrived at the current design.”