Roman Roads (February 2020)

All Roads Lead to Rome!

Inside this issue: A Roman road trip board game, Candy Roman road models, the Roman Appius Claudius Caecus, the word “via,” and more!

Email us to suggest a topic for a future issue! 


Main Feature: Two New Lesson Plans
Each issue will feature two lesson or activity ideas: one related to the Latin language, and one related to Classical Studies (Greek or Roman culture, mythology, or history).

1. CULTURE LESSON: Roman Road Trip

Introduction: In this lesson, students will gain insight into the Roman Empire’s network of roads by examining a high-interest, subway-style map. Sasha Trubetskoy, a self-described “geography and data nerd,” showcases his many map creations on his website. His subway-style diagram of the Roman Empire’s roads is sure to instantly grab student’s attention, and its colorful style makes it well suited for an educational board game.

Sasha Trubetskoy’s subway-style diagram of the major Roman roads

Background: One of the greatest achievements of the Romans was their vast system of well-constructed roads. The roads were first built by the Roman army so that they could move more efficiently and quickly as they marched from place to place. Over time, the roads came to be used by all kinds of travelers, and by the time of the Empire there were around 50,000 miles of roads.

Objectives: Students will be able to name several major Roman roads and to explain the significant impact that the Romans’ roads had on their world.



  1. Share the Roman roads slide show with students to give them some basic information about the Roman’s network of roads.
  2. Next, students will play a short board game that will help them to explore the Romans’ roads. Divide students into groups of three, and give each group one color-printed copy of the subway-style Roman roads diagram, one set of color cards, three game pieces, and three copies of the game worksheet. Directions:
    • Each student chooses a destination city. They will all begin from Rome. Encourage students to choose cities that are fairly similar in their distance from Rome so that the game will be fair. (If they have difficulty doing this, the teacher could assign the cities.)
    • The goal is to be the first player to reach his or her destination. This is done by obtaining, in order, cards that match the color of each road needed for the journey.
    • One player serves as the dealer. With all of the color cards face-down in a stack, the dealer takes three cards at once and places them right-side up on the table. Each player may reach for one card and then advance as appropriate on the game board.
      • Players may not share a card; the player who touches the card first may use it. 
      • If none of the three cards is useful to a player’s journey, the player must wait for the next set of three cards.
      • Players may travel via sea if they obtain a Travel by Sea card.
    • The dealer continues to set down cards three at a time until one player reaches his or her destination. 
  3. Students should complete the game worksheet as they play or as they complete the game.
  4. Close with a discussion of the worksheet.
    • Did students make any new observations about the network of Roman roads as they played the game? 
    • Ask students to share their answers to Question #5. Their answers may include:
      • facilitated travel not only for Romans officials, but also for all kinds of travelers
      • helped Rome to manage its empire 
      • encouraged trade
      • made possible the spread of new ideas, eventually including Christianity

2. LATIN LESSON: Building Candy Roman Roads in Latin!

Roman RoadIntroduction: In this lesson, students will learn about the layers of a Roman road, and they will construct models that demonstrate how these layers made the roads so sturdy. This activity has a long history in the programs of Ascanius, and we are excited to share it here!

 Roman roads were built to last! The construction of a road involved filling a ditch with various layers of sand, gravel, and stones. The specific layers and the order seem to have varied from place to place, depending on which materials were available. In this model, we will fill our ditch with sand, followed by large rocks, small rocks (which fill in the gaps), and large flat slabs (the top surface).

Objectives: Students will be able to follow directions in Latin in order to construct a candy Roman road. They will also be able to list the layers that comprised a Roman road.


  • Copies of the Roman Roads Handout
  • Small, clear rectangular Tupperware containers (1 per group)
  • Candy items for each layer of the road (in small ziplock bags for each group)
    • pink lemonade (sand)
    • mini marshmallows (large rocks)
    • granola (small rocks, which fall between the large rocks)
    • 6 flat cookies (large flat paving slabs)
    • 3 peppermint patties (stepping stones used for crossing a city street)
  • 1 pack of Raisinets (optional, to represent animal droppings in the road)
  • 1 stuffed animal horse (optional)

Special Concerns: Classes with less of a background in Latin could do the activity in English without using the Latin script.


  1. Pass out copies of the handout and discuss the layers of the road. 
  2. Instruct the students that they are going to form “engineering teams” and construct their own Roman roads. Each team should receive a clear plastic Tupperware container. It is important that the container be clear so that the layers of the road can be seen.
  3. Have the groups pour in each item only when you instruct them to do so. Give them the instructions in Latin, using this script:
    • Haec est fossa. [pointing to the Tupperware container, the ditch]
    • Primum, fundite pavimentum in fossam. [sand layer = pink lemonade]
    • Deinde, fundite statumen in fossam. [layer of large rocks = marshmallows]
    • Fundite rudum in fossam. [layer of small rocks = granola]
    • Ponite summum dorsum supra rudum. [top level = flat cookies]
  4. Ask the students if they can use their model roads to repeat back the layers of the road (in English or in Latin, depending on the level of the class). This can also be done in Latin by pointing to a layer and asking questions such as, “Quid est?”
  5. Next, have students add their three stepping stones to their roads, and ask if they can guess why those might have been necessary for a city street (animal droppings, mud, etc.). Then, bring the stuffed animal horse and the Raisinets around to each group to add the final touch to the roads.
  6. To close, ask the class these discussion questions:
    • How can we tell that Roman engineers were very skilled?
    • Is anyone in your family an engineer? What does he or she build? Do you think modern engineers have anything in common with Roman engineers?
    • What about today’s roads would surprise a Roman engineer? What about ancient Roman roads might surprise a modern engineer? Why?

***For teachers with older students: It can also be fun to teach the class about the layers of the road but then have the students determine which edible items could be used to represent each layer. The class can be divided into groups who must then bring in their own road construction materials on a certain day designated for road-building. (The teacher just provides the Tupperware ditch!) Each model road will be unique, and prizes can be awarded for most creative, best tasting, and so on!


Online Resource: Stanford’s ORBIS
Each issue will feature a new or popular online resource that could prove useful for Latin and Classical Studies instruction. We aim to stay current so that you can wow your students with how “with-it” you are when it comes to technology!

ORBIS: The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World

The ORBIS online tool is like a Mapquest for the Roman Empire. Users can create routes from one city to another and select options such as season and method of transportation. The website is extremely detailed and includes a long list of cities from which to choose. Students could learn a lot from exploring ORBIS and will find it especially helpful in answering questions about how long it would have taken the Romans to travel from place to place.


Featured Word: “Via”
Each issue will feature a challenging English word that we encourage you and your students to explore together. The English word will always come from one or more Latin words. 

“Via” is one of those Latin words that has been adopted by the English language and continues to be used in common language today. It was Latin’s word for “road,” or “way,” as in the “Appian Way.”  Today, we use it to mean by way of, as in, “She’s flying to St. Louis via Chicago.” It can also mean by means of, such as,”This afternoon I will pick up my child via the car line,” or “In the Roman Road Trip Board Game, I reached my destination by traveling via sea.”

In addition, “via” provides us with a number of English words, including convey, deviate, obvious, viaduct, and voyage. One of the most interesting words from “via” is trivia. The Latin word “trivium” meant a crossroads, literally a place where three (tri-) roads met. Eventually, an adjective, “trivialis,” came to describe something that is found everywhere or is commonplace, like a crossroads, which has the sense of public or common. Thus, “trivia” is common, everyday knowledge.


Famous Roman: Appius Claudius Caecus
Each issue will feature a famous individual or group from Greek or Roman history whom you may wish to explore with your students. 

Appius Claudius Caecus was the Roman censor who was responsible for the construction of one of one of the most famous Roman roads. The Via Appia, or Appian Way, begun in 312 B.C., was named after him. It stretched from the city of Rome to the city of Brundisium on Italy’s southeast coast. The road became important for travel and trade, since it led to the seaports from which ships would travel to and from Greece and other eastern parts of the Mediterranean. The writer Statius even referred to the Appian Way as longarum regina viarum, “the queen of long roads.”

Appius Claudius Caecus lived in a rather early part of Rome’s Republic period, but historians know some details about his life. Although he was a patrician, he attempt political reforms that benefitted freedmen’s sons and non-landowners. He was also responsible for the completion of Rome’s first aqueduct, which was then named after him. (VRoma provides an interesting summary of why the aqueduct came to be named for Appius Claudius Caecus, rather than for his colleague, who had begun the project.) In his older years, Appius Claudius was affected by blindness and so earned the cognomen Caecus, “blind.”


Random Find: Picture Books about Modern Road Construction
Many items being sold today do not directly connect to Latin and Classical Studies, but with a little effort, we can adapt them to serve our purposes. This section explores these types of objects. 

Sally Sutton (Author)
Brian Lovelock (Illustrator)

Road Builders
B.G. Hennessy (Author)
Simms Taback (Illustrator)

Both of these picture books introduce the people, the machines, and the steps involved in the process of building a modern road. We found them because Kristen Bortner, editor of The Shooting Star, is always looking for new picture books for her young children.


  1. Although these books are written for the pre-school audience, students of all ages enjoy a well-written picture book. Either of these books would be useful for an engaging opening discussion about roads. Later, after learning about Roman roads, students could be asked to compare and contrast ancient Roman road-building with modern road-building, perhaps with a Venn diagram.
  2. Students could be read these books and then asked to imagine that they are writing a children’s book of this type, but on the topic of ancient Roman roads instead of modern ones. What differences, large and small, would they make for a children’s book about Roman roads?


All Roads Lead to Rome!

Do all roads really lead to Rome? Well, they can in Europe! The interactive map, Roads to Rome, displays almost 500,000 routes that can lead to Rome from various European starting points. 

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