This is an old saying which we learnt in grade 5 or 6. And I am a little sheepish in claiming that I didn’t know the actual origin of this term.
At the height of the Roman Empire they had built about 13000 km of roads in the Gaul region(the Western European region) now part of France, Belgium etc. and about 4000km of what is now considered Britain and in other areas of Europe.
One of the core principles of the Roman doctrine was to build roads so that the Roman armies could move fast and was the reason for their undisputed might.
All the central or key roads used to terminate in Rome so that the transportation of the army from the central location to any direction was quick.
So why did I decide to look at the roads of the Roman Empire. It started because I was delving into railway line gauges- the width between the inner ends of the railway track.
Globally most railway tracks are built on what is called as standard gauge. In India we now follow what’s called the broad gauge network for all our railway lines. Initially we also followed the standard gauge or what was known in India as meter gauge.
We had to convert to broad gauge because the only way to carry a large population cost effectively in a developing country like India was to accommodate more people per journey.
So if there’s a broader track, you can have broader bogies and when you have broader bogies you can accommodate more people in a bogey.
However now most of our metro and high speed trains that are coming are coming with standard gauge. Which led me to research the size of the standard gauge -Its 4feet 8 and 1/2 inches. This is a very odd figure.
That led me to the history of the development of the standard gauge to Britain, in a town which had coal mines. Which had old remains of roads of the Roman Empire of that width.
Till then I didn’t know that the Roman Empire had extended all the way to Britain. Which made me research where else it had gone. And that brought me to the way the Empire had constructed its road network.
You see how a search for one item led me all the way back to an Empire which existed more than 3000 years back but which still impacts the diameter of the engine of the space shuttle – 4ft 8 and 1/2 inches.
Till next time time then look out, history impacts our decisions today.