A travel narrative following three ancient roads and looking at more than two thousand years of history of Ancient Rome through the modern eye.
In 66 b.c., young, ambitious Julius Caesar, seeking recognition and authority, became the curator of the Via Appia, a road stretching from Rome to Brindisi. To gain popularity with Roman citizens along the way, he borrowed significant sums to restore the ancient highway. He eventually achieved greatness in Rome and the far reaches of Gaul, leading armies along the Via Appia and its sister road, the Via Egnatia, across the Balkans, to battle enemies in Roman civil wars.
Other armies followed these two roads that eventually connected Rome to Constantinople, today’s Istanbul. Both Octavian and, later, his friend-turned enemy Mark Antony traveled portions of these roads to defeat Caesar’s murderers, Brutus and Cassius. The great Roman statesman Cicero, the Roman poet Homer, the historian Virgil, and many other notables also journeyed on them. In the early second century a.d., the emperor Trajan charted a new, faster, coastal route between Benevento and Brindisi, later called the Via Traiana.
Today, the remains of these roads are preserved as archaeological wonders, and can be seen through the countryside near, and sometimes under, modern highways in the ruins of ancient Roman cities. Some of the earliest villages have disappeared, while others have grown into modern towns with the ancient roads hidden beneath latter-day pavements.
In this sojourn across Roman history, John Keahey delves into encounters with diverse peoples in these towns in Italy, North Macedonia, Greece, and Turkey, who warmly embrace travelers following in the footsteps of their ancestors. They shared knowledge of historical sites, meals, and a wealth of local lore. Keahey’s unparalleled storytelling breathes life into the prominent figures, pivotal events, and ancient roads that paved the way for the rise and endurance of the Roman empire. It is a journey full of adventure, discovery, and friendship.
This delightful travelogue from historian Keahey (Seeking Sicily) chronicles his three-month journey to walk the very stones Julius Caesar did some 2,000 years ago. While traversing the routes of the Via Appia and the Via Traiana in Italy and the Via Egnatia across the Balkans, Keahey ruminates on the integral role played in Roman and European history by these roads, sections of which underlie modern highways today, and traces the paths of famous figures who traveled them, including the poet Horace and the apostles Peter and Paul. Throughout, Keahey highlights the impact these roads had on Caesar's political career. In 66 BCE, a young Caesar became curator of the Via Appia, which stretched from Rome to Brindisi in southern Italy. Spending his own fortune on improvements and repairs, Caesar gained favor with villages along the route, paving the way for his first electoral victory. He later achieved acclaim leading armies along the route to fight Rome's civil wars. As Keahey seeks out the remaining stretches of the original roadways, he charmingly recounts being assisted by archeologists, historians, and knowledgeable locals; on one memorable occasion, he's driven through the mud of a farmer's field to be shown a yet unmapped portion of the Via Appia. This winsome and deeply researched account will spellbind readers.