Subway maps, the product of months of research and design, can distort reality to make geographic space simpler and easier to understand at a glance. Designer, economics student, and self-described geography and data nerd Alexandr Sasha Trubetskoy applies this modern concept to the ancient roads that connected Rome at the height of its empire, when it stretched from the British Isles to North Africa into the Middle East.
The convenience of instantly knowing the correct “stop” would have been wasted on actual Roman citizens, who spent weeks walking, horseback riding, or sailing from point to point. “In the summer, it would take you about two months to walk on foot from Rome to Byzantium,” Trubetskoy writes in the project notes. “If you had a horse, it would only take you a month.” He notes that traveling by sea was exponentially cheaper and faster than land, but omitted maritime routes for simplicity’s sake.
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Trubetskoy sourced the map data from Stanford’s ORBIS model, The Pelagios Project, and the Antonine Itinerary, with the caveat that certain gaps in historians’ knowledge were filled with certain creative liberties. “There is no way I could include every Roman road, these are only the main ones,” he says. Population centers and provincial capitals take priority, and he’s named some nameless roads, or conflated overlapping ones.
A Washington DC-raised sophomore at the University of Chicago, Trubetskoy is double majoring in statistics and economics. He makes maps like these in his spare time. Occasionally they go viral, as with a scale representation of US-Mexican border cities, the Bay Area according to Urban Dictionary, and now his Roman subway map. Check out some close-ups of his latest below:
See more of Alexandr Sasha Trubetskoy’s work on his website.