Near the end of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus might have been referencing the Roman road system when he said: “Broad is the road that leads to destruction… Narrow is the road that leads to life.” (Matthew 7:13-14) The assembled crowd to whom Jesus was speaking had access to an amazing network of broad roads that had been built under the Roman Empire.
Ancient roads and the Romans
Most ancient roads were simple dirt paths for caravans. They were notorious for mud pits, wash-outs, and cave-ins. But Roman engineers discovered how to make roads that would last a very, very long time. One of the wonders of Roman engineering was the construction of a sturdy and interconnected road system throughout their entire Empire. The first and most famous was the Appian Way, which connected Rome with Brindisi in Southeast Italy. The Appian Way was started in 312 BC. It was 15-feet-wide and 350 miles long, made of smooth paving stones that can still be seen today.
By the time of Jesus’ ministry, the Roman road system consisted of great highways radiating from Rome, running through dozens of provinces, territories, and client kingdoms. This road system eventually increased to as many as 29 great highways interconnected by 372 great road links. In all, there was approximately 250,000 miles of road system, of which 50,000 miles was considered “stone-paved super-highway.”
This is where we got the expression, “All roads lead to Rome.” In the Roman Empire, that was literally true.
Specific Roman roads
In Israel, there was a major paved Roman highway that ran along the entire shore of the Mediterranean – known as “Via Maris” or “Way of the Sea.” The other primary Roman highway in the region ran just east of Israel. This was known as the “King’s Highway.” Together, these two paved road systems connected Africa and Asia in trade.
There was a third paved highway that connected the King’s Highway with the Way of the Sea, and this ran from Damascus right through the Galilee region of Israel. Since Jesus spent much of his public ministry in Galilee, he would have come in contact with a wide variety of people without travelling very far. This is probably why many of his teachings were multi-layered – they needed to speak to the Jewish culture, as well as a variety of cultures in the Hellenized Roman Empire that traveled on the Roman road system.