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The Road is Gone
and as Often, Only the Milestone Remains


[image ALT: A very weathered stone inscription of several lines. It is the inscription on a Roman milestone in Orvieto, Umbria (central Italy).]

Transcribed:

1



5




10
IMP CAES
DIVI NERVAE F
NERVA TRAIANVS
AVG · GERM · DACICVS
PONT · MAX · TRIB · POT · XII
IMP · VI · COS · V · P · P
VIAM NOVAM TRAIAN
A · VOLSINIS · AD · FINES
CLVSINORVM · FECIT
XVII

Expanded:

1



5




10
Imperator Caesar
Divi Nervae filius
Nerva Traianus
Augustus, Germanicus, Dacicus,
pontifex maximus, tribunicia potestate XII,
imperator VI, consul V, Pater Patriae,
viam novam Traianam
a Volsinis ad fines
Clusinorum fecit
XVII

Translated:

1



5




10
The Emperor Caesar
the son of the divine Nerva
Nerva Trajan
Augustus, conqueror of the Germans and of the Dacians,
pontifex maximus, vested for the 12th time with the tribunician power,
emperor for the 6th time, consul for the 5th, Father of the Fatherland,
built a New Traiana Road
from Volsinii to the border
of the Clusians
17

Brief Commentary:

The date is the easiest part: an emperor's inscription is always exactly datable from the years of his tribunician power, which ran sequentially without interruption. Actually, I have a little confession to make; and since it will be of interest to the beginning epigraphist, here it is.

Even on the spot, I found the text hard to read, and in my little book wrote down

. . . TRIB · POT · VII (or XII) / IMP · VI . . .

It was only when I got back to my books (in this case, Sandys' Latin Epigraphy) that I could read TRIB · POT · XII for sure: you see, Trajan's 7th tribunician power ran from 10 Dec 102 to 9 Dec 103 — but that couldn't be it, since he was not proclaimed imperator for the 6th time until A.D. 106. So XII it was: 10 Dec 107 to 9 Dec 108.

The place where this milestone was originally set up is harder. First, I have no information on the actual find; it's quite possible there is none, and this stone has been lying around Orvieto for several centuries, all provenance obliterated.

Then, there's the matter of the places mentioned in the inscription:

  • Clusium is easy: that's modern Chiusi, although where the borders of its territory were is a bit harder.

  • Volsinii is less easy. No one is completely certain what place is meant by this ancient name, the two prime candidates being Bolsena the modern name of which obviously derives from the ancient toponym, and Orvieto, which has an abundance of Etruscan remains. See Pliny, NH 2.53.139‑140 for a catastrophe which annihilated the city.


[image ALT: A map of the roads between Bolsena, Orvieto, and Chiusi in central Italy.]

The usual solution is that Volsinii (Novi) was Bolsena and Volsinii (Veteres) was Orvieto: 41 and 35 km in a straight line, respectively, from the center of modern Chiusi.

Assuming a 10% rate of curvature for the road, reasonable since it traversed sparsely populated and relatively easy terrain, the maximum length of the road was either 45 (if it ran from Bolsena) or 38.5 km (if it ran from Orvieto). The only certainty is that the 17th milestone was 25.5 km by road from Volsinii.

The map drawn here, with the main modern roads, shows a circular arc centered on Orvieto, on which all points are 25.5 km from that town. The milestone must have been somewhere within this circle. It must also have been inside a 13‑km circle centered on Clusium; therefore, if it measured a distance from Orvieto, our milestone must once have stood in the shaded area O belonging to both circles.

Similarly, if it measured a distance from Bolsena, it must have been located in the yellow-shaded area B.

Since the milestone has been in Orvieto for many years, it is slightly more probable that it came from the closer of the two areas on the map; and therefore, that Volsinii was Bolsena, and not Orvieto.


Note:

1 I am indebted to Luis Seabra Lopes of the Talabriga site for this useful idea. To paraphrase it, the rate of curvature is the "slack" in a rope following a road from one end to the other.

If the road is absolutely straight, there will be no slack in the rope: the curvature is 0, as in flat uninhabited terrain.

Most roads are not perfectly rectilinear, though. The extent to which a road departs from a mathematical beeline will vary according to a number of factors, the two most important of which are the terrain they cross, and the number of large towns in the area that it makes sense to have the road traverse. In rough terrain, therefore, a road will wind more, both from side to side and up and down; and if there are several large towns, the planners of the road will very likely want to build the road thru them, making a zigzag path rather than a perfectly straight one.

If a road from Chiusi to Bolsena (41 km by air) is 45.1 km long, the rate of curvature is (45.1 - 41)/41 = 10%.


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Page updated: 13 Jul 12