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Bill Thayer

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p234 Callis

Unsigned article on p234 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

CALLIS, a beaten path or track made by the feet of cattlea (Serv. ad Virg. Aen. IV.405; Isidor. Orig. XV.16 §10).º The sheep-walks in the mountainous parts of Campania and Apulia were the property of the Roman state; and as they were of considerable value, one of the quaestors usually had these calles assigned to him as his province, whence we read of the Callium provincia.b His principal duties were to receive the scriptura, or tax paid for the pasturage of the cattle, and to protect life and property in these wild and mountainous districts. When the senate wished to put a slight upon the consuls on one occasion they endeavoured to assign to them as their provinces, the care of the woods (silvae) and sheep-walks (calles) (Tac. Ann. IV.27; Suet. Caes. 19, Claud. 29; in the last passage the reading is doubtful.)

Thayer's Notes:

a This is the lowly origin of the Spanish word for street, calle. The Roman word for a city street, by and large, was via — which, in the principal languages of Europe, has only survived in its original meaning in Italian.

All the other modern words for a city street can be traced not to streets at all, but to country roads of various types. German Straße and English street come from the idea of a "paved" surface: Latin strata (via). French rue derives from Latin ruga, a crease, or, more cognately, a ridge: in wetter terrain, Roman roads were built up off the surrounding land, and they are still often recognizable today only by the ridge; to get an idea of this, see almost any chapter of Codrington's Roads in Britain.)

At any rate, if this information is new to you, you might enjoy pausing a second and trying to discover why each of these different Latin words were adopted to mean "street" in different parts of Europe. (Don't take it too far or too seriously, though: a little etymology is a dangerous thing.)

b But see J. C. Rolfe, The So‑Called Callium Provincia (AJP 36:323‑331).

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Page updated: 22 Jan 09