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Old 09 August 2018, 06:38 PM
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E. Q. Taft E. Q. Taft is offline
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Default How 2,000-year-old roads predict modern-day prosperity

Prosperity begets prosperity: On a global level, economists and historians have shown that places that prospered 100, 500, even 1,000 years ago tend to be more economically developed today.

But how? A team of Danish economists has put forth a forceful case for one largely overlooked driver of economic development in Europe: roadways built by the Roman empire nearly two thousand years ago.
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Old 09 August 2018, 07:30 PM
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Interesting; thanks for posting it.

My first thought was that the places people build roads to are likely to be places that are prosperous for other reasons, such as access to good water, waterways for travel, and good farmland; but then I saw this part:

Or is it more accurate to say that more prosperous areas in the ancient world simply had more of a tendency to build roads to other places as a natural result of their prosperity?

Dalgaard and his colleagues marshal convincing pieces of evidence to argue in favor of a causal link that runs from ancient roadbuilding to modern-day prosperity. For starters, Roman roads weren’t typically built with trade in mind: their primary purpose was to move troops and supplies to locations of military interest. Trade was an afterthought.
I do wonder, though: why were those locations of military interest to begin with? Wouldn't it have been either because they were prosperous, or because they were choke points on routes between places that were prosperous?

However, in the other direction, plenty of places in the USA that were doing pretty well started doing either a lot better or a lot worse when the railroads came through, depending on whether the line went through that spot or not. And some have gotten into trouble since when the railroad passenger service died and a major highway bypassed the town center.
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Old 09 August 2018, 08:22 PM
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NobleHunter NobleHunter is online now
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I wonder if they controlled for continuity? Once a place has been settled, which would be heavily influenced by the road network, it becomes a locus for economic activity in the future so long as habitation remains sufficiently un-disrupted.

The explanation for North Africa might be climate change. I seem to recall it was a much nicer place to live during the height of Roman power which could explain why the roads don't correlate with current economic activity. I'm also tempted to say the region has less continuity between Roman and modern times but I can't back that up.
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Old 09 August 2018, 09:55 PM
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ASL ASL is offline
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I don’t think they controlled for anything. It seems like they’ve discovered that urban centers (which in Europe have been around for a long time, long enough to have had Roman roads converging on them) have a higher standard of living or are "more prosperous" than undeveloped/rural areas (which probably didn’t have much for roads or transportation then and still don’t now, relative to population centers I mean). I’m pretty sure we already knew that. It’s like saying historically developed areas are more likely to be developed than historically undeveloped areas.

Color me "meh."
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Old 09 August 2018, 11:34 PM
jimmy101_again jimmy101_again is offline
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I would think that a big part of the reason why roads that are thousands of years old are still roads today has to do with the topology. What was an easy place to put a road a long time ago is still an easy place to put a road.
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Old 10 August 2018, 12:10 AM
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I agree with ASL, but the Romans didn't necessarily put roads where it was easy - they deliberately built very straight roads, ignoring the topography; they're just a straight line from A to B. (That's how you can recognise them, still - parts of the road network are still Roman roads, although they've been resurfaced a few times...). Non-Roman roads were built where it was easiest to build them, and so they wind around valleys and so on. (And field boundaries. Some field boundaries in the UK have been around over 1,000 years too...)
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Old 10 August 2018, 01:27 PM
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That would have made a difference, to the extent that the straight roads made places easy to get to that would have been difficult to reach via pre-Roman trade routes that were routed by the topography -- just like the town that got the railroad line doing better than the one that didn't, back when the railroads first went through.
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Old 10 August 2018, 05:38 PM
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And roads set up for Roman troop movement would have been wide and even, a further advantage.
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