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Let's Build a Road:

When in Rome, Do as the Romans Did


Today's Snack: Build a mini-road on a paper plate connecting whole-grain crackers to each other with dabs of peanut butter.







A shallow cardboard box such as the ones that hold 24 cans of pop

A drinking glass


Small stones



A small amount of Plaster of Paris, mortar or cement (optional)



The history of roads revolves around the ancient Roman empire. The Romans were first in the world to build a network of paved roads, beginning with the Appian Way four centuries before the birth of Christ.


The Appian way crossed marshes and made it possible for trade to take place between Rome and countries far, far away. The Romans get a hold of timber to build ships; silver and gold; grain to feed the growing population in Rome; wine; olive oil, luxury clothing; leather; perfumes, spices and dyes.


Originally, though, the Roman roads were built to accommodate military traffic so that the empire could be expanded; you couldn't move large numbers of men, horses and machines over hill and dale. Paved roads made the process much faster and easier.


The Roman highway system grew the most in the first and second centuries after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The roads were extremely well-constructed and were famous for being kept in constant repair. A few are even still in use today!


The roads radiated outward from Rome and reached as far north as the Rhine and Danube Rivers in Germany; into Switzerland; to the highlands of Provence, France; into Spain; into Syria; down the length of the Nile River in Egypt, and across North Africa; find them on a map and you'll see the distance from Rome.


All along each road were mileposts marking the distance from Rome, or the distance to the nearest city in Rome's many provinces.


The Roman engineers had no particular training other than "on the job" work. They were known for building small models extensively, and in actual construction, they made huge, elaborate wooden cranes worked by treadmills and pulleys to move big pieces of stone and other heavy objects. They were especially good with weights and measures.


Here are a few vocabulary words that have to do with roads:


Ballast - anything that makes things steady; to get ballast is why people put sandbags in the trunks of cars in winters where icy road conditions can happen; in roads, the Romans used smaller rocks to make the roads last longer, provide drainage of rainwater, and spread out the load-bearing


Culverts - a drainway under a road, like a sewer


Embankments - dirt and rocks were mounded under the roads so that rainwater would run down off the road quickly


Fortunately, nowadays, we have many powerful machines and technology that help us build roads:


Logging trucks if trees must be cleared


Dynamite to clear away big trees, stumps and boulders


Bulldozers to make the surface for the new road as level as possible, filling in holes and smoothing away bumps


Loaders to dig up extra soil into a dump truck


Dump trucks to carry the soil to the place it's needed


Graders, to make hills not so high and curves not so steep, for safety reasons


Cement mixers to mix and pour cement


Curb-and-gutter machine, which is like a giant Play-Doh factory to squirt out perfectly shaped sidewalk curbs


Compactor, to pack down the soil so that it'll make a hard, smooth base, and get rid of air pockets


More dump trucks, to put a layer of gravel, sand and cement to help rainwater drain away


Steamroller to smooth this base layer flat


Still more dump trucks, to pour hot blacktop into the paver truck


Paver trucks distribute the blacktop while moving for an even layer, repeating at least twice and then sealing


Another truck comes by sprinkling out little pieces of crushed granite, which is a really hared rock, to keep the road nice and tough; as the first cars go by, their tires will push the small granite rocks into the soft blacktop permanently



Wow, huh? There's a lot to it!


Now imagine doing all that by HAND, with shovels!


We'll try making a road without machines, though our road will be extremely short.


To build a model road similar to how the Romans did it, get a shallow cardboard box. Put crumbly dirt into the box and pack it down hard by pushing a water glass into it. Then:


-- Dig a deep trench a little wider than you want your road.


-- Lay a layer of flat stones along the road's path.


-- Fill in between the stones with smaller gravel and sand.


-- Next lay another layer of stones in plaster of Paris, cement or mortar, if you have them, or just make some more sand wet and lay the new stones in that.


-- Then lay more plaster, cement, concrete or wet sand and small stones.


-- The final layer is one more layer of plaster, cement, mortar or wet sand, with tiny gravel sprinkled on top and pressed down gently.



Let dry before you run your toy cars and trucks on it!



By Susan Darst Williams Building 07 2008




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