Roads and Backstreets
Roads and Backstreets
Let us now look at the roads and side streets in the Roman Palestinian town. The literary evidence about the width of such streets is somewhat problematic. In the baraita in B. Baba Batra 99ab we read as follows: … A private path is four cubits wide, a path from one town to another is eight cubits, a public path 16 cubits, and a path to the cities of refuge 32 cubits wide. … Likewise, M. Baba Kama .5, in the name of Rabbi Eliezer (late first century C.E.), tells us that a standard public path is 16 cubits wide. If we assume the cubit equals approximately 70 cm, we arrive at the following approximate road widths: … private path 2.80 m (=8.5 ft.) … … from one town to another 5.60 m (=17 ft.) … … public path 11.20 m (=34 ft.) … … to cities of refuge 22.40 m (=68 ft.) … This pattern does not correspond to the standard Roman road measurement. Most major Roman roads were about 16 ft. wide (10.5 cubits) and rarely more than 21.5 ft. wide (14 cubits). The narrower streets (angipontus or semitae) had to be at least 9.57 ft. (2.9 m) wide (a little more than 4 cubits) to allow for projecting balconies. The great trunk roads through Gaul or Italy or along the Euphrates frontier in Syria might be 24 ft. wide (16 cubits). Apparently, some roads were even broader than this, since the Pergamene law states that the minimum width of a main country road must be 30 ft. and that of a byroad 12 ft. Krauss noted these discrepancies, writing that “ordinary Roman stratae were about 5 m wide, making the Rabbinic stratae some 3 m broader, and we do not know wherefore there was this great difference between them.” He adds that in the “Palestinian town of Petra there are remains of the Roman road, which is only 2.8 m wide, and must therefore be considered as a via secundaria, but we cannot determine what is its equivalence in Rabbinic parlance.”
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