Milemarkers? Odometers? The wonders of ancient Rome still amaze highway engineers

| 11/10/2003

The American Society of Highway Engineers newsletter, “The Scanner” published an interesting article in its Nov. 5 edition. A bit out of the norm for “The Scanner,” it featured a detailed, although not lengthy article about the highways of ancient Rome.

The writer, Dave Smith, professional engineer and land surveyor specializing in highway design, surveying and mapping, custom engineering and more, makes the point “there is still no substitute for vision, experience and ingenuity in highway design.”

Attesting to this is the fact that sections of these roads are still intact “in one form or another,” even after 2,000 years, and obviously a fascinating example of unparalleled design and construction for today’s engineers.

Among the interesting facts Smith points out: Roman highways had milemarkers.

“Roadways were well signed and marked at every mile with a stone monument, of tremendous accuracy.”

Smith writes that mile markers were often monumental in themselves, many standing 6 feet tall, and bearing mileages to the next town and intermediate points, as well as dates and names of the builders.

So, if they had mile markers, did ancient Romans have odometers? Smith says yes, sort of. According to his report, they utilized a form of odometer, essentially a calibrated, geared mechanism attached to the wheel of a cart for measuring distances and setting mile markers.

To read Smith’s entire article, go to