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Why do all roads lead to Rome?

44’s Jordan Taylor walks down the historical path back to Ancient Rome. He’s on a mission to reveal the lessons the Romans have left etched in their roads for the modern-day communicator.

“What did the Romans ever do for us?”

It’s a question that’s often heard echoing off the schoolroom blackboards as a teacher lists in vain the top Roman inventions: central heating, flushing toilets, sewers and the calendar.

But for the modern-day communicator, there are more pertinent answers to that question. After all, the Ancient Romans have given us much to talk about, namely an entire language. Did you know that 60% of all English words are derived from Latin[1]?

Beyond this, there lies something ever more enlightening – the Roman road system. Europe is littered with these vestiges of the Roman Empire. Take the Fosse Way in the UK for example. Despite being built in the first century AD, its diagonal route still cuts through England and remains a popular road for commuters and tourists alike, myself included.

If you look past the dusty cobbles, there are lessons that the modern-day communicator can learn from the Romans and their roads. Don’t believe me? Read on.

Here’s my super sex* Roman lessons:

I. Get straight to the point

If there’s one thing that Roman roads are known for, it’s their straightness. Their roads cut a definable line through our landscape, taking the shortest possible distance between A to B. It meant people like Caecilius could get to the local baths quickly and helped make trade across land more efficient.

Lesson: To make sure your message reaches your target audience, use the quickest and most direct route. The longer it takes, the less effective your message will be. See Shannon and Weaver’s theory on ‘noise’ for more information about the distortion of messages[2].

II. Understand your limits

The preceding point bears the caveat that the Romans did not plough an immoveable line through every obstacle. They knew their limits. After all, there was no business sense in Caecilius forcing his poor donkey to suffer as it pulls a cart up a steep mountain path!

As Guy de la Bédoyère explains in The Romans for Dummies[3]: “Gradients were measured, and if the slope was more than about 10%, then the road would have to zigzag up the slope.”

Lesson: It’s important to recognise your boundaries and address the solution rationally. Youthful vigour can only take you so far… and donkeys can be woefully lazy!

III. Get connected

The Roman road system linked up one of the world’s most successful empires, allowing the fast movement of troops, goods and peoples. And these arteries of administration all flowed back to a central hub like Rome. In Britannia (modern day England and Wales), 9,000km of roads criss-crossed the land all leading back to Londinium (London).

Lesson: Comms channels exist to connect as many people as possible, but they should also link up with the point of leadership (i.e. the senior executive team). Why? Well, it’s crucial to building trust. You can read all about it here.

IV. Build it well

The Romans built fine roads – they could endure all weathers and were designed with a curved surface so rainwater could run off into the drains[4]. No surprise then that Roman road network has endured the test of time with original sections of the Appian Way in Italy surviving to this day.

Lesson: If you build your comms channel robustly, then there’s a good chance it’ll last.

V. Be purposeful

The Romans built their roads to fulfil clear aims: to unify, order and control the wider Roman Empire. It’s what motivated them and it led to a vast geo-political entity, the likes of which its modern counterpart, the European Union, might envy.

Lesson: By setting out a clear objective, you can build your channel or campaign around a central idea. This will help drive your message in the right direction. It’s what we did best in our ‘Small but Mighty’ pocket Network Guide for Vodafone.

VI. Use existing foundations

Of course, the Romans should not take all the credit for their road systems. It’s a misconception that pre-Roman Britons lived in a pathless land, forced to hack through overgrown woodland with nothing more than their bare hands.

As Victor Gollancz writes in his study of Roman roads in the South-East Midlands: “What did the Roman find when he arrived in the first century AD? He found a trackway already 2,000 years old”[5]. That means that the Romans built their road network based upon common routes that already existed.

Lesson: If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. You don’t always need to start afresh to build your perfect comms network. You can use pre-existing foundations as a starting point but remember to analyse them carefully and build upon the ones that are most popular.

So when you next hear someone ask “What did the Romans ever do for us?”, you can answer them confidently, armed like a legionnaire with knowledge in your hand.

But what’s the one thing the Romans have taught you? Perhaps they’ve improved your writing style or maybe they’ve given you the tools to carry out your job? Share your stories with us on Twitter using #supersex.

*Calm down, ‘sex’ is Latin for six.







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