The Appian Way (Latin and Italian: Via Appia) was the most important ancient Roman road. It is also called the "the queen road". It connected Rome to Brindisi, Apulia in southeast Italy. Its importance is indicated by its common name, recorded by Statius:
Dense populations of sovereign Samnites remained in the mountains north of Capua, which is just north of the Greek city of Neapolis. Around 343 BC, Rome and Capua attempted to form an alliance, a first step toward a closer unity. The Samnites reacted with military force.
Between Capua and Rome lay the Pomptine Marshes (Pomptinae paludes), a swamp infested with malaria. A coastal road wound its tortuous way between Ostia at the mouth of the Tiber and Neapolis. The via Latina followed its ancient and scarcely more accessible path along the foothills of Monti Laziali and Monti Lepini, which are visible towering over the former marsh.
In the First Samnite War (343 BC-341 BC) the Romans found they could not support or resupply troops in the field against the Samnites across the marsh, but won anyway. A revolt of the Latin League drained their resources further. They gave up the attempted alliance. The rich lands and connections with Campania were being snatched away from them for the moment.
Colonies alone apparently were not the answer. In 321 BC, a Roman army was trapped in the mountain passes north of Capua, at Caudium. At the Battle of the Caudine Forks they were kept penned in without supplies, especially water, until the Senate bought their release in exchange for a treaty the Romans considered humiliating, by which they provided hostages and gave up the colonies. The treaty was a 5-year one. Rome used the time to defeat the Italic tribes around Samnium. In 316 BC, at the end of the treaty, Samnium joined the universal war of Italics against Rome, which was badly beaten again at the Battle of Lautulae in 315 BC. By 312 BC, the situation was bleak for Rome and became bleaker when, in 311 BC, the Etruscans in Etruria and Campania decided to go over to the Samnites.
In 312 BC, Appius Claudius Caecus became censor at Rome. He was of the gens Claudia (also sometimes called Clodia), who were patricians descended from the Sabines taken into the early Roman state. He had been given the name of the founding ancestor of the gens. He was a populist, i.e., an advocate of the common people. A man of inner perspicacity, in the years of success he was said to have lost his outer vision and thus acquired the name caecus, "blind".
Without waiting to be told what to do, Appius Claudius began bold public works to address the supply problem. An aqueduct (the Aqua Appia) secured the water supply of the city of Rome. By far the best known project was the road, which ran straight, across the Pomptine Marshes to the coast northwest of Naples, where it turned north to Capua. On it, any number of fresh troops could be sped to the theatre of operations, and supplies could be moved en masse to Roman bases without hindrance by either enemy or terrain. It is no surprise that, after his term as censor, Appius Claudius became consul twice, subsequently held other offices, and was a respected consultant to the state even during his later years.
The main part of the Appian Way was started and finished in 312 BC.
The road began as a leveled dirt road upon which small stones and mortar were laid. Upon this gravel was laid, which was finally topped with tight fitting, and interlocking stones to provide a flat surface. Some of the stones were have said to fit so well that you could not slide a knife into the cracks.The road was crested in the middle (for water runoff) and had ditches on either side of the road which were protected by retaining walls.
The road began in the Forum Romanum, passed through the Servian Wall at the porta Capena, went through a cutting in the clivus Martis, and left the city. For this stretch of the road, the builders used the via Latina. The building of the Aurelian Wall centuries later required the placing of another gate, the Porta Appia. Outside of Rome the new via Appia went through well-to-do suburbs along the via Norba, the ancient track to the Alban hills, where Norba was situated. The road at the time was a via glarea, a gravel road. The Romans built a high-quality road, with layers of cemented stone over a layer of small stones, crowned, drainage ditches on either side, low retaining walls on sunken portions, and dirt pathways for sidewalks. The via Appia is believed to have been the first Roman road to feature the use of lime cement. The materials were volcanic rock. The surface was said to have been so smooth that you could not distinguish the joints. The Roman section still exists and is lined with monuments of all periods, although the cement has eroded out of the joints, leaving a very rough surface.
The via Appia picked up the coastal road at Tarracina. However, the Romans straightened it somewhat with huge cuttings, which form cliffs today. From there the road swerved north to Capua, where, for the time being, it ended. Caudine Forks was not far to the north. The itinerary was Aricia (Ariccia), Tres Tabernae, Appii Forum, Tarracina (Terracina), Fundi (Fondi), Formiae (Formia), Minturnae (Minturno), Sinuessa (Mondragone), Casilinum and Capua, but some of these were colonies added after the Samnite Wars. The distance was 132 miles. The original road had no milestones, as they were not yet in use. A few survive from later times, including a first milestone near the porta Appia.
The Third Samnite War (298 BC-290 BC) is perhaps misnamed. It was an all-out attempt by all the neighbors of Rome: Italics, Etruscans and Gauls, to check the power of Rome. The Samnites were the leading people of the conspiracy. Rome dealt the northerners a crushing blow at the Battle of Sentinum in Umbria in 295 BC. The Samnites fought on alone. Rome now placed 13 colonies in Campania and Samnium. It must have been during this time that they extended the via Appia 35 miles beyond Capua past the Caudine forks to a place the Samnites called Maloenton, “passage of the flocks.” The itinerary added Calatia, Caudium and Beneventum (not yet called that). Here also ended the via Latina.
Possession of the region and control of southern Italy was contested by King Pyrrhus of Epirus in neighboring Greece on behalf of the Greek presence in Italy. In 280 BC the Romans suffered another defeat at the hands of Pyrrhus at the Battle of Heraclea on the coast west of Tarentum. Making the best of it, the Roman army turned on Greek Rhegium and effected a massacre of Pyrrhian partisans there.
Rather than pursue them, Pyrrhus went straight for Rome along the via Appia and then the via Latina. He knew that if he continued on the via Appia he could be trapped in the marsh. Wary of such entrapment on the via Latina also, he withdrew without fighting after encountering opposition at Anagni. Wintering in Campania, he withdrew to Apulia in 279 BC, where, pursued by the Romans, he defeated them again at the Battle of Asculum. Withdrawing from Apulia for a Sicilian interlude, he returned to Apulia in 275 and started for Campania up the nice Roman road.
Supplied by that same road, the Romans successfully defended the region against Pyrrhus, who won his “Pyrrhic victory” at the Battle of Beneventum (not yet named that) in 275 BC, suffering such losses that he had to withdraw. The Romans lost twice as many, but they could replace those men, while Pyrrhus could not. As it is the habit of soldiers everywhere to twist place names, the Roman soldiers changed Maloenton to Maleventum, “the place of the bad outcome.” Consequently, Roman magistrates placing a colony there in 268 BC renamed it Beneventum, “the place of the good outcome.”
Exiting by the back door at Brundisium, the ancient port of embarcation for Greece, Pyrrhus left for easier fields of battle. The Romans pushed the via Appia to there in 264 BC. The itinerary from Benvenutum was now Venusia, Tarentum, Uria and Brundisium. The Roman Republic was the government of Italy, for the time being. Appius Claudius had died in 273, but in extending the road a number of times, no one had tried to displace his name upon it.
In 73 BC, a slave revolt (known as the Third Servile War) under the ex-gladiator of Capua, Spartacus, broke out against the Romans. Spartacus defeated many Roman armies, but unwittingly moved his forces into the historic trap in Apulia/Calabria, where he hoped to escape from Brindusium. The Romans were well acquainted with the region. Legions were brought home from abroad and Spartacus fell into the very sort of trap the Romans had had to buy their way out of at Caudium and that Pyrrhus had tried so hard to evade: he was penned between armies. On his defeat the Romans judged that the slaves had broken their contract and had forfeited the right to live. In 71 BC, they were executed by crucifixion, a standard method. Some 6,000 crosses lined the via Appia all the way to Capua.
In 1943, during World War II, the Allies fell into the same trap Pyrrhus had retreated to avoid, in the Pomptine fields, the successor to the Pomptine marshes. The marsh remained, despite many efforts to drain it, until engineers working for Benito Mussolini finally succeeded. (Even so, the fields were infested with malarial mosquitos until the advent of DDT in 1950s.)
Hoping to break a stalemate at Monte Cassino, the Allies landed on the coast of Italy at Anzio, ancient Antium, which was midway between Ostia and Terracina. When they landed, they found that the place was undefended. They hoped to move along the line of the via Appia to take Rome, outflanking Monte Cassino, but they did not do so quickly enough. The Germans swiftly occupied Mounts Laziali and Lepini along the track of the old Via Latina, from which they rained down a hail of shells on Anzio. Even though the Allies expanded into all the Pomptine region, they gained no ground. The Germans counterattacked down the via Appia from the Alban hills in a front four miles wide, but could not retake Anzio. The battle lasted for four months, one side being supplied by sea, the other by land through Rome. In May 1944, the Allies broke out from Anzio and quickly took Rome, although the German forces escaped to the north of Florence.
After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the road fell out of use; Pope Pius VI ordered its restoration. A new Appian Way was built in parallel with the old one in 1784 as far as the Alban Hills region. The new road is the via Appia nuova as opposed to the old section, now a tourist attraction, the via Appia antica. Wide parts of the original road have been preserved, and some are now used by cars (for example, in the area of Velletri). Along the part of the road closest to Rome, one can see many tombs and catacombs of Roman and early Christian origin. Also the Church of Domine Quo Vadis is in the first mile of the road.
There are the remains of several Roman bridges along the road, including the Ponte di Tre Ponti, Ponte di Vigna Capoccio, Viadotta di Valle Ariccia, Ponte Alto and Ponte Antico.