How China’s Belt & Road Initiative imitates the Roman Empire

Daniel G. Jennings
8 min readSep 19

Interestingly, the Chinese Communist Party is imitating the Roman Empire with its Belt & Road Initiative. To explain, the Chinese government is financing a vast transportation network similar to the legendary Roman Roads.

Historians estimate the Romans built over 400,000 kilometers (248,548.477 miles) of roads to facilitate trade and troop movement. Around 80,500 kilometers (50,020.381 miles) of those roads were paved.

A Roman Road on the Blackstone Edge in Greater Manchester, England

Importantly, Roman Roads had military, political, economic, and marketing functions. Like China’s Grand Canal, the Roman Roads formed the backbone of the empire.

The Backbone of Empire

“The highways of the Empire lead everywhere,” Cicero, Roman lawyer and politician.

The “vast network of roads not only facilitated trade but also symbolized Rome’s dominance serving as a visual representation of their power,” Adam Singer writes at Substack. Singer thinks the roads were a branding mechanism for the Roman Empire.

Ironically, Roman Roads’ initial purpose was military, not political. The Roman Republic became the Mediterranean’s dominant state because of its infantry. The Republic could raise and deploy enormous numbers of highly trained infantrymen. These were the legendary Roman Legionnaires.

In their heyday, Roman infantry beat almost all foes, including the Greek hoplites, Carthaginian mercenaries, Macedonians, and Celtic tribes. Roman infantrymen could even defeat war elephants.

The infantry spawned the roads because Roman generals needed to move large formations of men soldiers fast. They built the roads so thousands of men could march in formation. Roman infantry usually moved on foot. The roads allowed the Roman Senate, and later Emperors, to deploy troops all over the empire from Israel to Germany.

How The Roman Roads Made a World

However, the roads they built for infantry also facilitated trade and cultural exchange. For example, ox carts and horses could move on the same…

Daniel G. Jennings

Daniel G. Jennings is a writer who lives and works in Colorado. He is a lifelong history buff who is fascinated by stocks, politics, and cryptocurrency.