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City Traffic Laws - Printable Version

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City Traffic Laws - Nathan Ross - 07-12-2017

I've been trying to collect information on traffic regulations in Roman cities. Several times I've read that Julius Caesar banned wheeled vehicles from the centre of Rome itself in daylight, and I wondered whether that ruling extended to other places, and how long it lasted.

The actual law seems to be Lex Julia Municipalis of 44BC: After January 1 next no one shall drive a wagon along the streets of Rome or along those streets in the suburbs where there is continuous housing after sunrise or before the tenth hour of the day...

The law goes on to make exceptions for wagons transporting building material or rubbish. But the word plostra (or plaustra) indicates that these are heavy goods vehicles, not just anything on wheels.

The next ruling, according to Suetonius, was from Claudius - He provided by an edict that travellers should not pass through the towns of Italy except on foot, or in a chair or litter. (Claudius 25.2)

This is far more specific and wide ranging. However, the law was obviously not strictly applied, if we can believe the Historia Augusta, as Hadrian had to repeat it: He forbade the entry into Rome of heavily laden waggons, and did not permit riding on horseback in cities. (Hadrian 22.6).

What looks like this same ruling was then repeated once more by Marcus Aurelius: He forbade riding and driving within the limits of any city (HA Marc.Aur 23.8).

Things appear to change a bit in the early third century, when Septimius Severus allowed senatorial legates to ride in carriages in the city (HA Sev 2.7), although again this law needed reinforcing, or perhaps extending, by Severus Alexander: He permitted every senator to use a carriage in the city... thinking that it enhanced the dignity of Rome...(HA Sev Alex 43.1)

The HA's life of Aurelian (however believable it might be) has an interesting detail: while still a tribune, Aurelian entered Antioch in a carriage, for the reason that because of a wound he could not ride his horse… when he desired to change to a horse, because at that time the use of a carriage in a city was attended with odium [quia invidiosum tunc erat vehiculis in civitate uti] , a horse belonging to the emperor was led up to him... (Aur 5.3)

So it seems from this that by the late 3rd century riding horses in cities was now okay - at least for military tribunes - and even carriages were fine if you had a good reason, although 'attended with odium'. The note about this being the case 'at that time', however, implies that things had changed by the actual or supposed date of the HA... (and in fact the Life of Aurelian begins with 'Junius Tiberianus, the prefect of the city' riding through Rome in 'his carriage, that is to say, his official coach.')

The last piece of legislation I can find comes from the Theodosian Code (14.11.1, title 12), dated January 30, AD386: All dignitaries of high civil or military rank shall have the right always to use within Our City of most sacred name the vehicles of their rank, that is, two-horse carriages.

'Our city' was presumably Rome. Did this apply to Constantinople too, and to other cities as well?

Have I missed anything here? In particular, is there anything from the period between Severus and the Theodosian Code that could show how legislation, or  behaviour, might have changed?