Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

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ἑκηβόλος
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Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Tue Feb 26, 2019 2:12 pm

Given that Roman roads were two-way, which side did they move to when confronted with oncoming traffic/people?
τί δὲ ἀγαθὸν τῇ πομφόλυγι συνεστώσῃ ἢ κακὸν διαλυθείσῃ;

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Re: Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

Post by smitterle » Tue Feb 26, 2019 7:10 pm

Actually, was there even a norm? I was very much used to always walk on the right but when I emigrated people didn't prefer either side but decided spontaneously. Had a hard time getting used to it.

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Re: Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

Post by jeidsath » Tue Feb 26, 2019 7:50 pm

This reminds me of the following from Boswell's Life of Johnson:
Johnson's residence at Lichfield, on his return to it at this time, was only for three months; and as he had as yet seen but a small part of the wonders of the Metropolis, he had little to tell his townsmen. He related to me the following minute anecdote of this period: 'In the last age, when my mother lived in London, there were two sets of people, those who gave the wall, and those who took it; the peaceable and the quarrelsome. When I returned to Lichfield, after having been in London, my mother asked me, whether I was one of those who gave the wall, or those who took it. NOW it is fixed that every man keeps to the right; or, if one is taking the wall, another yields it; and it is never a dispute.'
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Re: Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

Post by ἑκηβόλος » Wed Feb 27, 2019 1:21 pm

Alternatively, there is the issue of status. When a cohort of heavily armed soldiers or a rich citizen walks down the road, people are more likely to the right of way.

Wheeled traffic benefits exponentially more from established conventions than pedestrians do, because they can't move sideways.
τί δὲ ἀγαθὸν τῇ πομφόλυγι συνεστώσῃ ἢ κακὸν διαλυθείσῃ;

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Re: Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

Post by BrianB » Tue Apr 23, 2019 1:17 pm

In Britain, the usual explanation of the origin of the “Keep Left” rule is that, in case of a fight with drawn swords, most people are right-handed and therefore feel safer confronting a potential attacker approaching on their right.

What this explanation clearly fails to take into account is that only a handful of countries follow this rule. If it was truly such a basic human instinct, you’d expect every country to do it that way. After all, the proportion of right-handed to left-handed people is the same in all countries, as far as I know.

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Re: Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

Post by Scribo » Wed Apr 24, 2019 12:14 pm

Ha! People cite swords for all sorts of silly things, don't they? I've even heard people try and claim that swordfighting was the reason for the best man tradition.

Utter nonsense. Swords were relatively rare. Swordsmanship (in any meaningful sense), more so.

In Britain, the tendency to keep left was encoded during the era of the stagecoach. I can't remember the greater reasoning why. In practice, of course, I doubt anyone cared pre-modern period. It's not as if there were going to be professional policemen everywhere enforcing the rules.
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Re: Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

Post by jeidsath » Wed Apr 24, 2019 12:25 pm

The Johnson anecdote above would put the origin of walking on the right in London sometime around 1700., and attributes it only to the increase of manners. There would have been a few passenger stagecoach routes at this time, though Royal Mail coaches wouldn't have been used until the late 1700s.
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Re: Which side of the road did the Romans drive/march/walk on?

Post by Ronolio » Thu Apr 25, 2019 5:19 pm

The sarcastic smart-aleck in me wants to answer: "They were Romans. They walked on whatever side they wanted" :wink:

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