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What Does "All Roads Lead to Rome" Mean?

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  • Written By: Jim B.
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  • Last Modified Date: 09 September 2014
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"All roads lead to Rome" is an English idiom that means that different methods of doing something will eventually lead to the same result. This phrase takes its origins from the intricate system of roads built by the ancient Romans. Since roads from every province were situated so that they eventually led back to Rome, all paths essentially led to the same destination. As such, the phrase means that something is set up so that disparate means will eventually achieve the same goal.

An idiom is a phrase that draws its literal meaning from some real situation but has since come to mean something that is often quite different than what it once did. This occurs when it is commonly used to such an extent in a culture that the new meaning eventually overtakes the old one. Idioms add spice and color to everyday speech, giving speakers opportunities to add a little flavor to dull details. One such idiomatic expression that has been in use since the 11th century is the phrase "all roads lead to Rome."

It is difficult to get an understanding of this phrase without first realizing the history behind it. The Roman Empire, which controlled significant portions of the ancient world for hundreds of years, pioneered many significant achievements including an intricate set of roads. These roads were set up so that all of the provinces that ultimately were subservient to the Empire could be linked directly to the city.

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In this way, the Romans had a convenient way of connecting with these provinces and also could keep them under close watch. As such, the phrase was not much of an exaggeration at the Empire's apex. This unique system of roads had such an effect that its ingenuity inspired the phrase that still persists to this day. Obviously, "all roads lead to Rome" has now taken on a figurative meaning to fit the times.

Just as all roads led to the capital of the Roman Empire, so too are there occasions in modern life when all methods of doing something will lead to the same result. As an example, consider the sentence, "I don't care if you save the file and then send it to me or copy it and print it out; all roads lead to Rome." This sentence is saying that the person will get what he requires no matter which way the person being addressed chooses to give it to him.

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anon358782
Post 9

It means that all the paths lead to the same way, even though you choose another path to go.

DylanB
Post 7

This is a phrase that my apathetic supervisor uses often. He really does not care at all how we go about accomplishing our goals, as long as we achieve them.

I find his lack of interest sad. You would think that he would like to know how we did our work, in case he ever had to train a new person to do it the most efficient way.

Any time when one of us has attempted to show him how we did something, he has cut us short and said, “All roads lead to Rome.” I can't believe that someone in charge can be so unconcerned with the way we do things around the office! This could really backfire for him one day.

Oceana
Post 6

@Perdido – I've never personally been to Rome, but I have read that their methods of road building were so excellent that some of the ancient roads are still used today. Can you imagine driving a car across a road from ancient times?

Oh, I'm sure they have done maintenance on them since thousands of years ago, but still, it's pretty neat that you can still use some version of the old roads that inspired the phrase, “All roads lead to Rome.” I would love to go there and do this for myself someday.

I wonder if any of the ancient Romans even dreamed that their road system would be so popular and enduring? I think they planned for the roads to last a very long time.

Perdido
Post 5

I've been tempted to travel to Rome because of the rich history it holds. However, I haven't been able to save up enough money for this trip.

Has anyone here ever been to Rome? Do all the roads still lead there? That is one thing I am really curious about, and I think it would be so neat if they did.

It would make the idiom so much more relevant today. I know it refers to how they were set up at a certain point in history, but the present tense of the phrase would seem more truthful if all roads did indeed still lead to Rome.

OeKc05
Post 4

I have always wondered about the true “all roads lead to Rome” meaning. This article clears things up for me.

History was always my worst subject in school. I simply could not pay attention to the teacher or to what I was reading in the textbook, simply because I did not care about the material.

So, when I started hearing this expression, I had no idea what people were referring to. It's nice to finally have some insight into the origin of this idiom. Now, maybe I can use it myself from time to time!

SarahGen
Post 3

@feruze-- It has certainly been a long time since the fall of the Roman Empire. There is no specific date, but it's known to have occurred slowly in the late 1400s and early 1500s. The fact that this idiom is still in use more than five hundred years later is no coincidence.

The Roman Empire was a very important and influential one. The idiom, "all roads lead to Rome" probably gained popularity because the lands of the Roman Empire reached far into Europe and Asia. During this time, it was thought that Rome was the center of the universe and in addition, Romans were the first people to build roads as far as we know.

So this wasn't just a few roads from Rome's vicinity. There were at least about thirty main roads going into Rome and hundreds of smaller ones that connected to these main roads from all over Europe and Asia. So quite literally, all the roads lead to Rome.

The way we use the idiom today is far more simple and doesn't really help us visualize the entire historical background.

bear78
Post 2

Oh, I remember my history teacher mentioning this once while we were studying Rome. All the roads in Rome's vicinity really did lead back to Rome. I think Romans had done this strategically, not only for trade and development purposes but also to keep farther areas under control more easily.

In fact, they say that many modern cities of today were also set up with the same model. For example, Detroit has a similar road structure to the roads of Rome. So does Washington DC. If anyone has ever seen a metro map of Washington DC, all metro lines lead back into the city, very much like ancient Rome's roads.

Sometimes I wonder why this phrase wasn't changed after the fall of the Roman Empire. "Rome" could be replaced with a more modern city to help people understand the idiom better. But at the same time, that would cause us to forget the origins of this phrase.

And plus, even though the Roman Empire is long gone, we still study about it and know about it. Maybe hundreds of years from now, the newer generations might not understand this idiom as well. But for now, it works perfectly fine.

turquoise
Post 1

I really like this idiom. Not only does it have a historical basis but it's really easy to understand too. There are some idioms where if you're not already familiar with them, it can be so hard to infer what it means. All roads lead to Rome is not one of them and that's why I like it.

I use it fairly often too. Like the other day, my mom asked me to go buy milk in the morning or that she could buy it on her way back home from work. I said "It doesn't matter, all roads lead to Rome." Regardless of who buys the milk or when, the end result is the same.

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