16

Some intercity roads and highways have names (eg. the King's Highway in the Bible and the Appian Way in Rome) and others are named after the place that they go to (Jaffa road in Jerusalem). When did smaller intra city streets first get names? I can think of three different kinds of intra city streets:

  1. Some streets are named after things on that street (Church street) or big landowners to whose property the street goes (Campbell Road in Dallas).
  2. Main streets and Broadways are so named because they were indeed the main street.
  3. Streets like Maple and Elm street that often have nothing to do with Maples and Elms but are named so to give them a name.
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    What makes you think they didn't have them from the get-go? If there are multiple streets around, people have to have a way to differentiate them in conversation. – T.E.D. Jul 1 '14 at 13:46
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    they might have had names, but what kinds of names did they have? – Clint Eastwood Jul 1 '14 at 19:19
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    @T.E.D. some cultures, especially before the advent of postal services, and some even today, do not use street names. Many footpaths and bicycle paths are unnamed. There are other ways to differentiate streets apart from names: size, shape, orientation, landmarks, where they lead. I would not assume all streets had names from the get-go. – congusbongus Jul 2 '14 at 1:49
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    Many streets in Tokyo don't have any signs. – Bruce James Jul 2 '14 at 18:22
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    @BruceJames I heard Tokyo historically did that (as well as making a very odd street layout) in order to confuse potential enemies if they ever invaded. Of course in today's world with GPS, they might wanna reconsider, not to mention that Tokyo/Edo has never been occupied except upon total national surrender. – DrZ214 Sep 6 '15 at 3:12
9

There are some very old streets in England, the oldest believed to be Vicar's Close in Somerset, from around the 14th century - but that is actually quite modern compared to others.

Pompeii is an obvious example from the 6th-7th century BCE, where the street names were clearly signed. A street plan shows that pretty much all streets and alleys were named.

Ancient streets have been found in Jerusalem, which are thought to have existed from about the 4th-6th century BCE. These have been mapped, which is been used to excavate them at the moment. I don't think it would be that much of a leap to suggest that if the streets had been planned in any way that they would also have been named - if not when they were first created, at least by the time they were mapped. The article that I linked to doesn't mention street names explicitly though, but if places like Pompeii were naming smaller streets, then it would be likely that they were in Jerusalem from at least the 6th century too.

Now, this is where my 'official internet sources' run out. I can't seem to find anything earlier than that. But one observation is that it's human nature to want to name locations and points of interest. If there was not an 'official name', it's likely that the locals would have had a name for certain streets and places anyway. You have already mentioned the reasons why people would do that, but as an example: I live in a village which was bombed during WWII and at the back of the houses on a field is a massive ditch where a bomb fell. The area is just common land and has no name, but local people call that area and the path that runs behind the houses 'The Bomb Hole'. Everyone in the village knows what you mean when you say 'I'm walking down the bomb hole' - you are taking a shortcut down the path next to the common.

So, to directly answer the question - what I can see from sites that exist today, the 6th century seems to be the earliest period where smaller streets were officially named. But saying that, it's likely that smaller streets were named earlier than that, but the maps of the time don't show it - this may say more about the style of the maps than prove that smaller streets were not named (maps of the period seem to show the areas of a city and the major roads, rather than what we would call a street map today).

This is my first answer, so any suggestions welcome. Also, if i'm totally off with this answer then let me know and i'll delete it. Many thanks.

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  • excellent first answer. I await your second. – Clint Eastwood Jul 2 '14 at 2:37
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    Great answer, but why do you associate Pompeii with "the 6th-7th century" ? – Evargalo Jan 2 at 11:22
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    @Evargalo I stated the 6th to 7th century because it's thought the Oscans settled around the area from around the 8th to 9th Century BC, but the evidence doesn't go back beyond the 6th century. It would be hard to associate any street names to that time unless they were Greek, which would make it more likely. – Phil_12d3 Jan 2 at 11:55
  • @Phil_12d3 : But AFAIU, the plan and the street names you are linking to refers to the state of Pompeii in 79 CE ? So even if we can guess that the streets were named long before, we cannot know for sure since when it was so ? – Evargalo Jan 2 at 12:04
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    @Phil_12d3 And you wrote "6th-7th Century". You should probably correct to "6th-7th Century BCE" – DJClayworth Jan 9 at 14:48
11

Streets in ancient Mesopotamia had names.

A 1975 study of ancient Sippar by Rikvah Harris at the Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten (http://www.nino-leiden.nl/download/3235) found mention of several named streets in the early 2nd Miillennium BCE, for example:

An account which mentions taxes owed by Sin-remenni describes him as a resident of Akitum Street (waššāibi ša SIL Akītum), which, from its name, may have been the processional road linking the temple of Samas with the sanctuary outside the walls (bit akītīm şa šeri). Mentioned also is the "street of the living quarters of the palace slavegirl" (DA E.SIL giinin GEME E.GAL).

Some streets of the city were named after gods, perhaps because of the location there of a chapel to the god. Sippar thus has a dImin Street, and an Ištar Street, while a Lamaštum Street was located in Sippar-rabûm.

Source: Rivkah Harris Ancient Sippar: A Demographic Study of an Old-Babylonian City (1894-1595 B.C.), Nederlands Instituut voor het Nabije Oosten Leiden, 1975

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3

In the first century in Damascus, there was a "street called Straight".

Here it is in Acts 9:11

Now there was a certain disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and to him the Lord said in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” So the Lord said to him, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying.

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    It would help to quote from the original Aramaic rather than an English translation. One should also identify the translation used - as they on occasion vary greatly. – Pieter Geerkens Dec 15 '19 at 3:22
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    @PieterGeerkens It will still remain an unclear interpretation whether it was a name, a nickname or simply description (plus metaphoric langauge?): ὁ δὲ κύριος πρὸς αὐτόν· Ἀναστὰς πορεύθητι ἐπὶ τὴν ῥύμην τὴν καλουμένην Εὐθεῖαν καὶ ζήτησον ἐν οἰκίᾳ Ἰούδα Σαῦλον ὀνόματι Ταρσέα, ἰδοὺ γὰρ προσεύχεται, – LаngLаngС Dec 15 '19 at 10:01
  • @PieterGeerkens Aramaic was not the original language of Acts. Greek was. – C Monsour Dec 16 '19 at 0:09
  • St. Jerome agrees with you as latin vulgata also translated it as "Rectus": "et Dominus ad illum surgens vade in vicum qui vocatur Rectus et quaere in domo Iudae Saulum nomine Tarsensem ecce enim orat". Now I know why in old brazilian cities there are so many "Rua Direita" that are not straight. it was just a biblical reference. – Luiz Dec 16 '19 at 21:30

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