Appius Claudius Caecus was born as a member of the noble class of Rome in about 340 B.C. He was one of the first noteworthy personalities in early Roman history and had a significant impact on society. While he is best known for initiating the construction of the famous Roman road, the Appian Way, he was also influential in other areas. Appius was an outstanding statesmen and politician. He was responsible for the first aqueduct in Rome, provided much legal expertise and reform of the legal practice, and remained an influential member of Roman society throughout his life.
Little is known of Appius's early life. The first accounts of him are in regard to his being elected censor of Rome in 312 B.C. As a member of the noble class, Appius was quite interested in political reform. He began a program of reform intended to give groups such as urban artisans and commercial interests full political rights. This, in turn, would give them a greater voice in government. To accomplish this goal, Appius admitted the sons of freedmen into the Senate and redistributed landless citizens among the basic political units.
Another example of his interest in the lower classes was his contribution to the legal field. He helped to write a publication outlining the methods of legal practice and published a list of court days for the public so they could make use of the legal system. He also wrote less technical works, most of which have been lost.
Appius was popular with the masses, as he was among only a handful of patricians who actively sought to increase their rights. There is much speculation as to why this member of nobility fought so hard for a class of which he was not a member. The explanations range from philanthropy to an attempt to break the power of the new nobility to accusations that he was a demagogue obsessed with creating a new base of power with him at the center. However, his power was fleeting, as many his reforms were soon withdrawn and some of the freedmen he had franchised had been denied places in the Senate.
Certainly the lasting legacies of Appius were his construction projects. He built the first aqueduct (Aqua Appia) in Rome, which brought water from the Sabine Hills. He also initiated the construction of the great military and commercial road (Via Appia) between Rome and Capua. He was such an integral part of these projects that they were named after him. This was a unique honor during those times. The Appian Way was originally only 132 mi (212.5 km), but was extended another 230 mi (370 km) over the next 60 years. The Appian Way was so important to the Roman Empire that during that time only a curator of high rank administered it. The road was an engineering marvel, consisting of stone and mortar that lasted for centuries.
With advancing age, Appius Claudius began to suffer from a typical affliction at that time, blindness. In fact his surname, Caecus, means "the blind." Even in this state, Appius was still a viable statesman and leader. When Rome was considering making a treaty with their enemy, Pyrrhus, and subsequently giving up large portions of southern Italy, Appius delivered a passionate and eloquent speech urging the rejection of the proposal. His plea convinced the Senate and eventually Pyrrhus was driven from Italy. Few others had such a dramatic influence on early Roman society.