Arthur C. Clarke's short story "The Road to the Sea" features a city called Shastar, built in the far future, as humans are leaving Earth to travel to the stars. Thousands of years later, the remaining humans live in lower-tech environments. One inhabitant of a small village goes to seek Shastar. He travels along a road about ten miles from some ocean, described as

one of the great roads in the world.

In the past, it has been used by "savage tribes" greeting merchants, [Roman?] centurions, "armies of the Prophet . . . [going] to storm westward into Christendom" (Muslim armies traveling west?), and "steel monsters [that] . . . clashed in the desert". This road is one thousand miles long (give or take).

The road ends near Shastar, which is at the end of the road near the sea, where a river opens up. This would seem to place it by the Mediterranean, possibly in Egypt. This is also supported by the fact that there is a sphinx on a hill outside the city - though much newer than the one we know today.

Given the description, it seems likely that Clarke intended Shastar to be set in a specific place that we could identify on Earth today.

Is this true, and if so, where is Shastar? Additionally, is the road real?

  • 1
    Because it's Clarke I tend to try to place the road in England or Sri Lanka, though Sri Lanka has no history of centurions (so probably not it). Here's an image of Roman roads in England, maybe one of these. Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 22:46
  • @MarkRogers That makes sense, although a desert in England and Romans in Sri Lanka seem improbable. The road is mentioned to be 1,000 miles long, though, so it could go in a lot of places.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 22:52
  • 3
    The road is probably one shaped and paved by Romans, since Clarke writes "the soldiers of a might empire had shaped and hewn the road so skilfully along the hills that the path they gave it had remained unchanged down all the ages. They had paved it with stone so that their armies could move more swiftly than any that the world had known; and along the road their legions had been hurled like thunderbolts at the bidding of the city whose name they bore. Centuries later, that city had called them home in it its last extremity; and the road had rested then for five hundred years."
    – Hypnosifl
    Commented Nov 24, 2015 at 22:58
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    @lantern That metaphor interpretation is interesting, but Shastar fails in many ways to be typical of this world. It was built at a time when cities were being abandoned for the hills and the forests, and was the antithesis of space travel - the people who lived in it were artists, those who were disinterested in leaving Earth.
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 1:54
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    The Romans had a road all along the North African coast, so I imagine that is what is referred to. "steel monsters [that] . . . clashed in the desert" surely refers to the WW2 tank campaigns. That might make Shastar Alexandria.
    – richardb
    Commented Nov 25, 2015 at 8:37

2 Answers 2


Clarke is likely placing Shastar in the Nile delta in present day Egypt, possibly near the city of Alexandria.

The old Roman Road along the Mediterranean Coast of North Africa meets all the terms he referenced (see my marked up map below).

enter image description here

It is approximately 1,000 miles long, runs closely along the sea, passing many areas which had early sea merchant routes, and ends where a large river "opens up" (the Nile delta).

There are several references making it sound very likely a Roman Road, the quality of its stone paving and layout, the use for marched armies (centurions), its abandonment during the fall of an empire, etc.

The steel beast clashing in the desert is a pretty clear reference to the North African Campaigns of World War II, which took place along the North coasts of present day Libya and Egypt along many paths of the old Roman Road.

The quote of the Prophets armies storm westward into Christendom is clearly referencing the eastern Mediterranean and the early spread of Islam included conquering then Christian Egypt.

And the very obvious presence of a Sphinx referencing the original in Egypt.

  • 1
    Thank you very much. This is awesome, and not the place I was expecting!
    – HDE 226868
    Commented Feb 1, 2017 at 1:01

The site of Shastar is obviously North Africa, but where exactly? The mention of a "great headland" that the road avoided and then Brant turned north to Shastar sounds like Cyrene in east Libya. The question that always intrigued me is where Brant's village was before relocation. "Crossing two continents and an ocean" and coming from a cold climate sounds like Siberia to me, but that is perhaps off-topic.

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