Mathijs Deen

Down Old Roads

A Journey through Europe’s History

A lyrical road trip across the continent and through the ages

Travellers have roamed Europe for the past million years, from the mysterious homo antecessor whose footprints have been found on the coast of England to the driver on today’s motorways. Under every mark lies an older one, under every paved road a donkey trail or wagon rut, under every footpath the tracks of ancient hunters or their prey.

While highways like Route 66 have helped to shape America’s identity, Europeans seem ambivalent about their own transcontinental roads. Do their imaginations stop at the national borders? Or are international roads still seen as potential threats: open invitations to bloodthirsty armies and other unwelcome foreigners?

Mathijs Deen has long been fascinated with the roads that connect us, ever since he was a child and his father told him that the E8 motorway leading to his grandparents’ house ran all the way from London to Moscow. So he decided to follow the bandits, pilgrims, fortune-seekers, conquerors and road racers who have left their trails throughout Europe. Deen went in search of the romantic tales behind the old European thoroughfares, whose history often goes back centuries, and whose path is still followed today by the official European E-roads.

Deen’s gripping tales of European journeys range from the first European some 800,000 years before the Julian calendar to a North African migrant returning home from the Netherlands in 2016. Along the way, he introduces us to the bandit leader who terrorized the Via Appia around 200 AD; the first Icelandic woman to live in the Americas, who made a pilgrimage to Rome in 1025; the Sephardic Jew who brought the best of the Spanish theatre to Amsterdam in 1640; the conscript who marched to Russia with Napoleon’s army in 1812 and returned with his spirit broken; and the son of a London blacksmith who drove in some of Europe’s first city-to-city road races around 1900.

Deen weaves in his own personal story of criss-crossing Europe as he retraces the routes of these journeys. The result is a fantastic book that places Europe’s prosaic road network in a lyrical new light.

Down Old Roads is a terrific book, packed with creative imagination and full of wise reflections.’

De Morgen

‘Mathijs Deen is an exceptional prose stylist.’

Het Parool

‘Deen’s impressive fund of historical knowledge allows him to travel effortlessly through the centuries.’

NRC Handelsblad


Mathijs Deen

Mathijs Deen (b. 1962) writes non-fiction, short stories and novels. In 2013, his book The Wadden Islands was published to critical acclaim and sold over 30,000 copies. In 2018 he published a collection of travel stories called Down Old Roads: A Journey Through Europe’s History, which was…

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Over oude wegen. Een reis door de geschiedenis van Europa (2018). Non-fiction, 312 pages.

English sample available

Themes: history


De Bezige Bij

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Tel: +31 20 305 98 10
Fax: +31 20 305 98 24

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