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Δευτέρα, 23 Ιουλίου 2018

Karitsa’s oxcart tracks part of interconnected road network of ancient Greece

Numerous remnants of oxcart tracks carved into the rocky terrain on the outskirts of Karitsa bear witness to a busy transport system of roads passing through the area in ancient times. It is believed that these early roads connected Karitsa and surrounding villages with the port of Plaka near Leonidio, the pickup and distribution centre of sea freight to and from Piraeus. Groundbreaking recent research reveals that these roads were part of an elaborate network of interconnected transport routes throughout Peloponnisos and mainland Greece. The University of Thessaly’s Professor Dr. Yanis A. Pikoulas, a world authority on ancient road transport, has been involved in field study and tracing the tracks throughout Greece of the remnants of this ancient road system. In the text of a lecture reproduced below he sheds new light into the astonishing road building skills of our ancient predecessors. The text is drawn from his lecture “Travelling by Land in Ancient Greece” at a conference at Nottingham in 2002.

Travelling by Land in Ancient Greece
Travelling by Land in Ancient Greece,
Leicester Nottingham Studies in Ancient Society Conference,
Realities and Representations of Travel in Ancient Greece and in the Eastern Mediterranean,
Nottingham 8–10.4.2002

Published by C. Adams - J. Roy (eds.),
Travel, Geography and Culture in Ancient Greece, Egypt and the Near East,
Oxbow Books, Oxford 2007, 78-87.

Prof. Dr. Yanis Pikoulas
(Ancient Greek History)
University of Thessaly, Volos. Dept HASA
What is travel in ancient world?

It is necessary, by way of introduction to my paper, to offer a definition of the term travel, especially for the ancient world, because such a definition would be useful for the purpose of my presentation: the new evidence of land transportation, especially that of the carriage-road network, throughout the landscape of Greece. What, then, is travel in the ancient world (cf. Purcell 1999)?

I believe that travel in its most simple and basic meaning must denote the situation in which one leaves temporarily his permanent place of living and working to move somewhere else ―independent of the reasons for this action. Of course we need to define the difference between simple moving and travel, in order to avoid misunderstandings. I think that the main difference between moving and travel lies in the fact that during travel one sleeps away from home in a distant location or a foreign land. So, he who spends the night far away from his permanent residence is called a traveller. The need to spend a night in a distant location depends on the distance to be covered: the number of nights increases according to the distance, as more kilometres mean more nights away from home. However, moving from one house to another, i.e. to a cottage for the harvest or other agricultural activities ―a practise very common in ancient but also in modern Greece until the middle of the 20th century― cannot be called travel, as the parameter of the distant location or the foreign land is absent. Travel, therefore, in its most simple version is any temporary move of a person from his home to another, remote place where he has to stay overnight ―regardless of the reasons for such a move or the form of transport used by the traveller.

Having established what travel is, we may safely specify the reasons for travelling. Of course we refer to ancient Greece, although the basic reasons did not changed for centuries and survived up until the 19th century of our era. The causes that forced someone, willingly or not, to move temporarily from his home to a foreign place are mainly two: commerce and worship, to which tourism, theoria in ancient Greek, should also be included (LSJ s.v.).

Lionel Casson in his basic manual Travel in the Ancient World (Casson 1994) defined clearly and described vividly these causes of travelling, to which we could add one more, i.e. war. I am aware that this view may cause objections. Was participation to a military expedition actually travel? I believe that undoubtedly it was, and two examples may suffice: is it not a fact that the travelling experiences of the majority of the Spartans were gained during their expeditions all around Greece and Asia Minor? Moreover, how many men, mercenaries from Arcadia or Crete, were travelling to seek money and wider experiences by their spear and sword? It is noteworthy that the modern Greek word taxeidion is a diminutive of the ancient word taxis, a term mainly used for military affairs and denoting ‘‘order or disposition of an army, body of soldiers, post or place in the line of battle, etc.’’ (LSJ s.v.).

Concerning the term for travel, there is the ancient Greek word, the same as the modern one, Tax(e)idion, already known since the 2nd c. AD (LSJ Suppl. s.v.); there is also the synonym apodemia, that means “going or being abroad” (LSJ s.v.).

The causes of travel are four: commerce, worship, war and tourism, and the ways to travel are two: by sea or by land.
Ways of travelling by land
By land a person could travel on foot, on pack animals or by cart. Already much has been written on the first two means of transportation and for this reason I have nothing more to add: from the remote past until the middle of the 20th c. walking and riding on pack animals ―usually a donkey or a mule and rarely a horse― were the exclusive means of transportation.

There is, however, new evidence of land transportation by cart, especially that of the carriage -or cart-road network, throughout the landscape of ancient Greece. Since the ’80s and in view of this new evidence I have been supporting a revision of our conceptions about the role of the cart in transportation and travel (Pikoulas 1995 & 1999).
The new evidence for wheel-cart roads and land transport
Today we know that a very dense network of carriage roads crisscrossed the Greek landscape and ensured communication even between isolated settlements: all around the Peloponnese (Pikoulas 1995, 1999 & 1999c), Attica, Central Greece (Pikoulas 1992–98b), Thessaly (Pikoulas 2002 & 2002c), Western Greece or the Cyclades (Kazamiakis – Pikoulas 1999, Pikoulas 2003) I have located and investigated roads for wheeled traffic. Thus, it is not an exaggeration to suppose that in ancient Greece the cart had a share equal to that of the ship as a means of transportation.

Transportation by land with various kinds of carts amounted to over three quarters of the whole volume of transportation; that means that only one quarter of transportation was carried out by pack animals or on very special occasions by men ―known as achthophoroi or skeyophoroi (LSJ s.v.). Of course, such a hypothesis is somewhat approximate, but, at any rate, I believe that it is close to reality and could be accepted as a rough estimate.

Today, having investigated wheel-ruts of ancient carriage-roads at every pass of Taygetus, Parnon, and Artemision mountains in the Peloponnese, I have come to the conclusion that our scholarly stereotypes which have prevailed for years in the bibliography must be revised. I intend to come back to this subject latter.

In what follows my main focus is on extra muros land-transportation by cart in ancient Greece from the Archaic period to Late Antiquity, a period when the whole system changed dramatically. After the collapse of the Roman imperium and the weakness of the state to maintain the road-network, the cart was gradually abandoned and was replaced by the pack animal, which was exclusively used from the 5th c. AD onwards. I do not intend to mention the technical details and problems of dating, or the creation and evolution of the road-network, since full information may be found in my relevant publications (Pikoulas 1995, 1998 & 1999). Nevertheless, I am going to present briefly the data of the ancient Greek carriage-road and its dating and, at the end, there is a map of Greece with an updated road-network (Pl. I), so that you may understand my suggestion that a revision of former opinions is long-overdue and imperative. What is then an ancient Greek carriage-road? And, after all these twenty years of research, what knowledge have we gained in the field?
What is an ancient Greek road? The road-network of ancient Greece
1. Known for their numerous technological achievements, the Greeks also made significant advances in the field of land transport and communication. Recent research (Pikoulas 1995 & 1999) has shown that the Greeks applied high-standard road-construction techniques. Basic principles of road-construction know-how must either have been inherited from the Mycenaeans, or ―more likely― imported from the East. These principles were improved and used to create a dense road-network, innovative in its conception and realization, thus securing unimpeded cart-wheel communication over the greatest part of Greek territory. The Romans’ reputation as pioneering and exceptional road makers is thus subject to reconsideration. Revision of modern bibliography is also necessary since it continues to ignore the subject of ancient Greek roads.

We have to focus on the cart-wheel road-network, i.e. the roads that were constructed exclusively for the operation of animal-driven carts. Obviously, there were also many pathways used by pedestrians and pack animals which constitute a separate category of roads; continuous use of these pathways, however, and the fact that their mode of construction always remained the same, does not permit secure dating. A different category is the intra muros roads of a city; urban roads were usually laid with condensed earth/dirt mixed with gravel or sherds. Stone paved roads were rare and seem to have been introduced in Roman times. In what follows I present my research data on the cart-road-network, that is, the extra muros roads that crossed the territory of different city-states.

The cart-wheel road was constructed for the use of carts regardless of the type and number (two/four) of wheels. The road’s principal remains are the artificial bed with obvious traces of rock cutting, and the carved wheel-tracks with a standard gauge of 1.40m. (Pikoulas 1998).

By investigating the remains of ancient road beds, and, more importantly, of wheel-tracks, it is possible to map the routes followed by the ancient road-network. Wheel-tracks are normally extant only on rocky surfaces since they were not bound to survive on exposed softer ground; recently however, wheel-tracks on soft earth have been discovered in the course of excavating activities for modern road construction (Schiza 2002; Pikoulas 2002). So, when constructing a cart-road, the Greeks used dirt mixed with gravel or sherds in order to form the road bed on soft and flat soil whereas on rocky soil and especially at difficult spots, such as steep ground, curves and junctions, the Greeks carved the road bed and formed wheel-tracks. In other words, the cart followed a fixed course and moved with its wheels within the tracks without deviating. This was a noteworthy achievement of the Greek roadmakers. In fact the Greek cart-road can be thought of as a “negative railway”: just as modern trains run on the raised railway, in a similar way the Greek cart moved consistently in the wheel-tracks, that is, the ruts that were carved in the rock (0.05m. to 0.015m. wide and 0.01m. to 0.30m. or more deep, depending on the nature of the rocky surface). This is particularly evident at forks or branches, ektropes (LSJ s.v. 2) in ancient Greek, which are identical with the points of modern railways and were carved so that a change in the course of the cart would be possible.

Since the network allowed for the operation of only one vehicle at a time, there was no possibility of simultaneous use of a cart-road by two carts coming from opposite directions. In such cases one of the two carts had to come out of the wheel-tracks and give way to the other cart, an operation which was impossible on steep ground especially when the cart was loaded. If we recall the famous fatal dispute between Oedipus and Laius (Soph. OT 800-812), we can get an idea of how such disputes would commonly take place, as is the case nowadays, when two carts coming from opposite directions met in an extremely narrow street (cf. Pikoulas 1992–98b). Presumably, there must have been regulations concerning these matters which have not survived in literature. I assume on the basis of the evidence that at the key points of a difficult route there must have stood individuals, “watchers”, whose duty was to inform the driver from a distance (by either visual or sound signal) whether a particular section of the road was free. Obviously, things were much easier with roads running through the plains; besides, in some of the latter areas there is evidence of roads running in parallel courses. There were also some rare exceptions to the rule, e.g. the widening of the Skironis road, leading from Megara to Corinth, by Hadrian (Paus. 1.44.6).

Furthermore, it should be stated that no ancient road in the Greek countryside was stone-paved. Stone-paved roads in Greece are only found in the urban parts of cities and belong to the Roman period. The only exception is the Diolkos of Korinth, which was basically a specialized stone-paved cart-road with a gauge of 1.50m. (Raepsaet 1993). In general, Greek road makers would undertake to construct only what was absolutely necessary, e.g. bridges, great retaining walls, etc.; their building activities conformed to the peculiarities of the natural landscape.

On the contrary, the Romans established solidly founded stone-paved roads and engaged in large scale public works that altered significantly the nature of the landscape. It should be noted, however, that on rocky surfaces Roman roads are neither built on specially constructed foundations nor paved with stone. The wheel-tracks were not artificially created but were formed over time by the continuous passage of vehicles. A typical example of a Roman road in Greek territory is the Via Egnatia.

I believe that the evidence now available of the road-network in mainland Greece alters the generally accepted picture. Specialized study of Greek roads only started in the 1980s, and is still largely ignored in the bibliography, which considers the Romans as the pioneers and the roadmakers par excellence. Without wishing to underestimate Rome’s contribution to the development ―but not the invention― of road-making techniques, I think that the opinio communis about who laid the foundations in the field of road construction should now be revised.

In other words, I would like to point out that although the needs of Greeks and Romans that were met by the construction of road-networks were similar, Greek and Roman roads are very different from the point of view of construction technique. Since the Greek cart-road-network existed a few centuries before that of Rome, I think that the latter did not evolve independently of the former. The Romans must have inherited the relevant know-how from the Greeks and not from the Etruscans (Casson 1994, 163). In their turn, they developed and standardized it.

I note that the road-network covered almost the entire Greek territory. It is surprising to observe the boldness of Greek road-makers in creating roads on steep slopes, often exceeding 10–15%, or in the alpine zone e.g. the road running along the mountain crest of north Taygetus at an altitude of 1600m. (Pikoulas 1988, 151–153 & 221–224). In addition to remains of road-construction there are the remains of bridges, which are very few if one takes into account the density of the road-network. The poor evidence of river bridges should most likely be attributed to the fact that they were made of wood, a material that is not likely to survive (Pikoulas 1990–91b, 146/7; Pikoulas 1999, 311; Pikoulas 2002b). Finally, a unique piece of road work is the artificial pass that was carved on a mountain crest in order to provide for the road from Sparta/Mantineia leading to Argos/Korinth. This artificial pass is located at a level of 300m. above the tunnel of Mount Artemision of the new Korinth-Tripolis highway (Pikoulas 1995, 104–109 & 288–290, Figs 4–9).

Occasionally the literary sources offer valuable information for our knowledge of the Greek road-network. Significant gaps are covered by scanty archaeological evidence, especially by drawing inferences from the more complete evidence of the Roman world. Modern parallels can also at times be of some use but most important is the pursuit of the study of actual remains of ancient roads such as wheel-tracks, forks, supporting constructions, bridges etc.

I shall not discuss here the complex subject of the different kinds of vehicles or of the draft animals that were used during antiquity, nor shall I address some other special themes, such as the medieval roads and system of land transportation, the kalderimia, or the horseshoe, as they fall beyond the scope of the present paper (Pikoulas 1999d).

Today, after two decades of investigation and study of ancient roads, we have gained a good idea of the road-network all around Greece. As you can see on the map (Pl. I), my study has covered a large part of the Peloponnese, i.e. the whole of Argolis, Korinthia, Arkadia, Lakonia, and part of Messenia and Achaia; it has also covered part of Central Greece (Boeotia, eastern Phokis), Thessaly, Epirus, Macedonia (Pikoulas 1997 & 2002d), ancient Thrace (modern eastern Macedonia; see Pikoulas 2001, 189–195) and the Aegean islands (Anaphi, Kythera, Kea, Naxos, Tenos; see Pikoulas 1990–91, 1999b; Kazamiakis – Pikoulas 1999; Pikoulas 2003).

2. I have spent many pages of my earlier monograph trying to date a cart-road and I have especially re-examined this topic in a recent congress (Pikoulas 1999, 306/9 & 2001b). I shall present briefly the whole problem of dating the creation of the Greek road network.

The ancient Greek road system, beyond doubt, belongs to the historical period starting in the 7th c. BC and ending in the 4th to 5th c. AD

I would like also to point out the military character of the road-network. According to our data the soldiers were the first to use the road network, followed by the merchants. In any case, no-one, either individual citizens or groups of wealthy people, could afford the construction or maintenance of such a large-scale network, although they were always willing to take advantage of it. I have already stated that the construction of the road-network was actually due to a centralized powerful state. Assyria, Persia and Rome had similar networks and their study gives us convincing answers to many questions.

The remains of the ancient road-network in Greece suggest that it was a systematic operation undertaken by state authority: the roads were properly and regularly repaired and parallel routes were provided along central axes of communication. It is logical to assume that such a sophisticated and complete road-network would presuppose a powerful central authority that would be in charge of a project of this scale with a view to provide efficient transportation, communication and maintenance services. I have come to the conclusion that the Peloponnesian League, with Sparta as its motivating force, must have been the central authority which created and supervised the cart-road network in the Peloponnese. The evidence suggests that the creation of the network is to be dated to the seventh century (at the latest), with the middle of the 6th century, when the Peloponnesian League was consolidated, being a landmark for its later development; this is when the road-network is extended with the creation of new and alternative roadways and the practice spreads to the whole of the Peloponnese and the rest of Greece.

Attika, Central Greece and the Cyclades possessed a similar cart-road system. I have recently offered the hypothesis that possibly the “know-how” of constructing a wheel-road reached Lakonia, the Cyclades and Attika from Ionia as early as the Geometric or the early Archaic period. In these areas it was developed, and later spread out to the rest of Greece. Although we have as yet only indications but no proof, the extant evidence may suggest the following link: Mesopotamia–Assyria–Persia–Ionia–Greece.

In any case, basic skills in road construction must have been transmitted to the Romans by the Greek western colonies; the Romans in their turn developed this knowledge admirably.

In the Peloponnese, and in the rest of Southern Greece, there are no exclusively Roman road constructions, or at least I have not located any. Cases such as the Via Egnatia road in Northern Greece or the widening of the Skironis road by Hadrian (Paus. 1.44.6) are the exceptions. Obviously the sixteen known miliaria from the Peloponnese (Pikoulas 1992–98) or the twenty-four from Thessaly (Mottas – Decourt 1997) are a strong indication; however, they do not attest new road construction, but only the maintenance of the existing roads.
Revising Lionel Casson
In light of the foregoing presentation, I believe it is possible, if not imperative, to revise some of Lionel Casson’s assessments and discussions in his manual on Travel in the Ancient World and to begin the process required for reevaluating the subject-matter of travel in antiquity. I present a few characteristic passages taken from Casson’s manual about land-transportation that must perforce be revised:

―“Even the Mycenaeans did not have carriage roads between the places involved, and there certainly were none in the dark age, or for that matter, throughout most of Greek history” (p. 46).

―“Until the coming of the railroad, the water was the only feasible medium for heavy transport and the most convenient for long distance travel” (p. 65).

―“A traveller in Greece of the fifth and fourth century BC thought twice before taking along any vehicle, light or heavy, since roads that could handle wheeled traffic were by no means to be found everywhere. A unified network of highways could hardly be expected in a land diced up into tiny, fiercely independent states. What is more, few of them had the resources to go in for proper road-building even within their own confines;... Besides, Greece is so rocky and mountainous that the cost of laying good roads would have been prohibitive, no matter how wealthy a state was” (p. 68).

―“The Romans learned the art of road building from excellent teachers, the Etruscans. ... They [sc. Etruscans] taught Rome how to make sewers, aqueducts, bridges, and ―more to our present point― properly drained, and carefully surfaced dirt roads. The Romans went one key step further: they added paving” (p. 163).
To conclude: revision and reevaluation of the commonly accepted scholarly view of ancient Greek land-transportation is not only necessary, but urgent as well. Carriage-roads had crisscrossed the entire Greek landscape from the end of the 7th c. BC until Late Antiquity. A fairly good impression of this is gained from the map of Greece with an updated road-network (Pl. I). There is no question that the cart was the principal means of land-transportation used by ancient Greeks, whereas travelling on pack animals and on foot were only supplementary means. And in that sense, the cart in land-transportation paralleled the ship in sea-transportation.
L. Casson 1994² Travel in the Ancient World, Baltimore & London.

K. Kazamiakis – Y. A. Pikoulas 1999 “Aμαξήλατος oδός Kέας”, Horos 13, 177–188

F. Mottas – J.-C. Decourt 1997 “Voies et milliaires romains de Thessalie”, BCH 121, 311–354.

. A. Pikoulas 1988 H Nότια Mεγαλοπολιτική Xώρα, από τον 8ο π.X. ως.τον 4ο μ.X. αιώνα. Συμβολή στην τοπογραφία της, Hόρος: H Mεγάλη Bιβλιοθήκη nο 1, Athens.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1990–91 “Aρχαιολογικές σημειώσεις από την Aνάφη”, Hόρος 8–9, 119–130.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1990–91bTο Tορθύνειον της Aρκαδίας”, Hόρος 8–9, 135–152.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1995 Oδικό δίκτυο και άμυνα, Horos: H Mεγάλη Bιβλιοθήκη no 2, Athens.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1997 “H αμαξήλατος οδός στη Bόρεια Ελλάδα”, in Aφιέρωμα στον N. G. L. Hammond, Makedonika Suppl. no. 7, Thessaloniki 357–363.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1992–98 “Miliaria Peloponnesi”, Hόρος 10–12, 305–311.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1992–98b “Σχιστή Oδός”, Hόρος 10–12, 579–582.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1998 “H αμαξήλατος oδός στην αρχαία Ελλάδα. Tεχνολογία και συναφή προβλήματα”, in Proceedings of 1st International Conference Ancient Greek Technology, Thessaloniki 4–7.9.97, Thessaloniki, 615–621.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1999 “The Road–Network of Arkadia”, in T. H. Nielsen and J. Roy (eds.) Defining Ancient Arkadia, Acts of the Copenhagen Polis Centre 6, Copenhagen, 248–319.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1999b “Kυθηραϊκά”, Hόρος 13, 71–80.

Y. A. Pikoulas 1999c “Kλειτορία: διαβάσεις και άμυνα”, Hόρος 13, 137–154.

. A. Pikoulas 1999dAπό την άμαξα στο υποζύγιο και από την οδό στο καλντερίμι [Δρόμοι και μεταφορές στο Bυζάντιο και την Tουρκοκρατία]”, Horos 13, 245–258.

Y. A. Pikoulas 2001 H χώρα των Πιέρων. Συμβολή στην τοπογραφία της, Municipality Piereon Kavalas & KERA-NHRF, Athens.

Y. A. Pikoulas 2001b Tο οδικό δίκτυο της Λακωνίας. Xρονολόγηση, απαρχές και εξέλιξη”, in V. Mitsopoulos-Leon (ed.), Forschungen in der Peloponnes, Akten des Symposions anläßlich der Feier «100 Jahre Österreichisches Archäologisches Institut Athen», Athen 5–7.3.1998, Athens, 325–330.

Y. A. Pikoulas 2002 “H «Bελεστινόστρατα». Συμβολή στο οδικό δίκτυο της αρχαίας Θεσσαλίας”, in D. Karaberopoulos (ed.) Acts of the 3rd International Congress «Φεραί–Bελεστίνο–Pήγας», Velestino October 2–5, 1997, Yπέρεια 3, 147–158 & 1009–1012.

Y. A. Pikoulas 2002b “Όλες οι γέφυρες δεν ήταν λίθινες...”, in Acts of Symposium «Ancient Greek Bridges», EMAET, Athens 20.5.02, Athens [forthcoming].

Y. A. Pikoulas 2002c “Aπό τη Nικόπολη στη Θεσσαλία”, in Acts of 2nd International Nicopolis Symposium, Preveza September 11–15, 2002, Preveza [forthcoming].

Y. A. Pikoulas 2002d “Oι διαβάσεις της Πίνδου”, in Ancient Macedonia VII, Papers read at the seventh International Symposium held in Thessaloniki October15–20, 2002, Thessaloniki [forthcoming].

Y. A. Pikoulas 2003 “Aμαξήλατος οδός στη Nάξο”, Hόρος 14–15 [forthcoming].

N. Purcell 1999 OCD3 s.v. travel.

G. Raepsaet 1993 “Le Diolkos de l’Isthme à Corinthe: son tracé, son fonctionnement”, BCH 117, 233–266.

E. Schiza 2002 “H αρχαία οδός Φερών – Παγασών” in D. Karaberopoulos (ed.) Acts of the 3rd International Congress «Φεραί–Bελεστίνο–Pήγας», Velestino 2–5.10.97, Yπέρεια 3, 173–187

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