Highways, Byways, and Road Systems in the Pre-Modern World
edited by Susan E. Alcock, John Bodel, and Richard H. A. Talbert
Although obviously transportation is at the center, roads served a variety of purposes, depending on time and place. Mostly they furthered political ends, disseminated religion and religious information, and improved the economy of the places located along or at the ends of the routes. This 288-page volume contains an assortment of articles on road systems of the past. It is not restricted to the ancient world. Here is a summary look at each of the chapters.
1. Overland Shortcuts for the Transmission of Buddhism
Although Buddhism diffused through Asia through the Silk Road, not enough attention has been paid to the capillary northern roads whose use is amply demonstrated by inscriptions, including the well known edicts of King Asoka, and graffiti. Asoka ordered trees planted for shade, mango groves, wells and other watering stops, and rest houses.
The main northern route from Bactria to the Bay of Bengal may have been an artery for foreign invasions and the spread of Buddhism. The route Buddhism took to China is more complicated. Multiple routes through the northern Himalayan mountains and rivers linked South Asia with China.
2. The Power of Highway Networks during China's Classical Era (323 BCE-216 CE): Regulations, Metaphors, Rituals, and Deities
Scholars have compared the Qin and Han system of roads with the Roman, and argued that they were comparable or greater, but roads may include raised paths between plots of land, as well as the pounded-earth highways. There are less than one thousandth of the Roman road inscriptions in China from the classical era. It is thought that Chinese success in the modern Sichuan area came in the late fourth century B.C. thanks to roads, with laborers forced to work, and regulated cart sizes so they could fit the ruts of the imperial roads. Some roads were designed for the emperor alone or him and his inner court, some secret. Agricultural ministers looked to the transportation system to provide food to the central part of the empire and the frontiers.
Path/way/road is an important Chinese religious concept. Daybooks tell which days and directions were propitious for road travel.
3. Privatizing the Network: Private Contributions and Road Infrastructure in Late Imperial China (1500-1900)
Regions of China vary geographically. Official descriptions are too skeletal, but roads have been "key structures of state communications, military mobility, ... transport arteries, as well as manifestations of state order" since ancient times. The state did little to maintain the roads' infrastructures, with little building/maintenance except around Beijing or in the context of military campaigns. Local elites managed it, instead -- it becoming a means to social advancement, although local grassroots efforts also worked towards road maintenance.
4. Linking the Realm: The Gokaido Highway Network in Early Modern Japan (1603-1868)
This period in Japanese history was the period of the shoguns and is known as the Tokugawa government that centralized their authority through a network of roads and corvee labor, taking power away from the military lords (daimyo). Like the Roman roads emerging from Rome, the Tokugawa system radiated out from a center point at Nihonbashi - 'the "bridge of Japan"'. The daimyo (accompanied by their samurai) were required to travel to Edo every other year. The number of men in these embassies ranged from about 100 to 3500, plus the other people required to carry supplies. By the 1630s there were 248 rest stations from about 4 to 12 km apart. Gradually people settled along them. Commoners, often on pilgrimages, and especially women, had restrictions on travel. There were trees for shade along the embankment and drainage ditches, road markers, and limited use of wheeled vehicles on them.
5. Obliterated Itineraries: Pueblo Trails, Chaco Roads, and Archaeological Knowledge
Roads are for movement, although different areas build them to meet different needs and different groups use the same roads for different purposes. Whether or not they are actually more permanent, roads make a symbolic statement footpaths lack.
6. Roads to Ruins: The Role of Sacbeob in Ancient Maya Society
Most Maya roads have probably been overgrown, but archaeologist can still find, underneath the quickly growing vegetation, basically straight causeways called sacbeob, "roadways constructed as elongated platforms" with various levels of progressively smaller stones, topped with powdered limestone. Generally, they were wider than the normal footpaths. These served various functions, including linking communities. The Maya lacked beasts of burden, so transportation of goods was by humans. Some causeways crossed wet areas and some channeled water. A sacbe was costly so they were used for other purposes as well, including the political, social, and sacred. It is not clear who built them. They could have been political statements.
7. The Chinchaysuyu Road and the Definition of an Inca Imperial Landscape
From the capital of the Incas, Cuzco, roads led off to different areas known as suyas. Four suyas, the most important of which were Chinchaysuyu and Collasuyu, the others being Condesuyu and Andesuyu, made up the Tawantinsuya. Roads from them are the suyu roads. Chinchaysuya was the name of a specific important Inca road with bridges, including a suspension bridge over the Pampas River, running from Vilcashuaman to Cuzco that was developed by the early fifteenth century, ninth official Inca leader, Pachacuti in a military campaign to annex territory.
Pachacuti set up officials and posts for the soldiers; lodging and a transportation system, with a major center every 220 km. Over time, civil engineering projects reclaimed land along the road for cultivation, canals, and terracing.
8. The Sahara as Highway for Trade and Knowledge
We don't know if there was ancient trade between Berbers and the Mediterranean, but there was some system in place by the Islamic period. Knowledge of trans-Saharan trade is made difficult by language and writing factors. Pre-colonial Africans of the area didn't write and scholars studying slave trade through the Sahara need to know Arabic and Turkish. Scholars of the Atlantic slave trade don't face those language challenges. Muslim pilgrims, Sudanic African diplomats, and traders have also crossed the Sahara. Thus the people of the area weren't completely isolated.
9. From the Indus to the Mediterranean: The Administrative Organization and Logistics of the Great Roads of the Achaemenid Empire
The Achaemenid network of roads went from Ephesus to Bactria and India, with stages (stathmoi) and travelers' rest stops along the road from Susa to Sardis. Greeks described the Achaemenid court as nomadic because it traveled from one part of the very large empire to the next each year, eating from warehouses along the royal roads. The kings also authorized embassies that were to pick up provisions along the way and carried a sealed authorization probably for this purpose.
10. The Well-Remembered Path: Roadways and Cultural Memory in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt
Roadways in Egypt connected waterways, mines, quarries, and desert settlements. Travelers marked their paths, making memories. Roads were unpaved, although cleared of stones, with small way stations. Bits of broken pottery run alongside the roadways. The Ptolemaic period introduced distance markers.
11. Roads, Integration, Connectivity, and Economic Performance in the Roman Empire
Studying the impact of the roads on economic history is a monumental task. Roman roads need definition -- perhaps to those capable of bearing traffic year round in wheeled vehicles as heavy as 1500 pounds. Even the secondary roads, but up to this standard, had places along the way for resting, animal changes, and accommodations, and so provided part of a trade network, globalization, and rural expansion. Record of the maintenance on milestones indicates how important the roads were.
12. Roads Not Featured: A Roman Failure to Communicate?
Paving and milestones (7000-8000 markers remain) weren't Roman inventions but were characteristic of Roman roads. Markers weren't so much to educate as to advertise their responsible official. Romans didn't self-congratulate about the roads' ability to control the disparate parts of the Empire, perhaps to avoid alerting the enemy of how useful they, too, might find the system, which they may or may not have recognized as a network. Neither army nor the courier service Augustus established held monopolies on the Roman road system, although official permits were required to claim the right to the accommodations along the road.
13. Road Connectivity and the Structure of Ancient Empires: A Case Study from Late Antiquity
This chapter examines the itineraries of the later Roman empire and sees some, very loose connection between the diocesan changes made by the tetrarchy and clusters of densely connected areas. More important, these clusters of road density correspond with areas that became political units in late antiquity.
14. Jews and News: The Interaction of Private and Official Communication-Networks in Jewish History
Judaism from late antiquity to the early modern period has a detailed history with which to study communications, especially since the religion lacked a state from the year 70 B.C. when the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem. The author looks to the ramblings of Talmudic scholars for details about daily life in Sassanid Babylonia [see Persian Eras]. It had a well developed postal system rivaling the Roman one. The Talmudic rabbis sent questions and answers regularly in many directions and without a fixed geographic boundary. A system of beacons to announce the appearances of the new moon linked the Holy Land with Babylonia. replaced, by the mid-Sassanid period, because of sabotage, by a system of couriers. By the Islamic period, Jews were again living in Jerusalem. The lands under their sway spanned Morocco to Central Asia. Various private postal systems developed; commercial, in Egypt.