Romes Saxon Shore: Coastal Defences of Roman Britain AD 250-500 (Fortress, Volume 56)

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They are also mentioned by Euripides who speaks of the "Level road, marked by the chariot wheel on eitber side" Electra, The road from Athens to Pyrgos shows an interesting feature near Stephani, where a low wall crosses both road and wheel ruts, rendering necessary a transference of goods. Curtius suggests that it represents a toll-barrier. The artificial wheel ruts also occur in the necropolis or cemetery of Orchomenos and that of Syracuse according to de Rochas. The lay-out of these sacred roads hardly ever involved any daring feature of engineering; when compared with later Roman roads, it seems that the Greek roads seldom folio wed a straight line, but adapted themselves to the natural conditions as much as possible.

These roads with their long windings are often doubled by paths representing short cuts and used by less exacting traffic for instance by marching troops. Thus the sacred road from Elis to Olympia is considerably longer 4 miles than the direct mountainpath, which does not keep to the easier track through the river valleys. Still some instances are known where artificial embankments were built for sacred roads when a rocky subsoil was lacking.

This was done on the tract from Daphne to Eleusis on the Sacred Way. Here the road, running along a dry watercourse, is partly cut in the rocks, partly supported, by a wall of roughly hewn stones. There seems to have been an embankment in this road leading through the sak pook of the Thriasian Plain. Both Leake and Philios have described these supporting walls and the slab pavement with artificial wheelruts.

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Their date is, however, uncertain because the emperor Hadrian is believed to have repaired and widened this road to its present width of 7 metres. Similar pavements were found on several other roads. Wc know several details of the ceremonial processions along these roads. Limestone models have been found of the four wheeled carts on which the statues of the gods were borne between Crissa and Delphi.

Certain, probably paved, roads which encircled a temple enclosure, were used for religious games sucb as torch races; for instance the road round the Acropolis and roads in Tanagra Pausanias IX, 22 and Delos. The sacred way was considered the property of the god to whose temple it led thucydides III, as were the paved approaches of the temples and we need not wonder that the asylia, the privilege of asylum, was applied here. This was for instance the case on the Sacred Way to Eleusis on several occasions in the early part of the Peleponnesian War.

There was a tendency to bury the dead along these roads which feature may also be noted in Italy. Monuments, temples and statues adorned their course. Their religious importance led to the prescription of their dimensions, the normal gauge of 1.


It is logical that their maintenance should be entrusted to sacred colleges. Thus the sacred roads around Delphi were looked after by the Amphictyones, the board governing the af fairs of the Delphic Apollo. Curtius suggested that this idea was introduced from Egypt, but without proof.

They occur already in Homeric times Odyssey z. The origin of the sacred road and its wheel ruts has not yet been found. As they are an exceptional feature in Mesopotamia the Maltese origin seems more probable, though the gap between their dates is not yet filled by disco very of wheel ruts on Minoan roads. Thus the connection between Malta and Greece remains unsolved. In later times both Etruscans and Romans built them. Even as late as Germar was so impressed by their advantages that he wrote a book to recommend.

If we now turn to other types of roads, we find that an old unpaved? We have already mentioned several passages in Homer referring to pavement. It seems that the influence of the Mycenaean road building was not then wholly lost. Many river valleys were swampy and the Greeks early took to draining and regulating the water supply of these fertile tracts. The dykes erected for this purpose often served as an embankment for roads, pavements of slabs with wheel ruts being still found on several of these dykes.

The earth embankments were called gephura by the Greeks who often strengthened their shoulders with stones or boulders, as in the case of the 22' dyke at Kopaios. Other roads of the kind were found near Mantinea, Tbisbe, Opis, Eretria and in the coastal valley of Boeotia. A few longer roads or tracks must have existed in Greece, descendante of Homer's "well-paved roads". Old tracks existed between Thessaly and the Adriatic coast. Since herodotus gives us the exact distance between Athens and Olympia II, 7 one might infer a levelled track, perhaps partly paved.

Still, because of the neglect of driving, roadmaking never evolved from these primitive methods. As we have seen travellers seldom used waggons, ambassadors even rigidly adhered to walking. The distance between Athens and Sparta, even if crossing the Saronic Gulf by boat, was covered in two days only. Often, as we learn from pausanias, the road was too steep for horses. Several of the coastal roads were "just wide enough for a single carriage" as Herodotus tells us about the coastal road near Thermopylae. The strategie value of these narrow passes is beyond doubt, the well-known stand at Thermopylae being the most famous example.

Here the betrayal of a short cut over the hills was the cause of Leonidas' defeat.

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  • This care for less steep roads belongs, however, to later periods; we know several examples in Hellenistic cities outside Greece as Seleucia, Cyrene, etc. The older road builders even resorted to the building of stairs. These "staircase" roads were called klimakes or basmides by the Greeks. Several examples occur in Ionia and in the mountains between Arcadia and Argolis.

    One of these was called the Ladder Pass, Pausanias tells us, that in comparison with the others "this is the widest pass and steps were formerly made into it to facilitate descent VUL 6. These steps were not cut in the rock, but built up of small stones perhaps in the "rammed chippings" method which we shall describe later on in discussing the streets. The Ladder Pass is still in use. Some of the mountain roads near Delphi are built in the same way.

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    A few transport roads are known, especially in Attica, leading from mines or quarries to the coast. One of them was found near the quarries of the famous Pentelic marble. According to curtius this road was partially hewn in the rocks partly formed by an embankment of boulders of marble and slate, sometimes strengthened by stone shoulders and retaining walls. The pavement shows a regular slope faced with limestone and marble slabs, which have been polished by constant use. Along its outer edge holes were found which probably held poles to prevent the quarried stones from slipping off the road.

    A similar road was found near Agrilesa and the white marble quarries leading to Kamaresa; this road shows artificial wheel ruts. The foundation is again the levelled rocky soil, here and there improved by fillings of slate rubble. The outer edge is protected by a wall; the average width is 5 metres. A branch road of the coastal highway near Marathon, leading to the Dau monastery, is executed in terraces paved with heavy slabs.

    It is remarkable to find a continuous wheel rut track hewn in this "staircase" pavement. More of these roads were found leading from the Taygetus Mts to the coast. Road building was generally a government affair. In Sparta the two kings "were to judge in all matters concerning highway s", as Herodotus tells us VI, This law is connected with the agressive policy of Sparta, where the roads and bridges were to serve mainly for strategical purposes and were thus looked after by the army staf f. Little is known, however, of the maintenance of the highways and the executive officers.

    Before reverting to the streets we may remark that roads were sometimes used as boundaries in treaties, and that special tolldistricts or market quarters emporia were bordered by roads, which were 6 to 30 metres wide.

    Peisistratos made a traffic law for Attica B. VI, 61 Aristotle Pol. Road signs were formed by piles of stones in the older periods, and hesychius, in commenting on these roadmarks, repeats a story of Xanthus, according to which Mercury after the death of Argus had to throw an "absolution stone" on the roadside.

    This custom of throwing a stone after saying a prayer on the road is still practised in many countries such as Tibet, thus marking the road with piles of stones.

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    In historical times the Hetmae were used, being square stone pillars ending in one or more busts of Mercury, the god of travellers. Though temples, resthouses and inns were built along the roads, one seldom hears of the planting of trees. Pausanias mentions only the road along the Isthmus which ran between "rows of pine-trees most of them shooting straight up into the air" II. This may, however, have been necessitated by the gradual deforestation of Greece, which had already progressed considerably in pausanias' time.

    Even if the construction and maintenance of roads was generally rather neglected, still life in the inns must have been quite happy, for we hear that: "Roads without inns are no better than life without holidays". II, The Hellenistic Age brought new life to the art of road building to which contact with Persia may have contributed as well as the far longer distances involved.

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    Alexander the Great seems to have adopted the Persian custom of having an army corps for road building; he employed special Thracian engineers Arrian. I, Though we are not informeel about his own roads, we know, that bis successors followed the Persian example. Antigonus revived the old Persian courier-system and builds coastal roads in Asia Minor.

    Later Seleucid kings are known to have built two long roads viz. These roads were partly the property of the king, partly they belonged to the towns. The Ptolemaic dynasty seems to bave used forced labour for the building and repairs. A regular system of milestones was crected at regular dis tances of a "schoinos" about 4 miles. Of their construction and paving, next to nothing is known. Construction and Maintenance of Streets in Greek Cities.