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Roman Republic: Res publica Romana • View topic - Roman Roads #8 (Roads of the Sea)

Roman Roads #8 (Roads of the Sea)

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Roman Roads #8 (Roads of the Sea)

Postby Marcus Minucius Audens » Mon Sep 12, 2016 12:48 am



Most of the roads of the Roman Empire led to a seaport of some kind and in many cases this involved the decision of whether to continue a journey of weeks and perhaps months of walking or riding in a jolting wagon over the rough roads or lolling in comfort on the deck of a sailing ship. It also offered the decision of the possibility of shipwreck or the further possibility of the ship sinking in a storm. The Romans throughout the Republic and the Empire were not brave marine adventurers. Another aspect of making the sea the road to one’s destination was the season of the year. Sea passages were simply not available during the winter months and sea trade was carried on essentially between the months of May to October. In the other months, contrary winds, cloudiness, and severe storms threatened the Roman mariner and these were very unsafe. In the days before adequate charts and mariner’s piloting books, the process of moving from one place to another was either by the sun during daylight, and the stars by night, or by a clear sight of familiar points of land along the way. Sailing, out of sight of land, was a very big chance to be undertaken only in the season when the winter storms were minimal. Sea movement in the winter months did not completely stop, of course, because of emergency needs like the food supply for a hungry populace or the transfer of troops in a military situation, but civilian passage was minimal.

Again, if one was wealthy, or a high-ranking political or military figure, one could go by military vessel which had the use of rowers when the winds were not cooperative. However, again most civilian merchant ships did not have rowers and moved only by sail power. Until the later part of the fourth century AD most ships used one or two square rigged sails, which only worked best when the wind was directly behind or a few degrees just off, directly astern of the vessel. This related directly to the seasonal direction of wind flow across the Mediterranean depression. The major port cities that recieved cargo for further shipping and distribution around the Mediterranean Basin were Rome, Antioch, Caesarea, Alexandria, Carthage, Cadiz, Cartagena, Tarragona, Narbonne, Marseilles, and Arles. Sea lanes connected one to another and coastal sailings were available to connect the smaller ports among them. The time of these sailings depended directly on the type of ship one sailed on. A larger ship that followed the direct sea lanes or a smaller one that was required to stay closer to the visual sighting of the shoreline. A distance for instance of only two hundred miles could take as long as two weeks, however the passenger could enjoy perhaps a shore-cooked meal and a stable nights sleep while the ship was in port. All this primarily depended upon what was known as the ‘Etsians’ or the yearly trade winds which blew pretty consistently from a northerly quadrant and often directed the course of shipping across and around the Mediterranean Coast.

Then too, the traveler was a secondary aspect to any merchant ship, and it was up to him to seek out a ship which was headed toward his destination. Once having gained permission to board the ship, the passenger was responsible for his own foods, wine, cooking utensils, mattress and bedding. The ship would usually provide water. The passenger was responsible for preparing their own meals, and although most ships had a galley with some sort of fireplace, the crew had first call on its use. Sleeping arrangements were usually on deck, perhaps under small tent-like structures that their servant put up and removed. The passenger arranged his passage and fees with the ship’s captain, and then before leaving, he had to get an ‘exit’ pass to leave the country. Egypt was particularly bad about this, with prices ranging from 9 drachmae for a common worker to 108 drachmae for a prostitute. Passing the time during waking hours aboard the vessel was done mostly by conversation with fellow passengers, reading for those who could afford it, as books and scrolls were expensive, and gambling. In an emergency on board both passengers as well as crew were pressed into service, and that was understood before passage was arranged. So the comfort and ease of the passage depended greatly upon the ship and as I have pointed out the weather. Such were the concerns of travelers who selected to pursue a sea route vice a long and arduous land route in the Days of Roman Roads.

Respectfully Submitted;
Marcus Audens
Marcus Minucius Audens
 

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