POSTAL SERVICES IN THE ROMAN EMPIRE · CURSUS PUBLICUS

7.512 • 6 Haziran 2024 • GEZİ YAZILARI • 14.984 GÖRÜNTÜLEME

LECTURE BY ÖZGE ERSU

whitedotJune 06 2024 Thursday · İstanbul

During the Roman Empire, there was a postal service called ‘Cursus Publicus’ established by Emperor Augustus. This service used a relay system of horses and riders to deliver messages and official documents across the vast imperial territories.

With stations set up at regular intervals, messages could travel up to 270 kilometers per day, providing a surprisingly fast communication. This efficient and important component of the empire’s administration and military strategy, helped maintain its administrative continuity of the empire during its heydays.

The Cursus Publicus service continued until the fall of the Western Roman Empire. In the 3rd and 4th centuries, especially during periods when the empire faced various challenges, the system came under increasing pressure. Various factors prepared its end. Economically, the serious issues faced by the Roman Empire from the 3rd century onwards, such as inflation,  the considerable decline in trade and reduced tax revenues made it difficult to cover the costs of the Cursus Publicus.

Barbarian invasions were another major problem. In the 4th. and 5th. centuries, attacks by barbarian tribes like the Visigoths, Vandals, and Huns on Roman territories disrupted the order in many parts of the Empire. During these invasions Cursus Publicus stations received significant damage, causing service disruptions.

Additionally, as central authority weakened, the Empire divided into Eastern and Western parts in the 4th. century. The gradual decline of administrative power in the Western Roman Empire adversely affected the effectiveness and sustainability of the Cursus Publicus. Eventually, with the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476, the Cursus Publicus system largely came to an end. After this period, similar postal services came under the control of local governments and feudal lords.

In the Eastern Roman Empire (later known as the Byzantine Empire), a similar system called ‘Angaria’ continued for a while. Angaria involved compulsory service in state tasks such as postal services, road construction or public services, without relying on volunteerism (and yes, the term ‘Angarya’ entered Turkish Language from here). However, over time, this system was replaced by different communication methods and local systems.

In another article, I will talk about the special courier system ‘Tatarlar and Ulaklar’ established to ensure communication between different regions of the vast geography of the Ottoman Empire. Of course I will be adding the ‘Menzilhane’ (postal stations) and the Divan-ı Hümayun Postası (Imperial Council Post) as I delve into this topic.

Excuse me? Did someone mention about sending information and documents instantly via WhatsApp?

ÖZGE ERSU

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