Ancient Journeys: What was Travel Like for the Romans?
Ancient Roman river vessel carrying barrels, assumed to be wine, and people. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
Romans would stay on the deck of the ship and sometimes there would be hundreds of people on the deck. They would bring their own supplies aboard including food, games, blankets, mattresses, or even tents to sleep in. Some merchant ships had cabins at the stern that could accommodate only the wealthiest Romans. It is worth noting that very wealthy Romans could own their own ships, just like very wealthy people own big yachts today. Interestingly, a Roman law forbade senators from owning ships able to carry more than 300 amphorae jars as these ships could also be used to trade goods.
How clay amphorae vessels may have been stacked on a galley. ( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
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Traveling by ship wasn't very slow, even compared to modern day standards. For example, going from Brindisium in Italy to Patrae in Greece would take over three days, versus about one day today. Romans could also travel from Italy to Egypt in just a few days. Commercial navigation was suspended during the four winter months in the Mediterranean. This was called the mare clausum . The sea was too rough and too dangerous for commercial ships to sail. Therefore, traveling by sea was close to impossible during the winter and Romans could only travel by road. There were also many navigable rivers that were used to transport merchandise and passengers, even during the winter months.
Traveling during the time of the ancient Romans was definitely not as comfortable as today. However, it was quite easy to travel thanks to Rome's developed road network with its system of way stations and regular ship lines in the Mediterranean. And Romans did travel quite a lot!
Featured image: An ancient Roman road at Leptis Magna, Libya.( CC BY-SA 3.0 )
By: Victor Labate
Romae Vitam. Roman roads. [Online] Available here.
Watler Scheidel, Elijah Meeks. ORBIS The Stanford Geospatial Network Model of the Roman World. Orbis.Stanford.edu [Online] Available at: http://orbis.stanford.edu
Romae Vitam. Roman carriages. [Online] Available here.
Romae Vitam. Roman ships. [Online] Available here.