Susan E. Alcock, John Bodel, and Richard A. Talbert (eds), Highways, Byways, and Road Systems in the Pre-Modern World.
Published in the Wiley-Blackwell series 'The Ancient World: Comparative Histories', this sixth volume deals with roads in the widest sense of the term. As noted in the Preface and Introduction (pp. 1-11), the particular aim of the conference lies on comparison (p. 1). And it is this aim which the volume fails to achieve; first, the editors do not consider any of the theoretical approaches to comparative study; secondly, there is no clear definition what the tertium comparationis of the comparata is; and, thirdly, there is no indication what the aim and purpose of this specific comparison is. Results are therefore limited to rather basic observations on differences and similarities. The reader interested in the comparative aspect of the volume likely will feel a bit underwhelmed.
The scholarly value of this volume, however, lies in the empirical basis it provides for future comparison; the editors have assembled a host of highly valuable contributions. First off is Jason Neelis' chapter on 'Overland Shortcuts for the Transmission of Buddhism' (pp. 12-32): the author explores the routes along which Buddhist monks, nuns, pilgrims and merchants travelled and along which ' informal networks' were formed, expanding from northern India to the Silk Routes of Central Asia. He manages to trace the transmission of Buddhist ideas along the important routes and identifies merchants and traders as the main actors of transmission, with Buddhist missionaries in tow.
In 'The Power of Highway Networks during China's Classical Era (323 BCE-316CE): Regulations, Metaphors, Rituals, and Deities' (pp. 33-65) Michael Nylan discusses the historical narratives regarding the evidence of road construction and the design and hierarchy of classical-era roads. He also takes a closer look at the legal regulations on roads and their moral connotations. Many of these way metaphors convey the idea of taking a well-trodden path as being most desirable. Deities, and cults were closely linked to roads as well.
'Privatizing the Network: Private Contributions and Road Infrastructure in Late Imperial China (1500-1900)' (pp. 66-89) by Nanny Kim explores the disengagement of the state from road construction. She explains this to be the result of the 'light state'; low taxes and minimal state personnel were part and parcel of legitimizing the new dynasties of the Ming and Qing. The limited reach of central government in turn meant that governance relied increasingly on local officials and on the cooperation of local elites. Kim points to the feature of private contributions to infrastructure and asks why private individuals contributed to such building programs and how it became an established practice.
Constantine N. Vaporis discusses the Gokaido road network of Japan in the early modern period ('Linking the Realm: The Gokaido Highway Network in Early Modern Japan [1603-1868]', pp. 90-105). The network was built at local expense and ran through the country's heartland, expressing the power of the Tokugawa shoguns through infringing the authority of the local military lords, the daimyo. The travels of the daimyo and their samurai were highly regulated, as was the movement of commoners (farmers, artisans, merchants). Vaporis furthermore details the infrastructure and administration of the road system, which was evidently geared towards official rather than private use.
James E. Snead addresses the issue of roads in a culture without written sources in 'Obliterated Itineraries: Pueblo Trails, Chaco Roads, and Archaeological Knowledge' (pp. 106-27) by looking at paths associated with the Pueblo culture. The author needs to be commended for providing an astute exposition of the terms 'path', 'trail' and 'road', their impact as marks in the landscape, and for highlighting the close link of roads and trails with their functional and socio-political roles--an exposition which belongs in the introduction to this volume.
In 'Roads to Ruins: The Role of Sacbeob in Ancient Maya Society' (pp. 128-46) Justine M. Shaw examines the straight sacbeob, artificial roadways, linking important architectural monuments within a Maya settlement. Shaw sees the main purpose of the sacbeob to direct the flow of pedestrian traffic. Given the complex structure of these elevated roads, their construction was an expensive undertaking with the aim, as Shaw argues, to exert political control, to define social and economic integration, and to facilitate religious inclusion through processions. The sacbeob, she claims, were perhaps not designed for the common user and everyday traffic for a selected group.
The late Catherine Julien stands on firmer ground when she analyses 'The Chinchaysuyu Road and the Definition of Inca Imperial Landscape' (pp. 14767), given that her sources include written evidence (albeit in Spanish). Julien focuses her study on the road from Vilcashuaman to Cuzco. The Spanish account of the Inca conquest of the area details the use of roads as part and parcel of Inca warfare and of the strategy of securing conquered territory. The archaeological remains allow Julien to explore the aftermath of conquest with a shift in property ownership and a resettlement program, monumentalized in the massive terrace walls and field divisions detected along the Chinchaysuyu road.
Pekka Masonen takes account of a different set of sources in 'The Sahara as Highway for Trade and Knowledge' (pp. 168-84), discussing the evidence for trans-Saharan trade in Roman and Arab periods. As for the pre-Islamic trade, there is little material or written evidence suggesting extensive North-South contacts. Masonen credits the linkage of regionalized Sudanic trade networks with the Mediterranean to Arabic traders and the introduction of the dromedary to the Sahara. He focuses especially on the role of the Sudanic African communities who are not inactive partners in these trade relations but seek to control the southern trading hubs of the network.
Pierre Briant returns to the theme of roads proper: he examines the evidence for the royal road system of the Achaemenid Empire in 'From the Indus to the Mediterranean. The Administrative Organization and Logistics of the Great Roads of the Achaemenid Empire' (pp. 185-210). Briant extends the discussion beyond the evidence provided by the Greek sources and analyses the Persepolis Fortification Texts and the Aramaic papyri from Achaemenid Egypt, looking more closely at the issuing of travel rations to those permitted by the satraps to use the royal roads. He suggests that expenses for travel were debited either to the account of the satrap or of the king.
Jennifer Gates-Foster focuses on roads and their role in Egyptian cultural memory in the Eastern and Western Deserts ('The Well-Remembered Path: Roadways and Cultural Memory in Ptolemaic and Roman Egypt', pp. 202-21). She examines the place of roads in the interaction of travellers with their landscape, as evidenced in the proskynemata, acts of worship, commemorated in inscriptions and reliefs along these desert roads. The proskynemata cluster at sites where there is evidence for Pharaonic religious activity.
R. Bruce Hitchner takes a closer look at the impact of the Roman road network on the economic integration of the provinces of the Empire ('Roads, Integration, Connectivity, and Economic Performance in the Roman Empire', pp. 222-34). He specifically addresses the question whether roads produced a 'substantial improvement in the velocity and dissemination of goods, services, and information'. Hitchner presents two case studies, one on the civitas of the Vocontii in eastern Gaul, the other on the interior of North Africa, which he believes illustrate 'the primary effects' of the Roman road system on provincial societies by connecting local economies with the economy of the empire.
Richard A. Talbert focuses on why few Roman comments on the road system and its benefits exist ('Roads Not Featured: A Roman Failure? ', pp. 235-54); he seeks to explain this silence, arguing that the propagation by the emperor of his control of his network would have alienated the municipalities, who increasingly took on the financial obligation to maintain the road network. In addition, Talbert believes that a conceptual awareness of Roman roads as a network was mostly absent for much of the Principate.
Michael Maas and Derek Ruths approach Roman roads from a different angle: interested more in networks of connectivity, they aim to identify clusters of highly connected settlements ('Road Connectivity and the Structure of Ancient Empires: A Case Study from Late Antiquity', pp. 255-64). The data is provided by the Antonine Itinerary and analysed with an algorithm. Based on this observation they conclude that the authorities defining the spatial extent of the dioceses did not take existing connections and clusters of connectivity into account.
Finally, Adam Silverstein discusses the evidence provided in Jewish sources for connections and postal systems in the Late Roman, Sassanid and Islamic states ('Jews and News: The Interaction of Private and Official Communication Networks in Jewish History', pp. 265-75). Silverstein is interested in pre-modern communication amongst disparate Jewish communities and the impact of religion on information exchange in the Late Roman and Islamic period; he thereby focuses on the Palestinian and the Babylonian Talmud.
The volume includes maps, figures and photographs in black and white and concludes with an index listing places, people and concepts (pp. 276-89).
Alfred M. Hirt
University of Liverpool
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|Author:||Hirt, Alfred M.|
|Publication:||The Journal of Transport History|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Dec 1, 2014|
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