Although many of us relate postal service with stamps, everything started a really long time ago. The idea to transport your message from one place to another is probably as old as writing. Today we’ll take a closer look at the Royal Road of Persia, which was the backbone of the Persian postal system.
The old Persian Empire was huge, like really, really huuuuuge! At its’ peak, it covered much of the Ancient world, from India to Greece, including modern day Iran, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Lebanon, Israel, Jordan, parts of Greece, Egypt, Libya, Armenia and many other countries. And it was at its’ peak under the rule of Darius I, the 3rd king of Persia from the Achaemenid dynasty. He ruled two and a half millennia ago, from 522 BCE to 486 BCE. He’s known as a Persian ruler who invaded Greece and that invasion ended after the defeat in the battle of Marathon.
Ruling such a huge state was a great responsibility, and also a big problem. Imagine that you have an info or an idea and you have to act fast, but you need to wait 3 months until your orders are delivered. Something had to be done and Darius did it.
From Susa to Sradis
One of the Persian capitals, Susa, is located in a modern day Iran. On the other side of the Persian Empire is located Sardis, the capital of Lydia. The road from Susa (Iran) to Sardis (Turkey) already existed, some would say for almost 3000 years until Darius. He made really great improvements that held during the history. There is even a bridge from that time that is still in use nowadays.
Beside the road modernization, Darius established a true postal service along the road, the Angarium. Mounted couriers of Angarium (yes, this does sound like something from The Lord of the Rings or a name of a heavy metal band) could deliver a message from Susa to Sardis (a distance of almost 2700 km) in just 7 days. If you would prefer to walk that distance you would need around 3 months. There was a “trick” that helped our ancient mailman to ride so fast. Along the road, there were around 100 stations where a mailman could get himself a fresh horse and continue his duty or even better pass his duty to another mailman.
This is what Herodotus wrote on this subject many years ago:
“Now there is nothing mortal that accomplishes a course more swiftly than do these messengers, by the Persians’ skillful contrivance. It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed. The first rider delivers his charge to the second, the second to the third, and thence it passes on from hand to hand, even as in the Greek torchbearer’s race in honor of Hephaestus. This riding-post is called in Persia, angareion.”
The words “Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds” are chiseled in granite over the entrance of the James A. Farley Building in Manhattan and today serve as an unofficial USPS motto.
Unfortunately, this service was reserved only for the Great King and other notable individuals that were in a service of the king, e.g. satraps. The Royal Road served later to Alexander the Great (356 BCE to 323 BCE) in his invasion and conquest of the Persian Empire.
Although neither stamps or envelopes were present on the Royal Road it literally cleared a path for a development of postal services in the future.
Continue reading: Holidays on Stamps: Independence Day (USA)
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