Chapter 5

Services: Roads, Water Supply, Aqueducts, Harbours


This chapter studies the essential infrastructure on which urban life must be based if it is to be healthy and prosperous. It first looks briefly at the main services, then considers problems of maintenance, and finally sketches in what happens when maintenance is neglected, and decline sets in. Except on those occasions during every year when we have to pay for them, we tend to take public services very much for granted. An antidote to this (and a means of improving one's "eye" for an antique site) is to take a rough camping holiday, when matters of roads and tracks, drainage, sewage disposal and fresh water will come very much to the fore. In a world where most people did not have good roads or running water or suitable defence (they still don't), it was natural that these features of classical civilization should be properly prized, and displayed in as prestigious a fashion as possible, so as suitably to impress those people who lacked them. Just as important an undertaking were the roads connecting cities, and I begin with these.

Roads between Towns

Commerce was a mainstay of ancient prosperity, and although the majority of cities probably obtained day-to-day goods locally, no system could have functioned without long-distance trade, and therefore without shipping and harbours. Special roads existed to sanctuaries, such as that leading from Miletus to Didyma, an imposing stretch of which has recently been excavated.

Today we expect roads to have a hard, long-lasting surface, to be adequately drained, and to be safe from marauders. We also expect to find convenient stopping places for food and fuel en route, in any size from villages and market towns to cities. The Romans (and the Persians and Greeks before them - witness the Royal Road from Sardis to Susa) expected much the same: but if some antique roads were built to improve general communications and to aid commerce, a main impulse for the majority was military: only with roads could troops be moved quickly over long distances. And although they were of course for general use, they were almost a state possession, garrisoned by troops and, like the sea lanes, occasionally swept clean of brigands. Under certain circumstances, the population living near roads (just like those in the area of aqueducts) could be required to help in their upkeep. For comparison and contrast, think of "the King's Highway" in 18th century England - often muddy, rutted and meandering, and dangerous to boot. Indeed, Europe did not get new roads that were really the equal of Roman ones until the 19th century.

Survival of roads

What is more, throughout Europe, North Africa and parts of Asia, many of the roads still in use are indeed old roads, surveyed, designed, drained and built by the Romans, and little changed except for an asphalt surface. In other words, geography often dictates the path they take, and so the most important ones are usually asphalted and still in use. That travel could be extensive in the ancient world is demonstrated by, for example, the journeys of Saint Paul by sea and land, many of them through Turkey (map in Levi 1980, 213). Indeed, it is little exaggeration to say that even today one could navigate easily through much of Turkey or Italy and all of Tunisia equipped only with a map of the Roman road system. In sum, one might say that the road (together with drainage) is one of the great gifts of Roman civilization.

Although we are all familiar with antique roads that have survived to this day - such as Watling Street (strara = straet = paved road) or the Via Appia - there are many others all over the Roman Empire which exist only as tracks, or even simply as crop-marks. Most road networks have all such varieties of survival. A popular activity for archaeologists further west is to work out road patterns, often making use of aerial archaeology; and it is likely that greater attention to road networks in Turkey will lead to more information about milestones, way-stations, forts and the rest. The visitor with a day or two to spare can trace some old roads on foot. In Cilicia, for example, the axis at Olba (defined by the colonnaded street) is a paved road which linked this city with Corycus on the coast, and Silifke as well, which seems to peter out outside Olba, but which is nevertheless traceable for much of the route.

Exploring most ancient sites will also reveal the starting points for ancient roads no longer in use. At Elaiussa-Sebaste, for example, the modern motor road cuts right through the site at sea level, and might mark an antique road as well. Because of the modern settlement, tracing other antique roads here is difficult - but finding those at the necropolis is easy. The street from the large Christian monastery to the East, and joining it with another church (and thence down westwards into the town) is quite visibly pebble-paved, with the occasional large stone slab; and it is still lined with very large sarcophagi. A similar collection of sarcophagi lines the road going due north from Kanlidivane - which was once, apparently, paved, but which is now little more than a dry-weather track. Indeed, the whole area between the coast and Diocaesarea is criss-crossed by ancient roads, some of them paved, and many of them still in use.

If the approach roads to some cities can be flat, broad and majestic, those to others must needs take account of the lie of the land. The results can be spectacular. Cyaneae lies on the north of a bow-shaped valley; and, judging from (unexcavated?) ruins, it seems likely that some life went on in the valley. But the city itself, defended on three sides by massive walls and by a precipice on the fourth, is over 1700 metres up a cliffside, and approached on the valley side by steps cut out of the limestone. That this really is the main approach is not in doubt, for although a track some three kilometres long leads from the modern village around to the rear of the acropolis and eventually to the theatre (to the west, and almost on a level with the walls), this narrow staircase - for it is sometimes that steep - carries a full complement of sarcophagi, making it a true street of tombs. For another necropolis, the space between the west walls and the theatre is used: this is the only nearly flat space conveniently outside the city walls.

Unfortunately, the travelling "luxury" provided by "fast" roads was a two-edged gift, in that roads built to preserve peace by the speedy movement of troops were equally available, after the collapse of order, for use by invaders or brigands. This produced a special flavour to mediaeval settlement patterns in Italy, where people moved away from the now dangerous roads to more easily defensible sites. It would be interesting to know for certain whether a similar process occured in mediaeval Turkey, contributing as it certainly did in Italy to both the survival and the re-use of antique cities and monuments. An initial guess might be that it did not, and that Byzantine Turkey was a good deal safer than (for instance) mediaeval Italy. In Italy, indeed, mediaeval "retrenchment" could include moving back to sites (Etruscan, for instance) which had long been inhabited. In Turkey, we find sites in the plain that appear to have been in continuous habitation during the Middle Ages, and conversely some on high ground that were abandoned, such as: Cyaneae (bishopric, abandoned 10th century), Termessus (bishopric, abandoned ?5th century), Pinara (abandoned 9th century), Labranda (large Byzantine church, abandoned 11th century), and Arycanda (bishopric, abandoned 11th century). Perhaps severe population contraction was the cause.


From here you may also go to The Preface, The Introduction, Archaeology in Turkey, Building for Splendour, Town Planning, The Architecture of Work & Leisure, Religion: Temples & Special Sanctuaries, Funerary Art & Architecture, Decline & Renewal, The Conclusion, The Bibliography, or The Table of Contents

Greek & Roman Cities of Western Turkey