BMCR 2008.03.40

Verkehrswege der Argolis: Rekonstruktion und historische Bedeutung. Geographica Historica, 23

, Verkehrswege der Argolis : Rekonstruktion und historische Bedeutung. Alte Geschichte. Stuttgart: F. Steiner, 2006. 226 pages : illustrations (some color) ; 24 cm + 1 CD-ROM (4 3/4 in.).. ISBN 3515089438 €45.00 (pb).

This important topographical study is based on more than ten years’ exploration of the northeast Peloponnese by the author. It deserves a wide readership and will be useful for all future topographic work not only on the Argolis but on routes and polis histories in the Peloponnese. The usefulness of the volume is increased by the author’s generous inclusion of 246 of his own digitized colour photographs. As well as the evidence of ancient roads, the images cover relevant landscapes and many known rural sites, such as the ‘pyramids’ of Lygourio and Elliniko, some thirty rural towers, and at least eight other rural fortifications. Most of them, as far as I am aware, have rarely if ever been the subjects of published photographs.

In the introduction (pp. 15-17) Tausend gives due credit to the pioneering work of Yanis Pikoulas, who alerted us to the network of ancient roads criss-crossing parts of the Peloponnese.1 They are usually identified through parallel wheel-ruts cut into the bedrock, the distance between them generally being at a standard gauge of 1.40 to 1.45 m. Pikoulas interprets them as the result of Spartan control of the Peloponnese in the archaic and early classical periods, a question to which we shall return presently. Building upon Pikoulas’s methodology, Tausend has successfully traced many more examples.

After a brief introduction paying tribute to the work of Pritchett and Pikoulas, the ten main chapters (2-11) are arranged in pairs by geographical region. The first of each pair assesses the archaeological evidence independently of ancient texts, which is surely the right way of proceeding. The second of each pair treats—usually in lemmata ranging in length from a few lines to a page or so—the historical significance of the routes through events attested in literary evidence, such as expeditions and battles. As a result, the geographical scope is sometimes deliberately narrowed in the second chapter of a pair. Thus the first four even-numbered chapters cover roads from Argolis to (2) Korinthia, (4) Phleiasia, (6) N. Arkadia, and (8) S. Arkadia and Laconia, whereas the corresponding odd-numbered chapters (3, 5, 7, 9) discuss the historical significance of roads from Argos—rather than Argolis—to Corinth, Phleious, northern Arkadia, and Sparta. An appendix to chapter 3 deals with Epameinondas’s route through Argolis in 369 (pp. 51-7). The last pair of chapters (10-11) covers roads between towns and sanctuaries within Argolis and their historical significance. Frequent reference is made by location number to the maps that follow the first chapter in each pair, and by serial number to the CD images.

Chapter 12 (pp. 189-98) brings together the conclusions, and an appendix covers the Mycenaean roads of Argolis and their use in historical times (pp. 199-203; map on p. 204). Other endmatter comprises a full bibliography, a list of the CD images, and short indexes of ancient (though regrettably not modern) place-names, persons, and sources. The last section of the book (pp. 221-6) contains six pleasing monochrome sketches of ancient sites (five built structures and a road cutting) by Johann Biheller. These bring out details, such as features of the masonry, that one would otherwise have to scrutinize the CD images to detect.

The main text of the book is lucidly expressed and well organized. It is printed in Steiner’s usual 10 point Times, though thankfully on this occasion with the first line of each paragraph indented and, for good measure, with leading of about 5 points between paragraphs. The JPEG files on the CD range in size from 251 kb to 8 Mb (most are 1 to 4 Mb); the author acknowledges (p. 17) that the digitization process has led to variations in the quality of images, though as far as I can tell the archaeological features are clear in every case. The in-text maps reproduce, so indistinctly as to be almost illegible, the relevant portions of the Greek army 1 : 50,000 series, overlain with somewhat clearer dotted lines indicating the courses of roads, and with toponyms or numbered symbols indicating different kinds of sites. Biheller’s drawings are reproduced at sufficiently large scale for the rather low printer resolution not to matter, but one wishes the publishers had given more thought to the quality of the other in-text figures.

The principal value of the work lies in its systematic and comprehensive detailing of archaeological and written evidence for routes and their use, in the corpus of new topographical data, and particularly in the historical implications—which the conclusion begins to explore—not just for Argolis but for the Peloponnese as a whole. Pikoulas, as summarized by Tausend, attributed the network of cart roads across the Peloponnese to the Spartans during their hegemony. He attempted to meet the objection that many of these roads are in Argive territory—which the Spartans did not control—by suggesting that some may have been built during Spartan expeditions. Tausend observes that the network within Argolis is too complex to have served Spartan interests alone and that in many upland regions it needed regular maintenance, which the Spartans could not have provided at long distance and which they could not have forced small Argolic communities to provide. The numerous towers, particularly frequent in the Argive-Arkadian borderland, were clearly the work of the Argives. And in areas such as the chora of Epidauros, a long-time ally of Sparta, what need was there for the network of military roads that we find there?

For an explanation of the roads, Tausend turns first to the role of Argos as a node in the network. Roads enabled the Argives to intervene rapidly in neighbouring territories, should the need arise; to block Spartan attacks; and to deter their dependent poleis from breaking away. They also served economic purposes for a largely non-maritime city-state, providing reliable links to Epidauros, Corinth, Mantineia, and Tegea and places beyond. The absence of known roads around Hermion and Troizen is explained by the ease of local sailing between these places and their neighbours. Conversely, Tausend attributes the road network linking maritime Epidauros with its long-time ally Corinth to defensive military aims.

Tausend notes that Pikoulas identified a correlation between frequent towers and denser road networks and observed that towers were more frequent on the Argive side of frontiers, reflecting the continual threat posed to Argos by the Peloponnesian league. Tausend develops this picture further, noting the higher frequency of towers protecting Argolis against possible invasion from Arkadia. Conversely he notes that, though the evidence for the Epidaurian chora is incomplete, Phleious and Corinth certainly protected their territories against Argos. The existence of Epidaurian fortifications against Corinthian attack, at first sight surprising, is explained either in relation to the Corinthian war of the early fourth century or as a measure to prevent a non-Peloponnesian power from marching through Korinthia into Epidauria, as the Thebans did in 369. This historical context is also invoked to explain the, at first sight surprising, strengthening of the border between Epidauros and Troizen, which were usually allies. Networks of rural towers were a costly undertaking for small poleis, and Tausend notes that while it might be tempting to attribute some to Alexander’s Successors (he mentions Demetrios I and Ptolemy II; one could also consider Antigonos Gonatas), the dating evidence, particularly pottery, points in most cases to the fourth century.

Tausend concedes that the sources overstress the military uses of the roads, but argues that these uses were in fact primary. There is surely scope, however, for further discussion of their ‘civil’ roles. It is not only armies that use wheeled transport; indeed, it seems worth questioning whether all expeditions, or (for example) only long-distance ones, used vehicles. At the very least, even if roads were initially built for military ends and towers were designed mainly to protect frontiers (directly or indirectly), the structures—once they existed—would surely attract non-military activity; and towers, at least when manned, can give protection to travellers even in peacetime. It is easily imaginable, in fact, that roads were planned with more than one purpose in mind. If Tausend is right to dissociate parts of the network from Spartan initiative, the trading ambitions of each individual polis can be allowed to come into play.

Trade between Peloponnesian city-states existed before built roads, in the Bronze Age and in the Geometric and archaic periods.2 It would be interesting to look for any correspondences between historical cart roads and the paths suitable for non-wheeled traffic (on foot, or by horse or donkey) that were used by modern travellers such as Leake, some of which may have very early origins. Ancient paths may lie behind compendia such as the British staff handbook of the first world war.3 We should not assume that the newly discovered rut-ways were the only surface routes between places. How, again, do the ancient rut-ways relate to travel times and the existence of different nodal points in the Peloponnese at different periods, as explored by Sanders and Whitbread?4

There are also prior technological issues to resolve. What, precisely, would be meant by wheeled traffic in the context of Tausend’s roads? Can oxen, for example, pull heavy wagons up steep slopes, even with the help of guiding ruts, and endure journeys of several days on stony ground? If so, how do we envisage individuals, cities, or commanders organizing such transportation, with all the attendant issues of supply explored by Engels thirty years ago?5 If not, what lighter vehicles, drawn by what animals, were robust enough for such journeys; and which of them were deemed so crucial to military expeditions or trade as to require investment in extensive rock-cutting operations far out from the urban centre?

Historians are moving further away from the view of small Greek poleis as autarkic economic units and are attempting to reconstruct in greater detail the economic linkages in the historical periods between Peloponnesian towns and regions, often separated by high mountain barriers.6 In this context it is increasingly important to understand the practical modalities of, and constraints upon, travel and transport within and between regions of the Peloponnese. Tausend has made a vitally important contribution to this enquiry.


1. See e.g. G. A. Pikoulas, “The road-network of Arkadia”, in T. H. Nielsen and J. Roy (eds), Defining Ancient Arkadia (Copenhagen, 1999), 248-319 (with map 3 at end of vol.).

2. See e.g. J. N. Coldstream, Geometric Greece, 2nd edition (London and New York, 2003).

3. Admiralty Naval Intelligence Division, Geographical Section, A Handbook of Greece. 3 vols (London: Admiralty/War Office, 1918-19).

4. G. D. R. Sanders and I. K. Whitbread, “Central places and major roads in the Peloponnese”, Annual of the British School at Athens, 85 (1990), 333-62.

5. D. W. Engels, Alexander the Great and the Logistics of the Macedonian Army (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1978). I thank Duncan Campbell (University of Leicester) for advice in this area.

6. See, e.g., this reviewer’s forthcoming paper “Approaching the Macedonian Peloponnese”, in C. Grandjean (ed.), Le Péloponnèse d’Épaminondas à Hadrien (Bordeaux, 2008), for a preliminary attempt to reconstruct different trade networks on the basis of pottery styles.