Long before any human-made roads were built in Mesopotamia, people used the rivers to travel long distances. If they had to journey overland, they used donkeys, and later camels and horses, and followed the routes that were physically easiest, keeping an eye on familiar landmarks along the way. Over time some of the routes became beaten-down dirt pathways, which long remained the main form of the roads in the region. Their obvious disadvantage was that they became muddy and in some places impassible during the rainy and flood season in the spring.
   With the rise of larger empires in the region, however, the rulers of these entities began to see the need for expanding and better maintaining some of the ancient pathways. Better roads allowed more efficient communication between the capital and the provinces and quicker movement of supplies and soldiers from one place to another. The Assyrians were the first to approach this task in a major way. They built guard posts at intervals along the roads, dug wells to provide water for travelers and their animals, put up road signs to help people find their way, and established a postal system in which mounted messengers carried royal correspondence. These longer roads were mostly still dirt paths, though some were no doubt wider and better maintained than the previous versions. The Assyrians did have a few paved roads, but these were short, consisting mainly of processional ways leading from temple to temple inside cities or a few main streets in those cities. The paved surfaces were achieved by placing slabs of stone in a mortar of tar (bitumen), sometimes on a base of gravel.
   Later, the Persians lengthened and improved many of the older Assyrian roads as well as built some new ones. The most famous of Persia's "royal roads" was the one King Darius I (reigned ca. 522486 b.c.) built to connect Susa in eastern Mesopotamia to Sardis in western Anatolia. Incorporating sections of an earlier Assyrian road, it stretched some 1,500 miles (2,415 km). The Greek historian Herodotus, who traveled this road during his visit to Mesopotamia in the fifth century b.c., gives this description:
   At intervals all along the road are recognized stations, with excellent inns, and the road itself is safe to travel by, as it never leaves inhabited country. In Lydia and Phrygia [in Anatolia], over a distance of ... about 330 miles [530 km] - there are 20 stations. . . . The total number of stations, or post-houses, on the road from Sardis to Susa is 111. . . . Traveling at the rate of 150 furlongs [18 miles (29 km)] a day, a man will take just ninety days to make the journey. (Histories 5.52-53)
   Darius's couriers, who periodically changed mounts at each road station and "slept in the saddle" (like the Pony Express riders in the American West), were able to make it from Sardis to Susa in just fifteen days; this was considered impressive, even astonishing, at the time. A similar royal road stretched eastward from Babylon to Ecbatana and from there northeastward into distant Bactria, joining with the major trade route known as the Silk Road. Later the Seleucids and the Parthians took full advantage of the roads the Assyrians and the Persians had left behind. Other roads, several of them well built and paved, were built across western portions of Mesopotamia by the Romans in the first and second centuries A.D.
   See also: Darius I; postal system; Romans; Sardis

Ancient Mesopotamia dictioary. . 2015.

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