POSTAL SERVICE

Several kingdoms in the ancient world, such as Assyria and the Persian Empire, developed and supported postal services. Riders on horseback delivered messages, transported goods for the state, and accompanied the rulers or other officials on their journeys. While the Hellenistic* kingdoms developed similar systems, the Greek city-states* never organized any coordinated postal service. During the classical* period, professional private couriers delivered messages.

The Roman Republic* also relied on private messengers, and the number of Roman messengers was much greater than that of the Greeks. The Roman emperor Augustus introduced a public postal service throughout the empire that was designed specifically to serve the government. Under this system, cities and towns were responsible for providing their own animals, vehicles, and supplies to support the service in their area. Since this quickly became one of the most unpopular forms of government intrusion into local life, many reform efforts were attempted, although most were unsuccessful.

Established around a series of posting stations, the empire’s postal service was based on the system of well-engineered Roman roads. Military personnel maintained the system, since it was vital to the state. The Roman postal service was highly efficient, with messages traveling as quickly as 50 miles per day. If necessary, the system moved much faster, such as in A.D. 69, when news of a revolt by the Roman army on the Rhine River traveled to the emperor Galba at a rate of 150 miles per day. (See also Appian Way; Roads, Roman; Transportation and Travel.)

* Hellenistic referring to the Greek-influenced culture of the Mediterranean world during the three centuries after Alexander the Great, who died in 323 B.C.

* city-state independent state consisting of a city and its surrounding territory

* classical in Greek history refers to the period of great political and cultural achievement from about 500 B.C. to 323 B.C.

* Roman Republic Rome during the period from 509 B.C. to 31 B.C., when popular assemblies annually elected their governmental officials

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