ANCIENT ROME'S POSTAL SERVICE
WAS 'LETTER PERFECT' IN HADRIAN'S TIME
HADRIAN-ERA Rome had a postal service in the second century that might be called "letter perfect," according to an authority.
Nothing, or almost nothing, could keep their postal carriers from completing their rounds, says Joan Brown Wettingfield, writer/historian.
Writing in THE TIMES LEDGER, Wettingfield says that the well-engineered roads that covered the empire made it an easy task for their horse-drawn mail carts to travel 100 kilometers (60 miles) a day in the 2nd Century AD.
Relay teams, which could travel 100 kms a day and more, could easily deliver messages of urgency and were able to cover 300 kms (170 miles) a day, she points out.
The emperor Augustus, who reigned from 27 BC to 14 AD, established Rome's first official postal service to communicate reliably as well as rapidly with the help of his numerous governors and military officials.
Augustus and his successors used the "cursus publicus" (expedited delivery) postal service which was a network of horseback couriers, postal coaches and relay stations. It was reserved for government officials. Private letters were usually carried by merchants and/or servants.
By the time of Hadrian, Rome had built about 47,000 miles of roads as well as many relay stations, each usually having a station master, accountants, grooms and mail carriers.
A "cursus publicus" was divided into two branches to expedite communication throughout the empire. Oxen were used to transport heavy loads. Service was often allowed to be used for personal reasons.
Wettingfield quotes Pliny the Younger, who lived from 62-114, as being one such person who sent an apologetic letter to the emperor Trajan, who was the predecessor of Hadrian. Pliny's apology to Trajan is as follows:
"Up to now, my Lord, I have only issued permits for people and letters to use the imperial post on your business. I have broken my own rules because of an emergency. My wife heard that her grandfather had died and was so upset that she wanted to rush off and visit her aunt, and I found it very hard to refuse to give her a permit to travel by the imperial post, as it is the quickest way .... I relied on your kindness and acted as though I had already received the favor even though I had not yet asked you for it. I did not wait until I had asked you because if I had waited, it would have been too late."