previous next


VIA EGNA´TIA (ἡι Ἐγνατία ὁδός, Strab. vii. p.322, seq.), a Roman military road, which connected Illyria, Macedonia, and Thrace. We are almost totally in the dark with regard to the origin of this road. The assumption that it was constructed by a certain person named Egnatius, who was likewise the founder of the town Egnatia, or Gnatia, between Barium and Brundusium, on the coast of Apulia, is [p. 2.1298]a mere conjecture, which cannot be supported by any authority. We may, however, make some approximation towards ascertaining the date of its construction, or, at all events, that of a portion of it. Strabo, in the passage cited at the head of this article, says that Polybius estimated the length of the via, between the coast of the Adriatic and the city of Thessalonica, at 267 Roman miles; whence it appears that this portion of it at least was extant in the time of Polybius. Consequently, as that historian flourished in the first half of the 2nd century B.C., we may infer with tolerable certainty that the road must have been commenced shortly after the reduction of Macedonia by the Romans in B.C. 168. Whether the eastern portion of the road, namely, that between Thessalonica and Cypsela, a town 10 miles beyond the left, or E., bank of the Hebrus, was also completed in the time of Polybius, is a point which cannot be so satisfactorily ascertained. For although Strabo, in the same passage, after mentioning the length of the road, from its commencement to its termination at Cypsela, proceeds to say that, if we follow Polybius, we must add 178 stadia to make up the number of Roman miles, because that writer computed 8 stadia and 2 plethra, or 8 1/3 stadia, to the Roman mile, instead of the usual computation of exactly 8; yet Strabo may then be speaking only of the historian's general practice, without any reference to this particular road. And, on the whole, it may perhaps be the more probable conclusion that the eastern portion of the road was not constructed till some time after the Romans had been in possession of Macedonia.

According to the same geographer, who is the chief authority with regard to this via, its whole length was 535 Roman miles, or 4280 stadia; and although the first portion of it had two branches, namely, one from Epidamnus or Dyrrachium and another from Apollonia, yet, from whichever of those towns the traveller might start, the length of the road was the same. Into the accuracy of this statement we shall inquire further on. Strabo also mentions that the first part of the road was called in Candavium (ἐπὶ Κανδαουΐας), and this name frequently occurs in the Roman writers. Thus Cicero (Cic. Att. 3.7) speaks of travelling “per Candaviam,” and Caesar (B.C. 3.79) mentions it as the direct route into Macedonia. It does not, however, very clearly appear to how much of the road this name was applicable. Tafel, who has written a work on the Via Egnatia, is of opinion that the appellation of Candavia may be considered to extend from the commencement of the via, including the two branches from Dyrrachium and Apollonia, to the town of Lychnidus. (De Via mil. Rom. Egnatia, Proleg. p. xcix. Tubing. 1842.) But this limitation is entirely arbitrary, and unsupported by any authority; and it would perhaps be a juster inference from the words of Strabo to assume that the name “Candavia” was applicable to the road as far as Thessalonica, as Col. Leake appears to have done. (Northern Greece, vol. iii. p. 311.) The point to be determined is, what does Strabo mean by “the first part?” The road in its whole extent he says is called “Via Egnatia,” and the first part “in Candaviam” ( μὲν οὖν πᾶσα Ἐγνατία καλεῖται. Η δὲ πρώτη ἐπὶ Κανδαουΐας λέγεται, κ. τ. λ.); and from what follows it is evident that he contemplated the division of the parts at Thessalonica, since he gives the separate measurement as far as that town, which is just half the whole length of the road.

We will consider the road as far as Thessalonica, or the Via Candavia, first, and then proceed to the remainder of the Egnatian Way. Strabo (l.c. and p. 326) lays down the general direction of the road as follows: After passing Mount Candavia, it ran to the towns of Lychnidus and Pylon; which last, as its name implies, was the border town between Illyria and Macedonia. Hence it proceeded by Barnus to Heracleia, and on through the territory of the Lyncestae and Eordaei through Edessa and Pella to Thessalonica. The whole extent of this line, as we have already seen, was 267 Roman miles; and this computation will be found to agree pretty accurately with the distance between Dyrrachium and Thessalonica as laid down in the Antonine Itinerary. According to that work, as edited by Parthey and Pinder (Berlin, 1848), who have paid great attention to the numbers, the stations and distances between those two places, starting from Dyrrachium, were as follow (p. 151):--

Clodiana 33 miles.
Scampa 20 miles.
Tres Tabernae 28 miles.
Lignidus (Lychnidus) 27 miles.
Nicias 32 miles.
Heraclea 11 miles.
Cellae 34 miles.
Edessa 28 miles.
Pella 28 miles.
Thessalonica 28 miles.
  269 miles.

The difference of 2 miles probably arises from some variation in the MSS. of the Itinerary. It should be observed, however, that, according to Wesseling's edition (p. 318, seq.), the distance is 11 miles more, or 280 miles, owing to variations in the text. According to the Tab. Pent. the whole distance was 279 miles, or 10 more than that given in the Itinerary; but there are great discrepancies in the distances between the places.

The last-named work gives 307 miles as the sum of the distances between Apollonia and Thessalonica; or 38 miles more than the route between Dyrrachium and the latter town. Both these routes united, according to the Itinerary, at Clodiana; and the distance from Apollonia to Clodiana was 49 miles, while that from Dyrrachium to the same place was only 33. This accounts for 16 miles of the difference, and the remainder, therefore, must be sought in that part of the road which lay between Clodiana and Thessalonica. Here the stations are the same as those given in the route from Dyrrachium, with the exception of the portion between Lychnidus and Heracleia; where, instead of the single station of Nicias, we have two, viz., Scirtiana, 27 miles from Lychnidus, and Castra, 15 miles from Scirtiana. And as the distance between Castra and Heracleia is stated at 12 miles, it follows that it was 11 miles farther from Lychnidus to Heracleia by this route than by that through Nicias. This, added to the 16 miles extra length to Clodiana, accounts for 27 miles of the difference; but there still remain 11 miles to make up the discrepancy of 38; and, as the stations are the same, this difference arises in all probability from variations in the MSS.

According to the Itin. Hierosol. (p. 285, seq., Berlin ed.), which names all the places where the horses were changed, as well as the chief towns, the total distance between Apollonia and Thessalonica was 300 miles; which differs very slightly from that [p. 2.1299]of the Itinerary, though there are several variations in the route.

Now, if we apply what has been said to the remark of Strabo, that the distance from Thessalonica was the same whether the traveller started from Epidamnus (Dyrrachium) or from Apollonia, it is difficult to perceive how such could have been the case if the junction of the two branches existed in his time also at Clodiana; since, as we have already seen, it was 16 miles farther to that place from Apollonia than from Dyrrachium according to the Itin. Ant.; and the Itin. Hierosol. makes it 24 miles farther. Indeed the maps would seem to show that if the two branches were of equal length their junction must have taken place to the E. of Lake Lychnitis; the branch from Dyrrachium passing to the N. of that lake, and that from Apollonia to the S. But, although Burmeister, in his review of Tafel's work (in Zimmerman's Zeitschrift für die Alterthumswissenschaft, 1840, p. 1148). adopted such an hypothesis, and placed the junction at Heracleia, it does not appear that the assumption can be supported by any authority.

Clodiana, where the two branches of the Via Egnatia, or Candavia, united, was seated on the river Genusus (the Tjerma or Skumbi). From this point the valley of the river naturally indicated the course of the road to the E. (Leake, Northern Greece, vol. iii. p. 312.)

We will now proceed to consider the second, or eastern, portion of the Egnatian Way, viz., that between Thessalonica and Cypsela.

The whole length of this route, according to Strabo, was 268 Roman miles; and the distances set down in the Itin. Ant. amount very nearly to that sum, or to 265, as follows. (Pind. and Parth. p. 157; Wess. p. 330, seq.)

Apollonia 36 miles.
Amphipolis 32 miles.
Philippi 32 miles.
Acontisma 21 miles.
Otopisus (Topirus) 18 miles.
Stabulum Diomedis 22 miles.
Maximianopolis 18 miles.
Brizice or Brendice 20 miles.
Trajanopolis 37 miles.
Cypsela 29 miles.
  265 miles.

Another route given in the same Itinerary (Wess. p. 320, seq.) does not greatly vary from the above, but is not carried on to Cypsela. This adds the following stations:--Melissurgis, between Thessalonica and Apollonia, Neapolis, between Philippi and Acontisma, Cosintas, which according to Tafel (pars ii. p. 21) is meant for the river Cossinites, between Topirus and Maximianopolis, and Milolitum and Tempyra, between Brendice and Trajanopolis. The Itin. Hierosol. makes the distance only 250 miles.

Many remains of the Egnatian Way are said to be still traceable, especially in the neighbourhood of Thessalonica: (Beaujour, Voy. militaire dans l'Empire Othoman, vol. i. p. 205.)


hide References (1 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (1):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 3.7
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: