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CURSUS PUBLICUS Origin of Cursus Publicus.--The Persian empire under Darius, son of Hystaspes, affords the earliest instance of a national postal service. Mention is indeed made (Liberat. Brev. 23) of a class called Symmaci as existing in the most ancient times among the Egyptians for the conveyance of letters by land, but we have no grounds for thinking that a postal system was established in Egypt as a branch of the administration. In the Persian dominions, however, as we learn from Herodotus (3.28; 6.105; 8.98), horsemen stationed at intervals and relieving one another conveyed the imperial will in all directions from Susa, Ecbatana, or Babylon. The service was called ἀγγαρήϊον, and the couriers, ἄγγαροι. Messages of lesser urgency were carried by ἡμεροδρόμοι. In Greece there are no evidences of any such service, at least upon a similar scale, for the hemerodromi mentioned by Corn. Nepos (Milt. 4.3) can scarcely have been a permanent institution. This was probably due to the geographical smallness of Greece, still more however to the utter absence of political unity among the Greeks, and the want of facilities for land traffic, in contrast with the easy communications by sea. But the vast extent of the Roman dominions, and the centralisation of imperial functions in a single hand, again constituted the conditions of a postal service, which accordingly arose and became a most important instrument of state administration. The practical wisdom of the Romans had from the beginning of their conquests taught them to make roads throughout the territories which they subdued, whence resulted a system of highways connecting the remotest parts of the empire with Rome. These not only facilitated the marching of troops, but served the general purposes of transport and the conveyance of intelligence, forming, as they did, the material condicio sine qua non of the future cursus publicus. Within the last century of the republic, also, certain practices had already been established, by which the development of the postal service was largely conditioned. We proceed to give some account of these.

Under the republic, after the conquest of Italy, government officials despatched from Rome on public business were empowered to impose arbitrary requisitions on the subject Italians (dedititii) to supply them with necessaries for travelling. Among the Italian allies such functionaries usually obtained food, lodging, and means of transport from their guest-friends or from the principal personages in the friendly states which they visited. But when the Roman dominions included extra-Italian provinces, the fine distinction made in Italy between subjects and allies (socii) was .in the provinces neglected, and the provincial allies were as summarily requisitioned by a legatus as were the provincial subjects. Senators or citizens employed on a public mission abroad received from the senate a mandate (diploma) requiring subjects and allies alike to supply them with means of transport and other necessaries at all the successive stages of their journey. This in the natural course of things led to grave hardships, and complaints frequently arose. Restrictive enactments became necessary, and we read that Cato the Elder, when praetor in Sardinia, diminished or removed the expenses entailed upon the people of that island by the entertainment of the praetors officiating among them (Liv. 32.27). It is questionable, however, whether Cato issued a formal edict, or whether his good example alone operated towards the relief of the sufferers. In the Lex Antonia de Termessensibus (B.C. circ. 71) mention is made of a Lex Porcia, which would seem to have regulated the liabilities of the provincials in such matters. But we have no definite information about this law ; its date and its provisions are alike uncertain, and it may, as Humbert says, have related only to the people of the particular city of Termessus. Among the various embassies which thus became grounds of hardship to the provincials there was one which deserves especial notice. This was called libera legatio, being a sort of mission from which all state employment was absent, granted as a favour sometimes to distinguished men, lasting for several years, and carrying with it all the previously mentioned liabilities on the part of the provincials. The libera legatio, owing to the indefiniteness of the privileges it conveyed, became a fearful cause of oppression. A law was carried in B.C. 63 by Cicero (Cic. de Legg. 3.8, 18) restricting abuses of the libera legatio, and limiting its duration to one year, but the reform thus effected was short-lived, for Julius Caesar (Cic. Att. 15.1. 1) again extended the term of a libera legatio to a possible five years.

During the last period of the republic the senate had frequent occasions for communicating in despatches with their generals, or provincial governors, as well as with allied kings and states. For the conveyance of such despatches the authorities employed freedmen, slaves, or a certain class of couriers called stratores (sternere = to saddle). A class of messengers also existed called tabellarii. For pressing messages a general usually employed mounted men detached from his own staff. The publicani, as specially interested in transmitting and receiving intelligence to and from Rome, had a special class of tabellarii, whose services, however, were often borrowed by the magistrates, or by the negotiatores, speculators in corn or money, who were in constant relations with the provincial governors and with the publicani. The ships of the allies also were employed for the use of magistrates engaged abroad on public business. Thus for the purposes of transport and the conveyance of intelligence the dealings of the home government with the provincials were regulated mainly by the principle that the incidental labour and expenses should be borne as far as possible by the latter, while the interests to be served were those of the government alone.

It only remained for the Principate to organise and develop the system which had been established under the republican régime. The immense advantages of such an organisation as a portion of the imperial administration were sufficiently obvious. Augustus accordingly appointed mounted couriers (stratores or speculatores) to be employed along the principal roads (Suet. Aug. 49). This implies the institution of stations (mutationes), at which they should relieve one another. But as this arrangement provided only for the conveyance of intelligence, [p. 1.584]it required to be supplemented by a transport system for the conveyance of money or other valuables of considerable weight. The necessity of constructing postal stations ensued. The stations were called mansiones, which, being intended for lodgings, as their name indicates, were furnished not only with a supply for the immediate wants of man and beast, but also with the accommodation suitable for travellers. The mansiones were not so numerous along a road as the mutationes, or changing-stages. In accordance with republican precedent the expenses of the transport and postal system generally continued to fall upon the communities through whose territories the lines of stations lay. They accordingly had to provide conductors, guards, drivers, together with beasts of burden and rolling-stock, on receipt of the emperor's order (diploma), or that of the head of the postal system (a functionary designated in Trajan's time as ab vehiculis), who was generally a freedman of the emperor. Such warrants for the use of the post were issued occasionally by the consul, by the praefect of the praetorians, or by the governor of a province, but in all cases only with the emperor's special authority. While the document entitling to the use of the cursus, by virtue of being stamped with the emperor's seal, was called diploma (and other names which will hereafter be referred to), the right of issuing postal warrants was, at least until a late period, called evectio. The expenses, moreover, of constructing stations and stocking them with necessaries, had to be borne by the neighbouring communities. Along the line of one day's journey there were six or eight sets of stables, each of which had to maintain a total of forty beasts, including horses, mules, asses, &c. The communities also were bound to furnish and maintain the teams, and to keep the stables in repair; they had further to secure the services of muleteers (muliones), muledoctors (mulomedici), wheelwrights (carpentarii), grooms (hippocomi), and conductors or guards (vehicularii). From these heavy burdens Nerva relieved the people of Italy, and to commemorate his act a medal was struck bearing the inscription vehiculatione Italiae remissa (where vehiculatio = cursus publicus). Trajan, however, re-authorized (Plin. Ep. 10.121) the issue of postal-warrants in Italy, but restricted them to cases in which he had been personally consulted. We read (Spart. Hadr. 7) that Hadrian “statum cursum fiscalem instituit, ne magistratus hoc onere gravarentur.” According to Hirschfeld, in his note to these words, cursus fiscalis is in Spartianus equivalent to cursus vehicularius, and the emphasis lies upon the word statum. According to his view, therefore, the meaning of the whole sentence is that Hadrian made the postal service throughout the empire a department of the state administration, and appointed fixed stations, superintended by government officials, in order to relieve the municipal magistrates of all responsibility for them. Despite, however, these and other efforts in this direction, it was not until the time of Septimius Severus (Spart. Secer. 14) that the expenses of the post generally were made chargeable to the imperial treasury. But even when this had been done, the subjects still continued to suffer, nor did any subsequent legislation materially alleviate the burden with which the cursus pressed upon them. Differences of opinion exist as to the exact nature of the reforms or changes attributed respectively to Nerva, Trajan, and the others above mentioned. Humbert says we must at least suppose, as Hudemann does, that Nerva entirely remitted, though only to Italy, the expenses of the service, so that the salaries of officials engaged in it, as well as the material cost, became alike chargeable to the treasury; that Trajan contented himself with merely checking the abuse of evectio, while Hadrian, besides extending the organisation of the post through the whole empire, must apparently have imposed the charges of it upon the fiscus; that Antoninus Pius again, like Trajan, making a step backward, confined the contemplated reform to a mere restriction of expenses and of the right of issuing post-warrants; that Septimius Severus completely re-organised the vehicularium munus, and imposed the charges of it, in Italy and the rest of the empire alike, upon the fiscus alone; but that the last and radical reform was incapable of maintaining itself, owing to the burdens it entailed upon the treasury. Diocletian, Constantine, and their successors, all strove to perfect the organisation of the post, and to define exactly what the liabilities of the cities in regard to it should be, together with determining the question who should have the evectio, or right of granting postal permits, and under what circumstances they might be justly granted.

In the later times of the Roman empire the post became an ever increasing burden to the cities, and, as it injured them, in the same degree it prepared the way for its own ruin Nevertheless a treaty ratified between Rome and Persia in A.D. 565 (Menander, Prot. p. 360, ed. Bonn) assured to the natives of the frontier provinces of the two empires the uses of the postal service to and fro between them.

Organisation of Cursus Publicus.--This portion of our subject we shall divide into an account of the agents and of the instruments-vehicles and live stock--employed in the service. Little information as to the agents of the cursus can be procured from the writers of the early empire. Our chief authority respecting them is found in the inscriptions, which have been turned to good account by Hirschfeld, Mommsen, Hudemann, and others. The emperor retained in his own hands the supreme direction of the post. Its importance led Augustus to place it in the hands of his own freedmen. We find a freedman of the Flavii as responsible agent for the carriage-service (tabularius a vehiculis), and under Trajan two freedmen, father and son, entitled respectively ab vehiculis and a commentariis vehiculorum, the former probably, according to Hirschfeld, a head of the service, the latter a secretary, whose office was to minute the proceedings of the department. When Hadrian re-organised the post, the direction of the principal branch of it was entrusted to a knight called praefectus vehiculorum, who managed the service along the great Flaminian way towards the north. This functionary is sometimes called praefectus vehiculorum a copiis Augusti per viam Flaminiam (C. I. L. 6.1598), as entrusted with the duty of providing victuals, &c., for the army along this military road. Afterwards, probably under Septimius Severus, other prefects, almost always of [p. 1.585]equestrian rank, were appointed to the charge of the important routes. These prefects were placed under the surveillance of superiors called (Stat. Sil. 4.9, 16-19) curatores viarum. They were divided into classes according to their salary, e.g. ducenarii (i. e. those receiving a salary of 200 sestertia), centenarii, sexagenarii. It is noticeable that there was a special prefect in charge of the Via Flaminia (vid. Hirschfeld, Untersuch. p. 103), independent of the chief prefect, whose office was in Rome. As regards the officers of the department, we find at Rome in the 2nd and 3rd centuries agents and secretaries (tabellarii, or a commentariis vehiculorum) ; while in the provinces the magistrates of the various cities, assisted by agents of their own, had the duty of making arrangements for the cursus.

Warrants for the use of the post (diplomata) were issued either by the emperor himself, or under order from him by a special officer. Under the early empire the right of issuing (evectio) such warrants was granted only very sparingly to provincial governors, who were responsible for their use of it to the consuls. They were also responsible to the prefect of the praetorians, at first during the emperor's absence, but afterwards more generally. The diploma was drafted in the imperial cabinet by a freedman of the emperor, and there it received the emperor's own seal and signature. This freedman was in the 2nd century named a diplomatibus. In the 3rd century he was attached to a branch of the scrinium a memoria. The emperor himself employed as messengers a special set of tabellarii, who therefore had a preferential right to the use of the post, and were known as tabellarii diplomarii. They were controlled by a praepositus tabellariorum, and were divided into companies, each under the orders of a freedman of the emperor, as optio or praepositus. The companies were severally attached to the most important departments of the government. From the 2nd century onwards the prefect of the praetorians had and long retained control over the issue of postal warrants, only, however, as acting in the emperor's name. This officer, too, issued instructions to the provincial judices as to the ways and means of providing for the cursus, as to the regulation of diplomata, the persons who should travel by the cursus, and the correction of abuses connected with the post. The praetorian prefect also issued diplomata to governors of provinces, to his own surveyors (called officiales, frumentarii, stationarii, agentes in rebus). He too, or in default of him his deputy, or his agents, sent out inspectors to report on the condition of the postal system. He exercised penal jurisdiction over offences committed in the management of the service. He and his agents, however, were themselves often guilty of grave offences, which was probably the reason why the magister officiorum at an early time obtained the evectio, or right of issuing diplomata, as well as of sending out inspectors-general (curiosi) from among the employés of his own bureau. From the year 353 not only were the agents of the praetorian prefect and his deputy (formerly called frumentarii or stationarii, but later curagendarii, agentes in rebus) deprived of the right of laying informations without proofs, and imprisoning arbitrarily those whom they incriminated, but further, in 357, Constantius forbade the prefect and his deputies to appoint inspectors of the post. This right was accordingly transferred to the magister officiorum, and reserved to him. Henceforward the magister officiorum selected postal inspectors from among the heads of the society or schola of agentes in rebus employed under him. Such inspectors were entitled curiosi cursus publici, and were appointed annually in the order of seniority. They were also selected from the magisteriani. The supreme control of the post remained nominally, however, in the hands of the praetorian prefect until the year 395 (J. Lydus, de Mag. 2.10, 26; 3.23, 40), when, after the fall of the prefect Rufinus, the management of the service was formally committed to the magister officiorum. The latter then acquired the function of countersigning all postal warrants issued by the praetorian prefect. The curiosi received a commission (v. Cod. Theod. 1.9, 1) signed by the emperor. Though purely civil officers, they were distinguished by military badges, e. g. the chlamys, and the balteum or cingulum militare. Inspectors on their mission (Cod. Theod. 6.29, 4) had the right of obtaining for their use two veredi, but not, as before the reign of Constantine, redae or other vehicles.

The overseers of the stages (mutationes) or lodging-places (mansiones) were generally called mancipes, but often, also, procuratores cursus publici, or praepositi, their function being called mancipatus cursus publici, or cura mancipatus. They each in their respective localities presided over the post (cursui praeesse), and over the group of employés engaged at their station (familiae praeesse). The familia comprised artificers (artifices), such as carpentarii, &c. They, as well as their praepositus, received a salary from the treasury, paid in kind (annona), together with clothing and lodging. They were not allowed to demand from travellers any recompense for their services. The muliones and hippocomi were generally slaves. Seneca (de morte Claudii) mentions conductors called perpetuarii, so called because they followed with a traveller to his destination to see that the postilions, who might, if unwatched, try to break away, should bring back (reducere) the horses in safety to the stations whence they had started. The mass of inferior servants employed at a station were referred to as apparitores mancipatus, opifices, or munifices. After Diocletian mancipes were appointed, at first by the emperor, later by the governor of the province. Frequent changes were made in this matter by the emperors, who were impressed with the desirableness of choosing, capable and honest men as mancipes, on whom the effectiveness of the system so largely depended. As to their degrees of rank--for there were several--nothing certain can be made out. They usually held office for five years, on the expiration of which they were rewarded for faithful service with the title of perfectissimus or perfectissimatus. They also received more substantial rewards, as, for example, exemption from certain municipal burdens.

The official couriers entitled to avail themselves of the imperial post (veredarii) were originally the tabellarii diplomatici; the emperor's equerries (stratores); the officers of the guard, whose duty it was to obtain and convey intelligence (speculatores) ; the force called frumentarii, [p. 1.586]abolished after Diocletian, and replaced by the sagones or sazones, or by knights called singulares equites, taken from the legionary cavalry; and, under Constantine, by the agentes in rebus, whom Greek writers called φρουμεντάριοι, doubtless as having succeeded to the functions of the frumentarii. These privileged travellers were all known as veredarii, from the name of the horses used by them, vered. The name veredarii, however, was also improperly applied to travellers holding a diploma, who were more correctly designated as commeantes or diplomarii. A person who used the vehicles of the post could take with him a socius (Cod. Theod. 8.5, 4, h. tit.) to look after his baggage or other valuables. Moreover, guards (custodes or prosecutores) to the number of two or three were attached to each vehicle. The service was superintended at each station by the manceps, in regard to certain routes by the praefecti vehiculorum, in the provinces or regions by the praepositi regionibus or regionarii, and in regard to the dioeceses by the curiosi. The parochi, who had been in republican times charged to supply Roman magistrates when travelling with victuals, forage, mattresses, and lodgings, were perhaps still employed in the case of soldiers, who had the right of demanding quarters (metatum) in virtue of a document called tractoriae (sc. litterae), furnished under exceptional circumstances. The curia or ward in which they found themselves was bound to provide travellers thus privileged with lodgings, wood, oil, and salt, all which are included under the general term salgămum=sustenance.

So much for the agents of the service. We next proceed to describe in detail the instruments. The road system formed the basis of the cursus publicus, but the post was not established on all the public roads, but only on such as led to the most important cities or ports. In the case of the latter the cursus was extended over sea by the naves publicae, which the naval boards (navicularii) placed at the service of imperial messages or transports. As regards this naval post we have scarcely any information, and must accordingly deal here with the land post. As has been already stated, Augustus first had stations built for the service of the post as to despatches and transports. These, as has been explained, were called by the general name of stationes, under which came two classes, viz. mutationes (changing-stages) and mansiones (lodging-stages), which must be carefully distinguished. The mansiones lay along the postal routes at distances of an average day's journey apart. In the mansiones changes were effected of the postilions, the vehicles, the draught-animals, &c., whereas in the mutationes changes of the teams alone took place. In populous districts the mutationes were generally in or about five Roman miles asunder, and in poorly inhabited regions the interval rose to eight or nine Roman miles. Between two mansiones were often as many as six or eight mutationes. Long journeys were estimated by the number of mansiones they included, particular distances being referred to as prima mansio, &c., just as Xenophon reckoned by σταφμοί (or rather σταφμά). The mutationes were more numerous, and therefore nearer to each other in older than in later times. Mansiones were established as far as possible in places of note, as cities, towns, and, in default of these, in villages. They were furnished with all that might be necessary for travellers. If we consider the comparative importance of these two classes of stationes, we may conclude that the mansiones were erected first, the mutationes having been subsequently added to relieve the long intervals between the former. The mansiones must have been of considerable size, for each had attached to it coach-horses, and therefore stables, granaries (horrea) for fodder (căpītum) as well as victuals for travellers (species annonariae or cellarienses). The mutationes, on the other hand, sometimes had only sheds with stalls for the post-horses. Every mansio had at least forty horses, or more, in its stabula, and also beasts of other kinds. A fully equipped mansio was called mansio instructa or parata. To arrive at a mansio was termed mansionem applicare. The emperors established public palaces (palatia or praetoria) for their own sole use at first (Vopisc. Aurelian, 35; Cod. Theod. 7.10, 1 and 2), though in later times they were granted for the use of provincial governors while engaged in their tour (transitus) of a province. The mutationes--differing, as has been said, from the mansiones in their greater frequency and smaller dimensions--contained about twenty horses, with asses and other beasts; their regulations were in general similar to those of the mansiones. Like the latter, they had connected with them hippocomi, horrea, &c., and were each managed by a manceps. Inns (tabernae or stabula) were often erected beside them to accommodate travellers of inferior condition. The innkeeper (stabularius) had usually a signboard over the entrance to his hostel; such signboards sometimes bore the painting of an elephant, sometimes of a cock, &c. Hadrian and other emperors caused the erection of a superior class of tabernae at certain points along routes, where mansiones were subsequently constructed.

The postal service included the cursus velox or celer, as one of its two great divisions, the other division being the cursus clabularis. The expression cursus vehicularis need not be opposed to cursus velox, for the two branches of the service are sometimes conjointly alluded to under the title cursus vehicularis or res vehicularia, although the latter, as its name implies, was at first used to designate that branch in which vehicles were employed. The animals employed in the postal service generally were of different kinds. They are generally described as animalia publica. This name included horses, mules, asses, oxen, camels, which are also summed up sometimes as jumenta publica. The horses of a mansio were called equi publici or cursuales, and by Greek writers δημόσιοι ἵπποι. They were not allowed to be used in the service of private individuals. Horses requisitioned outside the mansiones at the expense of the local exchequer were not classed as animalia publica. They were generally employed for routes running transversely to the great lines of road, because, the posts being established regularly only on the latter, the transverse or lateral routes had, when occasion for postal service along them arose, to depend upon extraordinary requisitions. To meet these irregular requirements some cities established stables of horses called agminales equi, which were liable to be employed in the [p. 1.587]ordinary cursus, as well as for the use of the emperor and his escort. The agminales equi were, according to Humbert and Hudemann, distinct from the paraveredi, though some writers have confounded them. The agminales equi had frequently to convey the baggage of troops on the march (whence the name agminales). There were also agminales muli. The veredi, used in the cursus velox, were generally procured from Spain. They were mounted by veredarii, or public couriers, who carried their despatches in saddle-bags placed behind them (averta). Each veredarius, if his baggage was too heavy for a single horse, was entitled to use a second horse, called parhippus or avertarius. This second horse was mounted by a postilion from the station, wearing a sagum, who was charged to bring both horses back to the point of departure. The horses were furnished with a cloth (stragula vestis), or with a pad (ephippium). The saddle (sella equestris) was in use under Theodosian, but its weight was restricted, and it had to be provided, if used, by the veredarius himself. There was a regulation (Cod. Theod. 8.5, 35, 40; Cod. Just. 12.50, 51, 8) limiting the number of horses allowed to leave a mansio in one (lay. Precautions were also taken to save the horses from being spoiled by being yoked to over-weighted vehicles, and from being taken beyond the nearest changing-stage (superducere). Against such abuses it was the duty of the mancipes or stationarius to provide and to see that none of the animals were driven off the highway or stolen.

The cursus celer employed not only veredi or riding-horses, but also vehicles of several sorts, redae, carpenta, birotae, and carr. The reda was originally two-wheeled, but subsequently had four wheels. That used for the post was called reda fiscalis or consualis. To it were yoked horses varying in number from two to ten, according to circumstances. Redae were sometimes large enough to contain several travellers with their luggage. Hudemann supposes that they were uncovered in summer, but roofed over in winter. This vehicle, owing to its capacity (cf. “dum tota domus reda componitur una,” Juv. 3.10), was very much used. The carpentum, like the reda, had at first two, and afterwards four, wheels. Like the carpentum, too, it was, at least at one time, suited for large and heavy burdens; though at a later period a species of carpentum came into fashion, which was of light material, elegantly shaped, and which became a favourite with high functionaries, such as provincial governors. The carrus was lighter than the former two, but heavier than the birota. Like the preceding vehicles, it also had at first two wheels, but later four. The birota was, as its name shows, a two-wheeled carriage. It was drawn by two horses or three mules, and generally used by those who had but little luggage, and were desirous of a rapid journey. The cisium was a species of birota. Besides the above, which were ordinarily used in the cursus celer, elegant four-wheeled carriages, called carrucae, were sometimes employed by the emperors. The carruca was generally drawn by four mules.

We now turn from the cursus velox to the cursus clabularis, or heavy transport service. This was chiefly intended for the conveyance of such commodities as food and baggage, especially that of soldiers. The large vehicles (clabulae) employed in this branch of the cursus could not, unless by special favour, be used by any persons save diseased or discharged soldiers returning home, or by stragglers rejoining the main body. The clabulae had four wheels, were uncovered, built very strongly, and drawn by mules or oxen, seldom by horses. Their maximum burden was fifteen hundred Roman pounds. This gives us a means of comparing them with the redae used in the cursus celer, whose maximum burden was one thousand pounds. The name clabula is said to be=clavula, a diminutive of clava, being applied to the whole vehicle on account of the wooden rails which protected its sides. Clabulae drawn by two oxen at first, but later all other clabulae, were also called angariae, a name derived from the Graeco-Persian ἄγγαρος, whence the verb angariare=ἀγγαρεύειν, denoting the obligation imposed on the provincials to support this branch of the service, but extended to signify the obligation to provide for the cursus in general. This verb is used even of ships pressed into the postal service. Angarialis copia or angaria was used to express the right of employing the clabularis cursus.

No one was allowed the use in one day of more than two angariae. We have already stated that private persons could only employ them by special favour. Still, a traveller who possessed the copia angarialis had the right of taking with him a socius (Cod. Theod. 8.5, 4, de Cursu Pub.) to insure his safety. The words cursus angarialis were often applied to the cursus clabularis (or tardus) as opposed to the cursus velox (or celer).

Parangariae were cars employed on extraordinary occasions for the cursus clabularis along the transverse routes (rid. supra). These were, therefore, to the cursus clabularis what the paraveredi were to the cursus velox. They were used mostly for carrying men, forage, arms, &c., for the army. Like the paraveredi, the parangariae became a cause of gross abuses. The persons on whom the expenses of this service fell looked upon it not only as a munus extraordinarium, but further as sordidum. It was, however, a service provision for which was rigorously exacted from the magistrates of the different townships through which the cross roads extended.

Up to this point, as the reader will probably observe, nothing definite has been stated of the manner in which the working expenses of the post were borne. We have seen by turns the expenses falling upon the fiscus, and again upon the provincials or other subjects. The fact is that this question of the apportioning of expenses causes the modern inquirer some difficulties which admit of no dogmatic solution, and we cannot expect to do more than present that explanation of them which on the whole seems most probably right. Notwithstanding the reforms of Hadrian and Septimius Severus, certain expenses appear to have always rested upon the provincials, owing to the emptiness of the exchequer during the later periods of the empire. Such were those of constructing, repairing, and maintaining the stationes. Service, too, along the lateral routes, by parangariae, or paraveredi, continued, always and as a matter of [p. 1.588]course, a burden upon the communities. Thus the decuriones of each town were always responsible for the supply of agents and instruments requisite for the post, and charged the expenses thereby incurred to the account of the possessores, or owners of real property, in their respective districts. The question then arises, in what sense the cursus can have been really fiscalis, as it was denominated. Humbert's explanation (which we follow) is this: the precise relation established or intended by Septimius Severus between the fiscus and the cursus publicus no doubt failed to maintain itself in later times. But the fiscus (as the public treasury was now called) had for one of its principal resources the tributum ex censu, a great portion of which was exacted in kind. This was so, even in Italy, after the reign of Diocletian. Hence the service of the post diverting to itself, as it did, from the fiscus a portion of the tributum, might be correctly described as fiscalis. The commodities which supplied the needs of the cursus would otherwise have found their way to the fiscus. For example, the grain which would have been conveyed to Rome was detained in the horrea of the stationes; so that to all intents the postal service was a drain upon, and therefore supported by, the imperial treasury, as far as material expenses went. We now turn to the consideration of the agents employed in the cursus. The enactment of Septimius Severus involving not only material outlay, but also the payment of a vast number of officials, was too onerous to the fiscus to admit of its being permanent in the form which that emperor designed. Further, the difficulty of discovering capable and honest men to fill subordinate though important positions (e.g. mancipes) in the postal service of far off provinces was too great for the home administration, so that the selection and appointment of such officials unavoidably devolved upon the local authorities abroad. Accordingly it continued from the first, with scarcely an interval, to rest with the decuriones and the municipal magistrates generally. It was one of the socalled voluntary services expected or demanded of them, of extreme urgency indeed, but one for which the state was never able to render an adequate recompense. In respect of the personal service, as well as of the materials, required for the cursus, the same principle of administration is throughout all periods observable; namely, that the subjects of the empire should conform unhesitatingly to imperial demands. Among the duties thus devolved upon the decuriones were the following: to provide the attendants needed for the safe conveyance of commodities due by the provincials in payment of the tributum ex censu, a duty which was termed prosecutio or portatorium onus; to see that the stationes were kept in good order and repair (vehicularis sollicitudo, or publici cursus exhibitio, or angariarum praebitio); and also to arrange for the suitable entertainment of public envoys. While the personal service needful for this was yielded by the decuriones, the pecuniary charges were borne by the possessores of each community, even though they might not be citizens (municipes) or inhabitants (incolae) of the place. The possessores had to supply (Dig. de mun. L. 4) agminales equi vel mulae, et angariae atque veredi. On the whole it appears that, while the regulations of Septimius Severus were not formally abrogated, they continued to be from the outset little more than a dead letter, at least in the remoter parts of the empire, never having afforded the subjects substantial relief from the burdens entailed by the cursus publicus.

As to evectio, or the right of issuing postal permits (diplomata), something has been already said. The tendency was to restrict it to as few persons as possible. Each of the provincial governors under Trajan (Plin. Ep. 10.31, 59, 60) could issue arbitrarily a limited number of permits, but only to persons who used the post in the public service, and each governor was responsible to the emperor for the manner in which he had exercised this right. Such permits became null and void after a preappointed date, or by the death of the emperor whose seal and signature they bore (cf. Tac. Hist. 2.54 and 65). Under Diocletian the vicars of dioeceses, the magistri militum, the duces and comites rei militaris, possessed the evectio. Under Constantine, however, it was reserved to the prefect of the praetorians and the magister officiorum; the latter, as has been said, having ultimately, in the year 395, succeeded to the supreme control of diplomata.

Although in principle the holder of evectio was bound to exercise it only in the interests of the state, still as these interests were not easily or precisely definable, numerous cases occurred in which the principle was violated. Emperors often gave diplomata to those in whose mission they took a merely personal interest, and similar laxity in the exercise of evectio by subordinate officials was naturally to be expected.

The warrant itself (for military diplomata, vide article DIPLOMA), in early times called diploma, but afterwards by other names, consisted of folded parchment, and, as above mentioned, bore the emperor's seal and signature. According to Suetonius (Suet. Aug. 49), the diplomata of Augustus bore the impression of a sphinx. Hence the word sigillum is sometimes used for diploma. Postal warrants were sometimes called synthemata. The words literae evectionis, or simply literae, sometimes signified a permit for travelling by the cursus celer. After the reign of Constantine evectio came to be used improperly as equivalent to diploma, or literae evectionis. Tractoriae (sc. literae), or even literae alone, meant that species of diploma which entitled its bearer not only to use the cursus publicus, but also to be supplied with victuals and forage at the expense of the mansiones. The word combina signified the parchment form folded and prepared for being filled up as a postal warrant, but later on was used to mean diploma.

The emperor from time to time formulated ordinances (constitutiones) regulating the postal service. These he addressed to the praefect of the praetorians, to the magister officiorum, to the vicars of dioeceses, to provincial governors, &c., with orders to make them publicly known, All the officers of the post, so far as they exercised authority over it, were the emperor's delegates; the series of subordinated authorities, extending from him downwards, closed with the mancipes, or praepositi. The subordinate [p. 1.589]officials were responsible to their superiors, and all without exception to the emperor.

We may fitly close this article by quoting the remark with which Hirschfeld prefaces his account of die Reichspost: “The imperial Roman post presents, in every respect, a contrast to the postal system of our times: introduced by Augustus exclusively for political objects, despite all the particular reforms which followed, it always maintained this one-sided character; it never was, like the modern post, a source of benefit, but always a painful burden, to the subjects of the empire.” (For fuller information respecting Roman posting, see the excellent article by Humbert, in Daremberg and Saglio, which has been mainly followed here; also Hirschfeld, Untersuchungen auf dem Gebiete der röm. Verwaltungsgeschichte, 1.98 ff.; and Hudemann, Geschichte des römischen Postwesens während der Kaiserzeit.


hide References (13 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (13):
    • Cicero, Letters to Atticus, 15.1.1
    • Herodotus, Histories, 3.28
    • Herodotus, Histories, 6.105
    • Herodotus, Histories, 8.98
    • Tacitus, Historiae, 2.54
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 49
    • Cornelius Nepos, Miltiades, 4.3
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.121
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.31
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.59
    • Pliny the Younger, Epistulae, 10.60
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 32, 27
    • Cicero, De Legibus, 3.8
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