ca - 550 BC __ Angereïon, precursor of the Barīd : a pony express mail service from pre-islamic Achaemenid period
‣ In « The Histories » by Herodotus and « Cyropaedia » by Xenophon
‣ Comment : The Barīd was a messenger service whose agents delivered messages between a caliph and his provinces. As a general rule, messages from the caliph contained official orders and decrees, while messages from the provinces would consist of reports on the local state of affairs. Thus, messages and messengers were central if not inherent to the functioning of the Barīd. Equally important is the fact that messages and messengers are central to Islamic discourse. The Arabic root r.s.l. (‘to send’) is the pivot around which Allāh’s communication with man rotates. [...] In the words of Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī (893-970): ‘Darius the son of Bahmān was the first king to establish postal stations. He set up dock-tailed mounts (at the stations) and they were called burīda dum (“dock-tailed”). This phrase was then arabicised and its second half was cut off, leaving the word barīd.’ Both Ṭabarī and Gardīzī also credit Darius I (r. 522–486 BCE) with this innovation, while Thaʿālibī adds that Darius ordered postal mounts’ tails to be docked as a distinguishing sign (ʿalāmatan la-hā) (Adam J. Silverstein). — The best documented claim (Xenophon) attributes the invention of the postal system to Cyrus the Great (550 BC), while other writers credit his successor Darius I of Persia (521 BC). A pony express mail service (chaapar) exists in Persia. Darius initiated an express mail service to allow fast communication within his vast empire. This was achieved by a series of relay riders on horseback. As recorded by Herodotus and Xenophon, the first regular postal system in the history was established in ancient Iran during the reign of the first king of the Achaemenid (Hakhamaneshi) dynasty, Cyrus the Great, in 6th century BC (550 BC-529 BC). This communication service was covering the Persian Empire from Europe, Asia Minor, and Egypt to Babylon, Aden, and Arabia to Indian Ocean. The service used the system of a messenger (in Persian: Chapaar) or the relay messengers (in Persian: Chapaar-beh-Chaapar). The messengers were riding horses and carrying mails by day and night; the relay stations were built only so far distant from each other so that a horse could run without resting or feeding. The riders would stop at regularly placed Post Houses (in Persian: Chapaar-Khaneh) to get a fresh horse or to pass on their packets of dispatches to another messenger for the remainder of the distance. Herodotus also praised the swift courier posts of ancient Persian Empire. Thousands of kilometers roads were built to facilitate the delivery of mail throughout the Persian Empire. ANGARIʹA (ἀγγαρεία, Hdt. ἀγγαρήϊον) is a word borrowed from the Persians, signifying a system of posting, which was used among that people, and which, according to Xenophon, was established by Cyrus. Horses were provided, at certain distances, along the principal roads of the empire; so that couriers (ἄγγαροι), who also, of course, relieved one another at certain distances, could proceed without interruption, both night and day, and in all weathers (Herod. VIII.98; III.126; Xen. Cyrop. viii.6 §17; Suid. s.v.). It may easily be supposed that, if the government arrangements failed in any point, the service of providing horses was made compulsory of individuals; and hence the word came to mean compulsory service in forwarding royal messages; and in this sense it was adopted by the Romans under the empire, and is frequently found in the Roman laws. The Roman angaria, also called angariarum exhibitio or praestatio, included the maintenance and supply, not only of horses, but of ships and messengers, in forwarding both letters and burdens; it is defined as a personale munus; and there was no ground of exemption from it allowed, except by the favour of the emperor (Dig. 50 tit. 4 s18 §§4, 29; tit. 5 s10, 11; Dig. 49 tit. 18 s4 § 1; Cod. Theod. 8 tit. 5; Cod. Justin. 12 tit. 51). (William Smith.) — Xenophon adds that this goes back to an edict of Cyrus (Cyropaedia 8.6. 17-18). His version of the story includes the claim of some who say that the Persian relay system “gets over ground faster than the cranes”. While Xenophon regards this as slighty exaggerated, he still has to admit that “it is at all events undeniable that this is the fastest overland travelling on earth (§18). In the book of Esther the Jews in Persia are affected by this system : Special couriers are sent into all the provinces with letters ordering a pogrom, instigated by Haman (Esth 3: 12-13). Later the edict protecting the Jews brought about by Esther and Mordechai travels the same way : “He (sc. Mordecai) wrote letters [through secretaries] in the name of King Ahasuerus, sealed them with the king’s ring, and sent them by mounted courier on fast steeds bred from the royal herd” (8:10). Alexander the Great became acquainted with the Persian postal system during his conquests, and his successors - the Seleucids in Syria, the Antigonids in Asia Minor and Greece, and the Ptolemies in Egypt - tried to develop a comparable system in the areas under their control. [...] In the earlier model, a relay system on the Persian pattern, the first of the “young men’ passed the message on to the second and then stayed behind, etc. But eventually the other practice became established, allowing a single messenger who was provided with a “vehicle” (probably a cart) and fresh horses at each relay station to cover the whole distance. The advantage of this was that the courier could supplement the letter with oral information. In order to carry out his assignment, the courier received a special “passport”, Latin diploma (Cf. Suetonius, Aug.50; Cicero Fam. 6.12), that granted him numerous privileges. The general population of the province had to maintain the stations, supply drawing and load-bearing animals free of charge, and provide further support services (apparently only the provisions had to be paid for). Our word “post” has its origins in the Roman cursus publicus. ‘Post’ is derived from the Latin positus, which means ‘fixed’ or ‘placed’ and refers to the fixed posts or stations in the relay system. (Hans-Josef Klauck & Daniel Bailey.)
‣ Original excerpt 1 : « Herodotus. — XCVIII. While Xerxes did thus, he sent a messenger to Persia with news of his present misfortune. Now there is nothing mortal that accomplishes a course more swiftly than do these messengers, by the Persians’ skillful contrivance. It is said that as many days as there are in the whole journey, so many are the men and horses that stand along the road, each horse and man at the interval of a day’s journey; and these are stayed neither by snow nor rain nor heat nor darkness from accomplishing their appointed course with all speed . The first rider delivers his charge to the second, the second to the third, and thence it passes on from hand to hand, even as in the Greek torch-bearer’s race in honour of Hephaestus. This riding-post is called in Persia, angereïon (ἀγγαρήϊον). » (Translated by A.D. Godley.)
‣ Original excerpt 2 : « Xenophon. — We have observed still another device of Cyrus to cope woth the magnitude of his empire; by means of this institution he would speedily discover the condition of affairs, no matter how far distant they might be from him: he experimented to find out how great a distance a horse could cover in a day when ridden hard but so as not to break down, and then he erected post-stations at just such distances and equipped them with horses and men to take care of them; at each one of the statiosn he had the proper official appointed to receive the letters taht were delivered and to forward them on, to take in the exhausted horses and riders and send on fresh ones. They say, moreover, that sometimes this express does not stop all night, but the night-messengers succeed the day-messengers in relays, and when that is the case, this expres, some say, gets over the ground faster than the cranes. If their story is not literally true, it is at all events undeniable that this is the fastest overland traveling on earth; ant it is a fine thing to have immediate intelligence of everything, in order to attend to it as quickly as possible. » (Tranlated by W. Miller)
‣ Source : Herodotus (ca. 425 BC), “The Histories”, Translated by A.D. Godley (1920), Cambridge. Harvard University Press.
‣ Source : Klauck, Hans-Josef & Bailey, Daniel (2006), “Ancient Letters and the New Testament”, Baylor University Press, pp. 61-63.
‣ Source : Xenophon (ca. 425 BC), “Cyropaedia”, Translated by W. Miller (1968), Cambrige Mass, Vol. VIII, Chapter VI, pp. 17-18.
‣ Source : Silverstein, Adam J. (2007), “Postal Systems in the pre-modern Islamic world”, Part I, Chapter 1, Cambridge University Press.
‣ Source : Smith, William (1875), A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, p.94
‣ Source : Ḥamza al-Iṣfahānī (1921–2), “Tārīẖ sinnī mulūk al-arḍ wa-al-anbiyā”, (published by sumtibus editoris, 1844),'' ''Berlin, p. 28.
‣ Urls : http://penelope.uchicago.edu/Thayer/E/Roman/Texts/secondary/SMIGRA*/Angaria.html (last visited ) http://www.perseus.tufts.edu/cgi-bin/ptext?lookup=Hdt.+8.98 (last visited ) http://www.iranian.ws/cgi-bin/iran_news/exec/view.cgi/13/7579/printer (last visited ) http://members.ozemail.com.au/~ancientpersia/intro_frm.html (last visited ) http://www.cambridge.org/us/catalogue/catalogue.asp?isbn=9780521858687&ss=exc (last visited )
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