Roman communication networks in Greece and Imperial policy

Charikleia Papageorgiadou, Eleni Papaefthymiou

Since the last years of the Republic the Roman state was deeply concerned to organize the newly conquered lands, in order to exploit and benefit from the sources provided by them.

In Greece, this organization was implemented on two levels: the political, by creating new administrative units as the provinces and establishing new centers or emerging already existed ones under different state status, and the spatial, by developing the infrastructure of communication and transports, in both land and sea routes.

In the Greek provinces of Macedonia and Achaea, Roman colonies, exclusively Roman nuclei, were founded in key locations, on sea or road axes, aiming either at controlling the wider area and facilitating the movement of troops mainly or, at connecting urban and rural hubs throughout the region.

A careful reading of the map reveals the inextricable link between the planning of the road network during Roman occupation, often over older roads (1st c. BC – 3rd c. AD), and the planning of the urban landscape of the provinces. Moreover, the resulting ease of movement for people, armies, merchandise, cultural goods, and ideas gave a new life to the war-stricken Greek provinces.

In Greece, both Greek cities and colonies issued coins bearing a distinctive iconography, referring not only to their past and local history but also revealing the new political relations or the position of the city within the wider area of the province. In the colonies new, purely roman in character, types were introduced, either copying Rome's issues or, referring to their colonial status as the foundation ritual with the drawing of the colony's limits, or the "insigna" of the legions the veterans of which formed the backbone of the installed population. Due to the importance of the information provided by the numismatic evidence, the illustration of the Atlas is based on it.


The foundation of colonies formed part of a wider policy of Rome beginning from the Republican period based on planning by Gaius Gracchus. The idea was embraced by Julius Caesar, who found it suitable for the organization of the newly-conquered lands in the East.

The significance of this strategy was also foreseen by Octavian Augustus, the founder of the Empire, who also refers in his Res Gestae to the foundation of colonies as one of his major accomplishments.

Besides, the foundation of colonies had a double importance for the Romans: a financial and a political. On the one hand the central authority would solve the problem of landless people; citizens whose property was confiscated or they were obliged to abandon their land, in favor to veterans to be settled in the Italian peninsula, freedmen (former slaves), and mainly veterans, the number of which by the end of the 1st century BC, and particularly during the early years of the Empire, was quite large, with the state being unable to continue paying their salaries. With the settling of the veterans in the colonies and the distribution of land, the Roman state turned these people into citizens with a professional occupation, who would pay taxes. On the other hand, the settlements of Roman citizens in various locations of Roman dominance, where the colonists lived in harmony with the local population in their new fatherlands, propagated Roman culture and established the powerful administrative bureaucracy. They contributed therefore to a peaceful integration of romanitas in the new dominions, creating new urban aristocracies and elites.

The first colonies in Greece, founded by Caesar and Augustus, also aimed at safeguarding crucial locations on the axes that connected the West with the East. The colonies in the province of Macedonia were strategically placed on the via Egnatia, the arterial road par excellence leading from the coasts of Illyria to the city of Byzantium in Asia Minor. It not only facilitated the transfer of army troops to the troublesome areas near the borders, but was also the main road, if not the only one to be used by merchants and caravans. On the other hand, the colonies in Achaea were founded on the axis running along the northern coast of the Peloponnese, making easier the crossing from Italy to the Peloponnese and mainland Greece.


Augustus quickly understood the need for a network of roads starting in Rome, the miliarium aureum, and extending throughout the empire, allowing for rapid communication. It is during this period of time when we first encounter the cursus publicus, the organization of mail stations along the central arteries, through which the orders of central command reached the most remote areas of the empire.

Although the major reason for the development of the Roman road system is considered to be the movement of troops, it soon became obvious that they not only facilitated the transport of goods and the development of trade, but also contributed importantly to the exchange of ideas, which gradually formed a relatively unified culture along the borders of the empire.


The via Egnatia, the main road axis of the province of Macedonia used since the very ancient times, was the first road to be extended by the Romans east of the Adriatic, during the Republican era. It was considered to have a double starting point, Dyrrachium and Apollonia in Illyria, and ended initially at Kypsela, on the river Evros, and later at Byzantium, thus safeguarding the communication between Rome and the East.

The via, which the Romans turned into the main road axis of the Balkans, followed the path: Dyrrachium/Apollonia, Lyncus, Heraclea Lyncestis (south of Ochrid), Edessa, Pella, Thessaloniki, Apollonia (the city had been founded by Amyntas III and re-founded as a municipium between Thessaloniki and Amphipolis in the early 2nd century possibly after the repairs of the via Egnatia by Trajan), Amphipolis, Philippi (the road crossed the decumanus maximus, the main road of the city), Neapolis (Kavala), Maximianopolis (founded in the 4th c. AD), Trajanopolis (east of Alexandroupolis (founded by Trajan and evolved into a large administrative and military center of central Thrace), and to the East Ulpia Topiros, Kypsela (today Ipsela), Apri (a colony founded by Claudius immediately after founding the province of Thrace, Ulpia Claudia Arpensis (near today’s village Kermeyan, East of Malkara), Perinthus/Heracleia in the 4th century AD, and finally Byzantium, where, during the end of the empire, Constantinople was founded.

The via was constructed by Egnatius between 146 and 120 BC (according to the dating provided by the milliaria founded at the regions of Kavala and Thessaloniki), after the three Macedonian Wars and the revolt of Andriscus, which was suppressed by the Romans in 146 BC, and after the foundation of the province of Macedonia. Cicero names it via militaris (Prov. 2.4) as it was initially constructed for the rapid transport of troops for dealing with barbarian raids and internal uprisings. The via was used during the 2nd and 1st c. BC against the Thracian invaders, as well as during the period of Roman civil wars. Around 1000 BC, the borders of the province of Macedonia were extended until the Bosporus, and it was obviously during this period that the via was extended until Byzantium. The presence of barbarian tribes and the need for protecting the northern regions of the empire extended the borders of the empire until the Danube from 9 AD, and in 44 AD, the provinces of Moesia and Thrace were founded for better defending the Balkans, resulting in a gradual abatement of the province of Macedonia.

The via Egnatia was no more the only road for the transportation of troops, and it became more a route of trade for the citizens and travelers (cursus publicus). Many maintenance and widening works at particular locations are reported, which took place mostly during periods of military movement during Augustus and Trajan (although it seems none of the two emperors actually visited the province). Trajan conducted maintenance works between Apollonia and Acontisma (near today’s Nea Karvali), and from Dyrrachium to Neapoli (today’s Kavala). In the wider framework of the empire’s restructuring, Trajan also repaired the via Appia in Italy, which was renamed into via Traiana. Other repairs were conducted during Hadrian, who visited Thessaloniki, as well as Septimius Severus in 202 AD, during his return from Syria, and by Caracalla, who had planned the same voyage, but was murdered in Syria in 207. One last known repair was that of the period of the Tetrarchy, probably by Galerius, who had lived in Thessaloniki, the capital of the province.


There were no other similar initiatives for opening roads of high importance in southern Greece, as its position did not particularly favor the road connection between Rome and the East. On the contrary, an important role was played by small-scale communication networks between towns where Roman and Italian merchants were active, and sea connections based on the dense network of smaller or larger ports.

In the South, Methone in Messenia had a large port to the Ionian Sea, while Gytheion, in the Laconic Gulf, gave access to the Aegean and to the South, to Crete. Other more or less important ports were those of Argos, and of Cyllene in Elis. Most are known from older periods, even the Bronze Age, but were rebuilt or underwent important improvements during Roman times, especially during the 2nd and 3rd century AD.


The province of Macedonia was created in 168 BC after the Roman victory at Pydna. During the re-organization of the provinces in 27 BC, it was greatly limited with the creation of Achaea, which included Thessaly as well. It is possible that most of the colonies were founded within a wider project implemented by Mark Anthony, and this is maybe the reason why Octavian was keen on re-founding them to install veterans of Anthony, in exchange for their properties in Italy, which he had taken in order to hand them over to his own soldiers.


Information on the colony of Dion under Mount Olympus is scarce and conflicting, and numismatic evidence aggravates doubts concerning its founding. It is highly possible that a first founding can be accredited to Julius Caesar or Brutus in 43 BC, according to the coins mentioning the duumviri (magistrates). Augustus re-founded the colony in 27 BC, installed landless Roman citizens from Italy and named it Colonia Iulia Augusta Diensis. The coinage types are mostly Greek, except for the early editions (of Augustus and Tiberius with depictions connected with the foundation of the colony and the imperial family), and do not leave much evidence about the Roman environment of the colony.


On the location of former Potidaea, Brutus founded in 43/2 BC the colony of Cassandreia, which was re-founded in 30 BC by Augustus under the name Colonia Iulia Augusta Cassandrensis. The colony, which was under the jurisdiction of ius italicum, i.e. the status enjoyed by Italian cities, accepted veterans from the recent sea battle of Actium, as shown by the depiction of military emblems in the earlier coins of the colony. The coinage types in Cassandreia are also Greek, most of which bear the image of the local deity of Ammon Zeus.


The colony of Pella, located on the via Egnatia, seems to have been founded, according to the coinage types found, initially by Mark Anthony (although it is highly possible that the first founder was Caesar or Brutus), and later re-founded by Augustus, who installed not only veterans, but also Italians of lower social and economic classes, as well as citizens from Pella and other neighboring cities. A final re-founding may have possibly taken place during the period of Diocletian, under the name of Diocletianopolis. Although Pella had never enjoyed ius italicum, i.e. the status enjoyed by Italian cities, contrary to the other colonies mentioned here, it used a great extent of Roman types (sella curulis or Spes holding a wreath), while among the Greek deities the most common is that of Pan.


The colony of Philippi, Colonia Victrix Plilippensis, was founded in 42 BC by Mark Anthony after the battle of Philippi, and was re-founded by Augustus after the sea battle of Actium in 30 BC as Colonia Augusta Iulia Philippensis. The colony, which enjoyed the ius italicum was populated by Roman army veterans and landless Roman citizens. It is considered to have been the most “Romanized” colony, which is evident from its coinage, as all editions have Roman types, usually with a depiction of the emperor himself.


Dyrrachium belonged to the province of Macedonia, and was a colony founded by Octavian in 30 BC (Dio LI, 4, 6) for the legion veterans after the sea battle of Actium. The location of the colony, which enjoyed ius italicum was highly important, as its port connected with Brundisium (today Brindisi), which, through the via Appia, was connected, in its turn, with Rome. Inevitably, Dyrrachium became the starting point of the via Egnatia that linked the Adriatic Sea with the Aegean and the Black Sea, passing through Macedonia. The town had attracted such a large number of negotiatores by the 2nd century BC, that Catullus (XXXVI.15) called it the taberna Hadriae.


Stobi, in Paeonia, as well as Koila in Thrace are the only towns in the eastern part of the empire that became municipia. Initially, under Augustus, it was called oppidum civicum Romanorum and a while later it became a municipium that enjoyed ius italicum. The town minted its own coins from the reign of Vespesian onwards with the legend Municipium Stobensium.

Stobi were on a strategic geographical location, on the borders of the province of Macedonia, standing on a network of roads, with the most important of all being the via Egnatia, but also the road connecting Thessaloniki to Vimminacium and Sirmium through Scuppi and Naissus, which, during Late Antiquity, evolved into one of the most important road axes of the times. Stobi was also the starting point of the road to Serdica, crossing Astibos and Tranupara, and ending in Pautalia, while one other road led to Heracleia and crossed the via Egnatia.

As one of the most important stations on the road axis linking Thessaloniki with the Danube, Stobi became an important trade hub, attracting many Roman, Italian and Jewish merchants. Until the 2nd century AD, when the empire’s borders expanded northwards, it was also a powerful military center.


An indicative example of the importance of road networks was the case of Beroea. The town reached its peak during the imperial period due to its important position on the network that had developed parallel to the via Egnatia. The town was on the road connecting Thessaly with Thessaloniki, and one other road passed by it to the west of the river Ludias crossing the via Egnatia near the river Axios. Another road starting from Beroea and following the foots of Mount Vermion, ended in Edessa, from where the via Egnatia also passed with direction to Dyrrachium. A third road headed South-West, crossing the valley of Tripotamos reaching Sarigjöl. The convergence of this entire road network in Beroea contributed to its flourishing, and justify its choice by the Romans as the center of the Koinon of the Macedonians, instead of Thessaloniki, which was the largest city of Macedonia.

Beroea’s location turned it into an important trade center, as well. After the clashes during the Roman civil war in 49-48 BC, when the town served as headquarters for Pompeius, the number of Roman merchants (negotiatores) and Jews, communities attested already since the age of the kingdom of Macedon, increased rapidly. The community of the latter was so numerous, that in 50 AD Paul visited it to preach the Gospel.

Beroea was also the headquarters of the Koinon of the Macedonians. The annual sports and music games by its members also attracted many contemporary intellectuals who had settled in the town. The emperor Nervas showed great favor to Beroea, and it was under him when the town was awarded the title of Neokoros, i.e. responsible for imperial worship, and of Metropolis, a title righteously belonging to Thessaloniki, which attempted unsuccessfully to regain it from the Emperor. It was once more awarded the title of Neokoros during the 3rd century AD, when the games became panhellenic, in honor of Alexander III. This is the reason why the coinage editions of this period depict on the front side the bust of Alexander the Great. The first Roman coins of the Koinon under the Julio-Claudian dynasty were probably minted in Thessaloniki, the capital of the province.


Corinth, similarly to Carthage which had also fought fiercely against Roman domination, was totally destroyed by Leucius Mummius in 146 BC, and its lands were either confiscated and turned into ager publicus, or handed over to Sicyon. After many years in obscurity, Julius Caesar founded in 44 BC the Roman colony Colonia Laus Iulia Corinthiensis, in which he installed mostly freedmen from Rome (Strabo VIII, 6, 23). Despite being the apple of discord between Anthony and Octavian, the city found its old allure only in 27 BC, when the Greek provinces were restructured by Augustus. Its supreme location contributed to the recovery of the city, which became one of the largest trade ports of the eastern Mediterranean. The coins issued by Corinth reflect its cosmopolitanism, with a large number of types, most of which depict with great accuracy and detail local temples and other buildings, such as the shrine of Palaemon or the fountain of Peirene, or scenes from strictly local legends, such as the one connected with Melikertes, or even fanciful representations, probably copies of great art works, such as Aphrodite on a tethrippon with Tritons.


Patrae was founded in 14 BC by Augustus, who recognized the key position of its port for connecting Greece to Italy. Aiming at safeguarding sea passages, he installed a colony of veterans from Legions X and XII, and increased its hinterland with the annexation of neighboring lands and hamlets, such as Tritaea, Rhypoi, Pharae, and Western Locris, turning it into the main economic and trade center of southern Greece. Its special location and status as colony can be attested in its coinage, which balances between local and Roman types, with an important part of the iconography referring to buildings or monuments of the city. Two versions are particularly important, as they depict the city harbor, which seems to have been constructed or renovated according to Roman models, such as the port of Ostia, which is depicted on coins of Nero.


The colony of Deme was founded in 67 BC by Pompeius, who installed a number of pirates he had crushed (Strabo XIV, c665, Plut., Pomp. 28, 7). After the battle of Pharsala, Julius Caesar re-founded the colony in 44 BC as Colonia Iulia Dumaeorum. We have no knowledge of the composition of the population of the new colony, but it is highly possible that freedmen were installed similarly to Corinth. The town was founded once more in 40 BC by Anthony, and it was renamed to Colonia Iulia Antonia Dumaeorum, while the last foundation took place by Augustus in 27 BC naming it Colonia Iulia Augusta Dumaeorum, which, however, probably didn’t last long, as its lands were annexed by Patrae according to Pausanias (VII.17.5)


Buthrotum is referred to as belonging to the province of Achaea, although it is located in the Illyricum, today’s southern Albania, because this area, as the entire Epirus, administratively belonged to Achaea. Colonia Iulia Buthrotum was founded by L. Plotius Plancus, praefectus coloniae deducendae in 44 BC, a short while after the assassination of Julius Caesar, who had planned the foundation of the colony, and was re-founded by Augustus as Colonia Augusta Buthrotum. Caesar had already confiscated the lands of the town because of the refusal of its citizens to pay a certain tax, a fact known to us by the correspondence between Cicero and his friend Atticus, who kept a large estate in the area. Being an important harbor in the straits of Otranto, and very near to the beginning of via Egnatia, the colony’s coinage is rich in iconography with Roman as well as local types, many of which make reference to its important location. A characteristic example is that of the coins of the period of Claudius, which depict a seated man on a rock holding a cornucopia and anchor.

M.P. Charlesworth, Trade Routes and Commerce in the Roman Empire, Cambridge 19262 (Reprint 2000).

H. Papageorgiadou-Bani, “The numismatic iconography of the roman colonies in Greece. Local spirit and the expression of imperial policy”, Meletemata 39 (2004).

G. D. R. Sanders and I. K. Whitbread, “Central Places and Major Roads in the Peloponnese”, BSA 85 (1990) 333-361.

Research directed by: Papageorgiadou Harikleia, Collaborator: Papaefthymiou Eleni, GIS Chartography: Gadolou Eleni