Sunday 16 September 2012
So we know Rome's Red Sea ports were pretty busy by the beginning of the 1st-century AD. Those 120 return journeys from India represent about 200,000-tons of freight needing to be moved to or from the Red Sea and into the Mediterranean basin...or about 100,000 average sized wagon loads. So as Col' suggested yesterday, there was a lot of money to be made for those in the ancient logistics business. The Red Sea's two biggest ports, Myos Hormos and Berenice were connected to the Nile Valley by the Coptos Road (later renamed the Via Hadriana) which ran from modern day Gift, across 258-miles of desert to the Red Sea in what was described as an eleven day journey. Special watering stations were spread out along the route, with most water also having to be carted in from the Nile. Needless to say, moving 100,000 wagon loads over this highway, or the other three Nile Valley-Red Sea roads would have been an expensive business...and just like today, business is always looking for the cheapest solution.
The cost of transport from the Red Sea was apparent well before the Roman trade began, and in the 6th-century BC, Pharaoh Necho II began a canal from the Gulf of Suez across the deserts to the Nile Delta. The canal is believed to have been completed by the Persian king, Darius I, and in 273BC Ptolemy II is credited for improving the channel with locks to cope with a 4.5 foot difference in the height of the Red Sea and the Mediterranean. Parts of the canal were 100 feet wide and 30 feet deep, more than capable of handling ocean going ships - presumably these big sailing craft were hauled through the canal by rowing tugs or animals on parallel tow paths. Four hundred years later and perhaps because of silting - or to have a current powered canal for both eastbound and westbound shipping - a new canal, known as the Trajan River, was excavated in the decade prior to 112AD. It started 60km further upstream on the Nile, running as fresh water rather than salt, and joined the older canal just prior to its exit into the Gulf of Suez at Arisnoe. In turn the Roman canal had silted up by the 7th-century AD, but was reopened in 642AD by Amir ibn al Aas. In 747AD it was closed again to stop supplies reaching a rebellion in Medina, after which it fell into permanent disuse. With that, all freight moving from the Indian Ocean into the Mediterranean had to do so by camel. But then, of course, demand was a mere trickle compared to what it had once been.
Find out if Calvus was a logistical nightmare