The Romans were great builders of roads, which initially had a military purpose but then became an essential tool for the government of the empire, the movement of people and goods, and the spread of news, books and culture. In the republican period there was a private service of tabellarii Hemerodromoi maintained by important men, also for use by the government. With Augustus began the cursus publicus evectio for the entire empire, i.e., the imperial service for the transport of public persons and goods Suetonius, Aug. 49,3, thus only for government use.
This had no connection with the public postal service or with the movement of private persons but provided the infrastructure for magistrates and personnel who traveled throughout the empire: thousands of stationes or smaller mansiones, located at a distance of ca. 12 km 7.5 mi along the Roman roads, offering horses, mules or other animals, and a carriage. A diplomata was required to use it see Pliny, Ep. 10,120, but abuses were frequent; the person’s dignitas did not matter, only official permission.
The cursus functioned at the expense of provincials or of allies, who had to provide the hospitalitas and the means of transport for magistrates, their officials and for soldiers. Instead of diplomata later called evectio, a sum of money viaticum was paid to cover the cost of transport; the administration and the army sometimes used other modes of transport, but always at provincial expense. From the 3rd c. there was a change: the traveling courts, the fact of multiple emperors, the growth of the bureaucracy, the provisions and centralization of the administration led to a reform, under Diocletian, consisting in a more speedy cursus velox, and a cursus clavularius for the transport of goods, increasingly important in the 4th c. The involvement of local communities became more burdensome with the system of munera.
Now, instead of tabellarii or frumentarii, we find messengers and spies agentes in rebus, curiosi; the number of stationes mansiones, mutationes increased everywhere, with the consequent increase in the speed of the cursus velox. The Itinerarium Burdigalense, the pilgrim who went to Jerusalem from Bordeaux, gives an idea of the new state of the system.
Dioscorus wrote to Augustine from Carthage, requesting an urgent response: My brother Zenobius has been appointed director of the imperial chancellery magister memoriae and sent me, along with the expenses for the trip, the permit to travel using the state services et misit nobis evectionem cum annonis: Augustine, Ep. 117,1. Augustine himself, when he was appointed rhetor in the imperial capital, was proud of the fact that he was granted use of the cursus publicus to go to Milan Conf. 5,23: impertita etiam evectione publica. Ancient lateimperial literary, epigraphical and legal sources attest to the care given by authorities to the regulation and upkeep of this service. At first the empire guaranteed the service and authorized specific persons and the transfer of goods and news at the administrations’ expense. In the 4th c., however, the cursus publicus belonged to the government, who managed it itself. There was no sea transport exclusively for passengers, who had to use cargo ships. The empire also used private commercial transport, by contract naulum.
For the first time bishops had the privilege of use of the cursus publicus to go to the Council of Arles in 314 letter to Elaphius for the African bishops, through Numidia, Mauretania, Spain: see Maier, Le dossier, 156; also for the return, there is mention of some Donatist bishops for their return to Africa, Maier 188: in this case by sea, meals included. Eusebius of Caesarea HE 10,5,23-24 reports Emperor Constantine’s letter to the bishop of Syracuse, called to the Council of Arles: he could bring with him two persons of lower rank i.e., presbyters: Bardy and three servants paidas; likewise for participation at the Council of Nicaea of 325 Eusebius, Vita Const. 3,6; 4,43. Emperor Constantius, to encourage participation at the Council of Rimini, made transportation available, which was refused by many orthodox bishops to defend their independence: the bishops of Illyricum, Italy and Africa, Spain and Gaul: quibus omnibus annonas et cellaria dare imperator praceperat. The bishops of Aquitaine, Gaul and Britain refused because: indecens visum: repudiatis fiscalibus, propriis sumptibus vivere maluerunt. Tres tantum ex Britannia inopia proprii publico usi sunt, cum oblatum a caeteris collationem respuissent, sanctius putantes fiscum gravare quam singulos SC 341,318. Severus praises the attitude of these bishops, poor as they were, and not having other means, made use of the government provision. Ammianus Marcellinus also criticizes the use of the cursus publicus: ut catervis antistum iumentis publicis ultro citoque discurrentibus per synodos, quos appellant, dum ritum omnem Constantius ad suum trahet conatur arbitrium, rei vehiculariae succideret nervos 21,6,18.