- A River Runs Through It
- The Role of the Tigris and Euphrates in Transport and Communication in Late Antiquity
- Book title
- Discipuli Dona Ferentes
- Book subtitle
- Glimpses of Byzantium in honour of Marlia Mundell Mango
- Pages (from-to)
- Turnhout: Brepols
- ISBN (electronic)
- Byzantios: Studies in Byzantine History and Civilization
- Volume (Serie)
- Document type
- Faculty of Humanities (FGw)
- Amsterdam School of Historical Studies (ASH)
Analysis of the networks of the Roman Near East is often fixated on the terrestrial road networks, the movement of troops and caravans, and it is easy to overlook the rivers that give the region its shape. This article examines the part played by the Tigris and Euphrates in shaping the ‘environmental landscape’ of the Late Antique Near East. On the one hand, the rivers served as boundaries, physically delimiting the border between Roman and Persian territories. However, these rivers also moved through the landscape, and affected the economy and practices of the people who lived along their shores. This article will also consider the importance of the Orontes River to the hinterland of Antioch and its role in irrigation and transport.
The discussion will be divided into three parts: 1) the geophysical and hydrological realities of these river systems and how they could be used; 2) a wider ethnographic perspective on how these rivers were used in antiquity and pre-modern times; 3) the evidence for the use of these rivers during the 4th-7th centuries CE; how they were employed by the military and by civilians.
Empires come and go, but to the people who live alongside them, the rivers are a fact of life. Continuity of tradition can be seen for example in the iconography of river traffic, and archaeological remains spanning the 5th millennium BCE to the early 20th century CE. Due to the absence of specific archaeological evidence for boat remains fromor Late Antiquity, it is important to demonstrate the continuity of indigenous boat building practices bracketing the period, which we can infer from texts persisted during the 4th-7th centuries CE. Particular attention is paid to texts from the Neo-Assyrian period (934-609 BCE), as the administration, particularly that of King Sargon II (721-705 BCE), faced many of the same logistical challenges in the region as the Roman army did.
In the Late Antique period, the region of greater Mesopotamia was highly militarised. Major campaigns took place in the mid-4th century and in the mid-6th century that are detailed in the accounts of Ammianus Marcellinus and Procopius of Caesarea. Forts and settlements excavated along the rivers testify to the investment in military infrastructure, as well as in communications infrastructure such as bridges. Personifications of the rivers seen in mosaic pavements attest to the power held by these rivers in peoples’ imaginations, and their place in the Christian oikumene as rivers of Paradise.
Finally, the article scrutinises the character of the Orontes River that flows from the Lebanon highlands through the agriculturally verdant Syrian plains, and connects Antioch with the Mediterranean Sea. Numerous attestations from Late Antiquity, including inscriptions, mosaic pavements, and laws in the Codex Theodosianus appear to suggest active use of the river as a communications and transport network, yet the hydrological properties of the river would seem to contradict this. This article attempts to reconcile the disparate evidence to come to a clearer understanding of the situation in Late Antiquity.
- go to publisher's site
If you believe that digital publication of certain material infringes any of your rights or (privacy) interests, please let the Library know, stating your reasons. In case of a legitimate complaint, the Library will make the material inaccessible and/or remove it from the website. Please Ask the Library, or send a letter to: Library of the University of Amsterdam, Secretariat, Singel 425, 1012 WP Amsterdam, The Netherlands. You will be contacted as soon as possible.