The Persian Royal Roads

Map of Persian Empire and Royal Road from Sardis to Susa | Courtesy of Wikipedia
Map of Persian Empire and Royal Road from Sardis to Susa | Courtesy of Wikipedia

In the fifth century BCE, communication between the rulers of the Persian Empire and the regions they governed was very important. People needed to know the laws of their king and how to live under those laws. Merchants and farmers needed to know how much they were getting taxed on their goods. These farmers needed to come up with a price so they could afford to live and pay the empire’s demands. Darius I, who was the third Persian emperor of the Achaemenid dynasty, came up with the idea of a road that would link the vast territory of the Persian realm. This road was called the Persian Royal Road.1

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A portrait of what a Persian Messenger looked like | Courtesy of WikiPhotos

The road was built from Susa all the way to Sardis, which stretched 1677 miles. The trip from Susa to Sardis would take about two months to complete by foot, but with a healthy and fast horse, a traveler could go from one end to the other in seven to nine days. To go from the capital of Susa directly to Sardis one would travel over the Tigris River, Euphrates River, and the Halys River. During the journey, travelers would pass by the cities of Karim, Jarmy, Nineveh, and some passed through Assyria if they wanted, which would not greatly detour travelers from the original route.2 The road would also branch off or lead to Syria and Armenia if travelers needed to go that way.

The Royal Road was developed with the purpose of allowing travelers to travel swiftly from one city to another, and for information to be passed through all the cities of Persia. Along the road, checkpoints were set up to ensure safety and for travelers to have rest stops where they could rent fresh horses, or acquire supplies they might need. These stops were set up along every river crossing and at every entrance to each city. The stops were also built because of long stretches of desert or barren land. In order to ensure safety, the Persian guards would have certain areas on the road to patrol, guaranteeing that every traveler passed through the checkpoints safely and were not causing problems in the cities.3 To compare this to modern day, this would be like highway patrol and border patrol when entering and leaving a country. Since the main reason for Darius to install this Royal Road was for faster communication, he set postmen or, as the people of that time called them, pirradazis, at the checkpoints. These men were given the fast horses to deliver messages all along the road. Some even traveled to surrounding kingdoms to deliver messages. Many of these pirradazis were set up at each checkpoint so the communication could travel faster; and for those living in the cities, they could also send messages to and from their city through these men. These couriers would travel in any weather and at any time of day.4

From the development of the Persian Royal Road, many inventions, groups, corporations, and jobs were established that otherwise may not have been created or thought of. From this road, a postal service was created that was later used by many empires as a type of communication throughout their own empire. Although Darius created this road to help his empire thrive and expand, this road would be more appreciated and admired than he could ever think of.

  1. Jerry Bentley, Herbert Ziegler, and Heather Streets Salter, Traditions & Encounters: A Brief Global History Volume 1, 4 edition (McGraw-Hill Education, 2015), 88-89.
  2. W. M. Ramsay, The Historical Geography of Asia Minor (Cambridge University Press, 2010), 27-34.
  3. Maria Brosius, The Persians (Routledge, 2006), 20-25.
  4. Vernon L. Provencal, Sophist Kings: Persians as Other in Herodotus (Bloomsbury Publishing, 2015), 158-166.

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This Post Has 26 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Clarissa Bustamante

    I’ve never heard of Persian Royal roads before, but I have heard of Silk roads. It’s interesting to read that people would come up with ideas of connecting roads and highways. And with doing that they used it to transport goods and trading a lot easier. It was very smart to build the road because it was mostly likely one of the reasons why their society developed and expanded so well and fast.

  2. Avatar
    Mario Sosa

    To be honest, I do not know much about the Persians so this article helped me understand how they were able to communicate with different cities. It is intriguing how even back then they used checkpoints at are similar to modern day border patrols or highway patrols. I am now curious about what else Darius achieved during his time as emperor. Nice work on the article!

  3. Avatar
    Sam Vandenbrink

    Its hard to believe they had roads so long ago even before cars, from what they sounds like they seem more like walking paths, great article very informative! Didn’t know anything about the Persian royal roads so it was allot to learn in a little article, but I feel like I now have a very strong understanding of what the Persian roads were and how they were used!

  4. Avatar
    Hayden Hollinger

    This was a topic I had no prior experience of so I was pleasantly surprised to learn of these rail roads. I thought this was a well written article that was pretty short but still managed to get its point and the main facts across. I was very impressed with the length of the rail road and was impressed to read that the time to travel the distance was cut down so substantially with the use of a healthy horse.

  5. Avatar
    Steven Clinton

    Interesting article. For people in the modern world, it’s hard to imagine the world without highway that connects people from place to place. The idea of the Persian Royal Road was one of the first frameworks of the modern-day highway. It was a smart idea to set up checkpoints because the weather there in Persia was harsh on the travelers and the horses. Overall great article.

  6. Avatar
    Ana Gonzalez

    Great article and interesting topic! It’s crazy to think that nowadays we can communicate with people around the world within seconds through the internet. We no longer need “pirradazis” to rush on their horses from town to town to spread the news. It’s very interesting to read about the ways in which past societies facilitated the methods of communication and trade by building highways and riding their horses. Good job.

  7. Avatar
    Jennifer Pogue

    Awesome article. I cannot imagine my life without roads. They transport people and items, it was inevitable they would be “invented.” It was very smart that they set up check points and guards throughout the roads. The road created jobs for people not only working on the road but those who made and transported their products. Overall, this road helped Persia develop and gave them a real head start.

  8. Avatar
    Christian Lozano

    It is cool to see how humans could come up with the idea for interconnecting highways to disseminate information and goods. I had heard of the Silk Roads before this Article, but never the Persian Royal Roads. Beautifully written, great job.

  9. Avatar
    Nicolas McKay

    This was a very interesting article. he idea that one of the earliest human achievements was made so that taxes could be properly paid is actually quite fascinating. It is also almost funny to know that even back then there were still border patrol agents.

  10. Avatar
    Tina Valdez

    A 1677-mile road? Wow. I suppose I take for granted how efficiently we can pass information today. The Royal Road did however seem to be well thought out with is checkpoints to ensure safety and rest stops. Given the time period and resources available the Royal Road seemed quite efficient. Your connections to what this would look like today painted the picture even more clearly. Very informative article!

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