29
$\begingroup$

I'm writing a story that follows the life of a poor plebeian farmer in the late republic. While I was working on the plot, I realized a potential plot hole: such a person would not learn about the assassination of Caesar instantly like we would in modern times. In all likelihood, it could take weeks before such news would reach the other side of the republic.

The following are true:

  • The farmer himself is very poor without many connections to the Italian peninsula itself.
  • The farmer lives several kilometers inland and does not live near a major port city.
  • The farmer is a citizen of the republic and lives in rural Anatolia.

With these qualifications, when, if ever, would they learn about the death of Caesar?

$\endgroup$
20
  • 10
    $\begingroup$ What are your expectations? How accurate must the answer be? What's stopping you from simply picking a number (it's not as if your average reader would know if you're wrong...) At a suspension-of-disbelief level, it's equally believable that he'd find out in days/weeks vs. months/years. Farmers at that time may "go to market" monthly for supplies, but they're just as likely to go only once a year at harvest. Do you need to know an actual real-life answer? (If so, why?) Or do you really need help justifying a number that makes sense for your purpose? (Those two questions are very different.) $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    May 26 at 5:36
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact: "Days" is stretching it. But yes, I would accept anything between two weeks and a month without batting an eyelid. A Roman citizen in Asia (the province) in the 1st century BCE would be the Big Man of his village, and would be quickly informed of anything any villager learned. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 26 at 6:42
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ Do you mean a farmer in the area controlled by the Roman Empire or a Roman citizen farmer? $\endgroup$
    – Allan
    May 26 at 17:47
  • 6
    $\begingroup$ this sounds like it might be a better fit for the history stack. $\endgroup$
    – John
    May 26 at 22:22
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @JoinJBHonCodidact This genre is called historical fiction because his world is historically representative, but he is not telling history. While his setting is in large part based on real places and events, his question itself is Worldbuilding because he is asking about a rule to apply to one of the fictional aspects of his setting. $\endgroup$
    – Nosajimiki
    May 27 at 14:18

4 Answers 4

26
$\begingroup$

There's a lot of historical research into the speed of messages in the Roman empire.

Rome had a courier system where riders would ride between stations switching out to a fresh mount. In normal conditions such a rider could cover 60-100km per day. In an emergency situation, such riders could travel as far as 160km in a day.

Estimates of ship travel put their speed at 190km per day in favorable conditions and 80km per day in unfavorable conditions.

While speed varies between accounts it seems that a safe assumption for non-urgent news will travel at least of 50km per day. In the case of the death of an emperor you can safely assume that the news would spread faster. You can safely assume that your farmer would find out about the Caesar's death within 50 days, but maybe as little as 25 days.

$\endgroup$
16
  • 7
    $\begingroup$ If that farmer went from the farm to the nearest town or the like. I have no idea how often a typical poor-but-citizen (how common where those?) would do that. $\endgroup$
    – o.m.
    May 26 at 4:45
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @o.m. There were plenty of poor Roman citizens. There were plenty of poor farmers in Asia Minor in the 1st century BCE. But in a first approximation no poor Roman citizens farming in Asia Minor in that period of time. Asia had been relatively peacefully added to the Roman power -- the last king of Pergamum willed his country to Rome after his death. It was densely populated. Eighty years later, there were quite a few Roman land-owners, but they were not poor. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 26 at 10:59
  • 17
    $\begingroup$ At Stanford they made a navigation tool that can tell you the fastest route from A to B in the Roman world: orbis.stanford.edu $\endgroup$
    – towr
    May 26 at 17:41
  • 13
    $\begingroup$ @SmartBulbInc: "Sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on a farm": Not possible -- no such penalty existed in Roman law, ever. Basically, a freeborn citizen could be sentenced to (1) a fine, (2) relegation (go away, but you may keep your property), (3) exile (go away and we confiscate your property), (4) slavery (equivalent to civil death, and as irreversible as death), (5) actual death (very extremely rare). The Romans had no concept of term-limited loss of freedom. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 26 at 23:23
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP: I was trying to find something to help the OP massage this to work, but it looks like debt bondage (if it existed) that could have custom terms, including time limits, was abolished several hundred years beforehand. In addition, slaves sentenced as a punishment for a crime could not buy their freedom, be sold or set free (they were sent to mines or quarries and subjected to brutal conditions that eventually ended in death), even though non-criminal slaves could. $\endgroup$ May 26 at 23:45
16
$\begingroup$

The geographer behind the Facebook page "Simon shows you map" has published a map showing the fastest travel time to reach places in the empire from Rome in July.

enter image description here

You can use it as a reference for a lower limit. It looks like in 35 days the borders of the empire could be reached, Anatolia included. Times could be shortened by using horses instead of walking where possible.

Additionally, you can use this very handy tool can be used for a more thorough estimate

ORBIS allows us to express Roman communication costs in terms of both time and expense. By simulating movement along the principal routes of the Roman road network, the main navigable rivers, and hundreds of sea routes in the Mediterranean, Black Sea and coastal Atlantic, this interactive model reconstructs the duration and financial cost of travel in antiquity.

From Rome to Comana in July it computes 35 days with the fastest route, which I assume is the one which would be used by a courier carrying the news.

$\endgroup$
5
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ Shouldn't that be a "lower limit"? $\endgroup$ May 26 at 14:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ In theory a carrier pigeon could have conveyed the news to the far parts of the empire much more rapidly. Carrier pigeons have been used since 3000BC, however I don't know over what distances. $\endgroup$
    – towr
    May 26 at 17:16
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ @towr So the poor farmer uses carrier pigeons specifically to keep up with the latest news in Rome? Aside from the actual believeability of this, insert Twitter joke here. $\endgroup$
    – Michael
    May 26 at 17:21
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That map needs to be clearer. Some of the numerals are not very legible. Also the coloring scheme makes it difficult at first to recognize the actual Roman map. $\endgroup$ May 26 at 17:25
  • 3
    $\begingroup$ @Michael haha, no, I was thinking maybe the news gets to the province capitals and other major cities by express carrier pigeon, and then trickles down from there. $\endgroup$
    – towr
    May 26 at 17:30
13
$\begingroup$

4-5 Weeks for an Actual Citizen Farmer

The actual time it will take news to reach Anatolia is 2-6 weeks depending on exactly where the farm is. Since this is a "citizen" farmer, this means he is probably somewhere near the Roman Colonia Şebinkarahisar which is 4 weeks away from Rome and the only place in Anatolia where you might have found citizen farmers at this time. So, while news of Caesar's Death may first reach the region in just a 2 weeks, a citizen farmer would live no less than 4 weeks from Rome.

As for a minimum time-frame: a citizen farmer would probably learn of the event much sooner than most other farmers would. Just before his assassination, Julius Caesar was planning to pass through this region to wage war on Parthia. This would have been a very significant event for the farmer who would have been expected to either supply the army as it passes through or be drafted into it. Being a citizen, he was likely already preparing for the later by the time Caesar was killed; so, news of his death would have been especially important news to this particular farmer at this particular time and place. So much so, that it is likely the local legate would have to dispatch new orders to the citizen farmer to compensate for news of Caesar's death.

2-14 Weeks for a Non-citizen Farmer

While the death of the Emperor is certainly gossip worthy, it's not vital news to the common farmer. This means that it is unlikely for someone to hear news of Caesar's death and bee-line it out into the countryside to let this random guy know about it.

The most likely time for a rural farmer to learn about it will be when he is going into town to sell his wares since this itself would be the event where news like this would normally be learned by a rural farmer. Julius Caesar was assassinated on March 15th; so, to know when the farmer would be going into town next, we need to know what crop he was growing. The most common spring/summer crop of Mediterranean Farmers was wheat. Wheat's harvest season in Anatolia lasts from April to Late May. But before he can deliver his harvest, he first needs to dry and thresh it. Due to the laborious nature of Roman Threshing techniques, we can assume this will take another 3-4 weeks meaning that a typical time for an Anatolian Wheat Farmer to arrive in town with his harvest would be some time in Late June or Early July.

While it is always possible that news could arrive at this particular farm at any point after the news arrives in town, news will generally travel much slower between April and Late June because of the time sensitive nature of harvest season. So, while 2 weeks is possible, 14 weeks is more probable.

$\endgroup$
2
  • $\begingroup$ Don't forget that the murder of an emperor would be a particularly juicy bit of news, and people wouldn't likely just sit on it, they'd actively gossip about it. $\endgroup$
    – Monty Wild
    May 29 at 4:23
  • $\begingroup$ the labour intensive process of harvesting / threshing likely means people travelling to the farm from the local area to perform the labour, they would most likely bring the news with them $\endgroup$
    – mgh42
    2 days ago
5
$\begingroup$

A frame challenge.

A poor plebeian farmer Roman Citizen would probably not live in rural Anatolia. As a farmer, he would more likely live in a rural area in Anatolia than in acity, obviously.

Here are links to maps of the Roman Empire or Republic in 44 BC at the time of the assassination of Gaius Julius Caesar, the eternal dictator.

https://www.studenthandouts.com/00/200903/AncientRomeRomanDominionsattheDe-1.jpg

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Atlas_of_Ancient_Rome#/media/File:Roman_Empire.png

https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=AwrE1xeTuY9iOioAZVxXNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3BpdnM-?p=Map+of+Roman+Empire+in+44+BC&fr2=piv-web&type=E210US105G0&fr=mcafee#id=0&iurl=https%3A%2F%2Fi.pinimg.com%2Foriginals%2F41%2Fff%2Fe0%2F41ffe09930f6be6af61b1890c3739bf6.jpg&action=click

https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=AwrE1xeTuY9iOioAZVxXNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3BpdnM-?p=Map+of+Roman+Empire+in+44+BC&fr2=piv-web&type=E210US105G0&fr=mcafee#id=1&iurl=http%3A%2F%2F4.bp.blogspot.com%2F-PZWzeHHMo7k%2FVJg0mykQvKI%2FAAAAAAAAAuQ%2FFf6S9C6yPlI%2Fs1600%2FRoman%252BEmpire%252BMap.jpg&action=click

https://images.search.yahoo.com/search/images;_ylt=AwrE1xeTuY9iOioAZVxXNyoA;_ylu=Y29sbwNiZjEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZAMEc2VjA3BpdnM-?p=Map+of+Roman+Empire+in+44+BC&fr2=piv-web&type=E210US105G0&fr=mcafee#id=5&iurl=https%3A%2F%2Fi.ytimg.com%2Fvi%2FtkzTU0CnE04%2Fmaxresdefault.jpg&action=click

You will note that about half the area of Asia Minor is various provinces acquired at various dates. The other half of the area of Asia Minor is part of various client states of the Roman Empire.

YOu will also knote that the maps disagree a lot about the areas of the Roman Provinces in Asia Minor.

In most Roman provinces most of the people would be non Roman in 44 BC. Romans would be a minority in each province. Many of the Romans in a province would be military or government employees assigned there temporarily, or Roman merchants traveling to and from the province on business trips.

Other Romans might live in a province permanently. The Romans did establish colonies of Roman citizens, being cities or towns surrounded by farmland, all owned by Roman citizens. If your farmer was part of a Roman colony, he would probably live no more than one day from the city or town at the center of the colony, and so would probably hear the news of Caesar's assassination only about a day after the town learned about it. You might want to find out about colonies of Romans - if any - established in provinces in Asia Minor before 44 BC.

And of course there were even fewer Roman citizens in parts of Anatolia that weren't provinces of the Roman Empire but client states. Some Romans would visit those regions on official or commercial business.

And of course some Romans could live in client states permanently. Possibly your farmer became a tenent farmer of a rich Hellenized landowner in one of the client states, or even managed to acquire a small plot of land outside the borders of the Roman Republic.

But in 44 BC most of the peope in Asia Minor were non Romans speaking a variety of non Latin languages. Aramaic may have been a very wide spread language in Asia Minor for centuries. During the Hellenistic Age most of the upper classes and the city dwellers became Hellenized Greek speakers. And Romans who spoke Latin would have been a small minority even in the Roman provinces in Aisa Minor and an even smaller minority in the client states which were not part of the Roman Republic.

$\endgroup$
10
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Regardless of whether the farmer is considered a Roman or not it will take the same amount of time for news to reach them. This reads like a very long and well researched comment rather than a challenge to the framing of the question. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 26 at 18:12
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @sphennings: The question insists that it is about a Roman citizen. In 44 BCE a Roman citizen farming a farm in Asia (the province) would be most likely a relatively well-off land owner; which means he is well-connected, not some poor subsistence farmer out in the boondocks. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    May 26 at 18:55
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @AlexP That may be true but, regardless of whether OP is bending history or not the core ask will remain the same. This post doesn't challenge the framing of the question, it provides a well researched nit-pick. There's already a comment requesting clarification about this issue, to which the OP hasn't responded. Perhaps OP thinks that anyone living within the borders is a roman citizen. Regardless a farmer or landed elite will have news reach them in about the same amount of time. $\endgroup$
    – sphennings
    May 26 at 18:57
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @M. A. Golding I probably should have specified this in the initial prompt. Regardless, the main character was once a relatively wealthy merchant who lived in one of the Roman colonies in Anatolia. However, after stealing from one of the noble families, he is sentenced to 10 years of hard labor on a farm. All of his estate is taken by the state and by the events of the story. he has served 4 years of his term. $\endgroup$ May 26 at 21:50
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Also take into account, nearly all farmers were illiterate. Things happening in Rome did reach military officers and local prefects. But the "news" for civilians spread through culture. There were travelers, plays and songs. Merchants with stories. There is no answer "so many days". The farmer would probably learn about the assassination of Juliues Caesar somewhere during his life, by coincidence.. or never.. $\endgroup$
    – Goodies
    May 27 at 8:03

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .