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15.5 Early Travellers

When one realizes the absence of small money or of any conveniently portable means of exchange in the pre-Alexandrian world, one perceives how impossible was private travel in those days.[1] The first “inns” — no doubt a sort of caravanserai — are commonly said to have come into existence in Lydia in the third or fourth century B.C. That, however, is too late a date. They are certainly older than that. There is good evidence of them at least as early as the sixth century. Aeschylus twice mentions inns. His word is “all-receiver”, or “all-receiving house”.[2] Private travellers must have been fairly common in the Greek world, including its colonies, by this time. But such private travel was a comparatively new thing then. The early historians Hecataeus and Herodotus travelled widely. “I suspect”, says Professor Gilbert Murray, “that this sort of travel ‘for Historie’ or ‘for discovery’ was rather a Greek invention. Solon is supposed to have practised it; and even Lycurgus”…. The earlier travellers were traders travelling in a caravan or in a shipload, and carrying their goods and their minas and shekels of metal or gems or bales of fine stuff with them, or government officials travelling with letters of introduction and a proper retinue. Possibly there were a few mendicants, and, in some restricted regions, religious pilgrims.

That earlier world before 600 B.C. was one in which a lonely “stranger” was a rare and suspected and endangered being. He might suffer horrible cruelties, for there was little law to protect such as he. Few individuals strayed therefore. One lived and died attached and tied to some patriarchal tribe, if one was a nomad, or to some great household if one was civilized or to one of the big temple establishments which we will presently discuss. Or one was a herded slave. One knew nothing, except for a few monstrous legends, of the rest of the world in which one lived. We know more today, indeed, of the world of 600 B.C. than any single living being knew at that time. We map it out, see it as a whole in relation to past and future. We begin to learn precisely what was going on at the same time in Egypt and Spain and Media and India and China. We can share in imagination, not only the wonder of Hanno’s sailors, but of the men who lit the warning beacons on the shore. We know that those ?mountains flaming to the sky? were only the customary burning of the dry grass at that season of the year. Year by year, more and more rapidly, our common knowledge increases. In the years to come men will understand still more of those lives in the past, until perhaps they will understand them altogether.

[1]Small change was in existence before the time of Alexander. The Athenians had a range of exceedingly small silver coins running almost down to the size of a pinhead which were generally carried in the mouth; a character in Aristophanes was suddenly assaulted, and swallowed his change in consequence. —P. G.
[2]There is an inn-keeper in Aristophanes, but it may be inferred from the circumstance that she is represented as letting lodgings in hell, that the early inn left much to be desired. —P. G.

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