Royal Road: Highway of Persian Empire

Darius I by a Greek Painter
Roads are an important part of a kingdom, nation, and an empire. It allows economies to move, politicians to connect, and people to travel. It also directs the communications between city centers and isolated communities. Proper and good quality of roads could mean development for many. In history, road meant stagnation or domination. Empires relied on roads to connect far flung areas to the capital. It allowed armies and messengers to march and ran swiftly to their destinations. Among the greatest builder of roads were the Persians.

The Persians were known for their extensive construction of roads. Among of its greatest builders of road was Darius the Great. He and his predecessor had connected their vast land holdings by constructing simple rock roads. It allowed troops to march quickly into their staging area. It allowed merchants to carry their goods to markets quickly. Allowed messengers to carry their important messages from one point to another. It also allowed Persia’s subject to travel all year without facing the problems of dirt and mud. The hallmark of Darius’ road projects, however, was a highway that would connect the capital of the Persian Empire in Susa to the volatile region of Asia Minor.

The Royal Road, as called by the Greek historian Herodotus, was a virtual highway of the Persian Empire. Its length was about 1,500 miles or roughly 2,500 kilometers. Completed in 500 BCE, it connected the cities of Sardis and Susa. It ran from Sardis to the cities of Cappadocia and Cilicia. It then passed to Armenia then down to Arbela. It crossed the river of Tigris and then finally reach the capital, Susa.

The Royal Road had many benefits for the empire. Militarily speaking, it allowed troops to march quickly to Asia Minor where rebellions incited by the Greeks were common. Later on, it would provide the road of the Persia’s invasion force to attack Greece. Politically, it allowed messengers called chapars to send message to Susa from Sardis in 7 to 14 days. Alongside the road, 111 stations that allowed relay messengers to pass the message to another messenger in order to get urgent news to the King in such a short time. Without the stations, a non-stop messenger would take ninety days to reach Susa from Sardis. The stations and the road itself also had benefits for traders. It allowed merchants to travel goods to the west, feeding the demand for textile. It also allowed merchants going to the east and feed Persians with ideas and goods like olive oil and wheat. Later on, the royal Road would be an integral part of the historic and lucrative route from China to Europe known as the Silk Road.

The road also was made secure by the Persian Kings. Guard posts were station along the roads. Patrols were also made to secure the route from any bandits. The bridges, in particular, were heavily secured by soldiers. Bridges must be heavily guarded for its strategic purposes. If bridges were to be captured or destroyed by rebels or an invading army, displacement of troops could be delayed, allowing the enemy to move quickly to counter the Persians advance.

The Royal Road would be a monument of the Persian Empire. Even after the empire fallen, the Royal Road continued to serve merchants especially those traversing the Silk Road. It showed the importance of roads to the survival and live of a country.

Mokyr, J. (ed.). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Economic History. New York: Oxford University Press, 2003. 

Stokes, J. Encyclopedia of the Peoples of Africa and the Middle East. New York: Facts on File, Inc., 2009. 

Waters, M. Ancient Persia: A Concise History of the Achaemenid Empire, 550-330 BCE. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. 

Kindersley, D. “Persian Empire.” Infoplease. Accessed April 12, 2014.


  1. The Persian Royal Road was joined by the Grand Trunk (GT) Road at South which started from Kabul and stretched upto Calcutta. These roads encouraged a thriving trade and communication between East and West.

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  4. u is wrong me is right

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