Boston Hospitality Review

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Boston Hospitality Review


Portion of the Tabula Peutingeriana, a medieval copy of an original third-century
Roman map (Musée de la
Poste, Paris)

Roman Ways:
The Endurance of Patterns in Travel and Hospitality from Antiquity
Bradford Hudson


popular cultural narrative suggests that hospitality chains are a product of modern America. Although it seems clear that multi-unit hotel and restaurant brands proliferated in the United States during the twentieth century, historical research demonstrates that the phenomenon is actually much older. The origins of hospitality chains can be traced back to the Roman
Empire. Organizational systems and travel behaviors have remained remarkably similar throughout Western civilization during the past two millennia.

Ancient Rome
The ancient Romans built more than 250,000 miles of roads throughout Europe and the
Mediterranean region, including more than

50,000 miles that were paved with stones.
The primary purpose of such roads was to facilitate the quick and reliable movement of public couriers and military forces.
These roads were divided into sections of
1,000 (mille) paces or 5,000 feet. This constituted a Roman mile and is the derivation of the English word ‘mile.’ Along major roads, the engineers installed stone posts every mile to mark the distance and provide information to travelers.
At regular intervals along these roads, relay stations were established where travelers could rest, feed and water their oxen or horses, exchange horses, or pass communications from one rider to another. These were located at a distance equivalent to one day of travel, which was typically about 20 miles. An extended journey was thereby div­
Boston Hospitality Review | Winter 2014

Surviving Roman road near Manchester, England (1994)

ided into multiple stages between posts and relay stations.
Guest houses with dining facilities were established at each relay station. Origin­ ally the state operated these as barracks for military or government officials. Eventually a shadow system of commercial places to stay or eat developed near relay stations. Medieval England
Travel patterns maintained a great deal of continuity after the fall of the Roman Empire. The roads were durable and remained the primary means of land travel well into the Middle Ages. Systems of communication also followed the Roman model, as messages continued to be transmitted by couriers on horseback. The relay stations eventually fell into disrepair, but they were periodically replaced over the centuries, often being rebuilt on the same plot of land. Travelers still needed to stop at a secure place to rest for the night, couriers still needed to pass messages among themselves, and horses still needed to be watered or exchanged. The system of
Winter 2014 | Boston Hospitality Review

Surviving milestone in Rome (2006)

accommodation along the Roman waysides continued. In Britain, many of the terms for elements of these transportation and communication systems were eventually replaced by English equivalents. The Roman roads became known as ‘post roads’ due to the distinctive milestones positioned or posted along the route. The public courier system was eventually reconstituted by Henry
VIII, who appointed a ‘Master of the Posts’ to manage the network. The duty of station keepers to provide services to official couriers was recognized by their appointment as
‘post masters.’
The relay stations became known as
‘post houses’ or ‘posting houses.’ These often served couriers, but the suffix ‘house’ emerged to signify a lodging facility, while the term ‘office’ later identified the distinct function of a courier station. An Old English word for dwelling evolved into the modern term ‘inn.’
During this period, suspension systems were added to wagons to enable a more comfortable ride along uneven road surfaces. The new vehicles were known as ‘coaches.’
Those that carried passengers for hire along

The Canterbury Pilgrims