Sailing Time, in Roman Empire (Alexandria)

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Sailing Time, in Roman Empire (Alexandria)

Post by billd89 »

I'm gathering a few data points, to estimate Alexandrian sailing time in Greek & Roman periods. Of course, trade-winds/time-of-year is a huge factor - this is just to get a rough estimate. Many of the recent historical sailing estimates I see (i.e. in books, websites) are absurdly fast, without any possible stopping or delay: longer journeys were almost never so direct or immediate. You cannot just calculate knots per hour by distance! Sea voyages required stopping for food, trade (haggling), plus night-travel was strongly disfavored. So beware the unrealistically FAST sailings, which are, in fact, miscalculations.

Faster Sailing-Time: ...... 120 km/day.
Avg Sailing-Time: .......... 100 km/day.
Slower Sailing-Time: ....... 80 km/day.

169-217 km per day (Avg 195 km), from that Table (above.) This is probably 'wrong' - exceedingly fast in nearly all likelihoods. While particular shorter routes may have run fast, longer routes almost certainly did not. Rome (Ostia) to Alexandria was a longer route.

Galba's accession was known in Alexandria by 6 July, within 27 days of Nero's death on 9 June AD 68

Rome to Ostia took 6-9hrs, waiting on a vessel might be another 6-12 hrs, ergo 1 Day. Ostia to Alexandria in 26 Days sounds exactly right (100 km/day).

Another site stated:
16-21 days .... Alexandria to Ostia
9-10 days ...... Alexandria to Antioch

Too fast/short @ 20 days, here. Ostia-Alexandria was 2,615 km. so probably 22 days was a reasonable minimum (120 km/day) but faster than avarage.

Galba's death known in 27 days (C.I.G. 4957), whereas news of Pertinax's accession (on 1st January) took 65 (B.G.U. 646), while his death on 28th March had not reached the Fay'um 52 days later (B.G.U. 46). Nero's death known at Elephantine in 57 days (Griech. Ostr. 799).

News of Galba's death travelled 100 km/day; the fastest reasonable time would have been 120 km/day.

The very slowest boat from Ostia-Alexandria was 41 km/day - highly improbable, I think. Regular delay, somewhere (totaling +30 days), and 70-80 km/day was more plausible. It seems official news traveled from Ostia to Alexandria in ~45 days. With poor winds, news travelled 60 km/day by Sailing-Time.

If Alexandria to Fayum was 240 km, the upriver Nile sailing-speed was +2 days.

If Fayum to Elephantine was 800 km, the upriver Nile sailing speed was 118 km/day.

The Alexandria-Elephantine upriver Nile sail took +8 days at least; Diodorus Siculus says 10 days.

Alexandria-Bethlehem in 16 days, Sulpic. Dial. 1.8.1.

'600 km in 16 days' is 118 km/day sailing-speed.

However, in the Roman period a journey from Alexandria (which is located in the western extremes of the Nile delta, ca. 250 km west of Migdol/Pelusium when following the shoreline) to Palestine by boat could take between five and seven days, cf. Harold W. Hoehner, Herod Antipas (Grand Rapids: Zondervan 1980), 36 note 5.

Pelusium to Gaza was only about a two-day journey by boat.
If Pelusium-Alexandria was 295 km, the sail-time should be 2.5 days at least (assume '3 days' minimum).
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Re: Sailing Time, in Roman Empire (Alexandria)

Post by DCHindley »

Have you tried the ORBIS database?

It covers land, sea & river travel and estimates travel time by season and by direction, etc. I think the travel times are based on ancient accounts, and geophysical info from a modern meteorological study of wind patterns and travel conditions from 2002.

There are display problems. I think this database was created in 2012. I wish it gave minimum/average/maximum travel times (it may be there but I have not found it yet). However, it is free.

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Re: Sailing Time, Part 2 (Alexandria)

Post by billd89 »


Orbis software isn't working properly on my old laptop or new Android, but it says "The Fastest journey from Ostia/Portus to Alexandria in July takes 42 days, covering 6027 kilometers" which I don't understand.

There's quite a range here, in additional data points given from book sources.

Alexandria to Rome about 40 days outbound; return voyage 14 days. Sailing season: April–September. Casson, Ships and Seamanship (1971), 297–9.

The average passage, Ostia to Alexandria, was probably about 18-19 days. The corn ships {Alexandria to Ostia}, sailing in company, probably took about 25 days when following the direct west-bound route. By the inshore routes, the voyage might well run to double that time {i.e. ~50 days}.

Mr. Warmington gives the following time-table for Roman ships (1st century A.D.): Puteoli or Ostia to Alexandria (with average wind), 20 days. Alexandria to Coptos (up the Nile by boat), 12 days.

Calculating only the 'days' sailing and not the duration of the voyage?
Three weeks {~21 days} were required for the trip from Ostia to Alexandria. The nine-day voyage of Valerius Marianus, reported by Pliny, from Alexandria to Puteoli, together with the other voyages described by that author, are considered exceptionally rapid.

Warmington lists some of these such as Ostia to Alexandria = 1220 {nautical} miles

= 2259 km, abit shorter than I supposed. But the calculation for 'avg sail-time' is about the same, which (I think) confirms my own rough estimate above. (I am very doubtful an 'fast' trip would be 5x faster than an 'avg slow' trip.)

2259 km / 9 days = 251 km/day. .... Probably False.
2259 km / 14 days = 161 km/day. .... Improbable.
2259 km / 18 days = 126 km/day.
2259 km / 19 days = 119 km/day.
2259 km / 20 days = 113 km/day.
2259 km / 21 days = 108 km/day.
2259 km / 25 days = 90 km/day.
2259 km / 40 days = 56 km/day.
2259 km / 45 days = 50 km/day.
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