Routes and harbours in Byzantine Boeotia

1. Land roads in Byzantium

During the Middle Ages land means of transport were slow and unsafe. Land transportation of loads and goods must have been quite expensive, while from time to time it became restricted due to the wars. It was overcharged with expensive toll duties, while the continuous threat from robbery made the situation worse.

The Athonite monastic archives describe, however, a highly dense land network of local roads during the Byzantine period, indicating the situation in the area of Boeotia, too. Local roads were categorized according to their use and importance, e.g. the agelodromion, the hamaxegos, the xylophorikon, the monopation (narrow path for pedestrians or pack animals), and the plakotos. Regarding the demosia (or demosiake) road, the emperor kept for himself the responsibility for its organization, and assigned directly to the logothetes tou dromou its maintenance.

2. Important roads in Boeotia

2.1. The public road through the valley of Boeotian Kephissos

Boeotia in general had a good road network connecting its southern with its northern shores and leading to Athens and Corinth, to the south and the east, and to Delphi and Lamia, to the west and the north. This last connection was served – already in Antiquity - by the crowded road that passed through the valley of Boeotian Kephissos and formed the most basic demosia hodos (public road) of central and eastern Mainland Greece.

This road, starting from the area of Thermopylae, passed through the wide valley of Kephissos, continued near Davleia, and then went towards Chaeronea and Livadeia. From there it led to Thebes, along the north slope of Mount Helikon and the southwestern shore of Lake Kopaïs, near Koroneia. Then it headed to the north of Mount Sphingio in the Theban valley. From Thebes it headed southwards, leaving Plataea to the west, and moving from the mountain road of Kithairon to Eleutherai. Then, it was divided into two: the western road led to Megara and Corinth and the eastern one to Eleusis and Athens. There was also a road going directly from Thebes to Athens, passing through key sites of Dervenochoria, such as Skourta, Zoodochos Pege and Panakton.
Before the drainage of Lake Kopaïs, travelers used the lower road from Livadeia to Thebes only during summer months, where there was drought. The winter road followed the foothills in the hinterland from Koroneia to Askri, and ended in Thebes. The side roads of Kephissos and the local roads were based on the main axis and the geomorphology of Kopaïs. The most important of them were the following:

2.2. The road from Thebes to the port of Euripos

The road that led from Thebes to the port of Euripos or Negroponte (modern-day Chalkis) belonged to the category of demosia hodos (public road), as referred to in the 11th-century fiscal cadaster of Thebes. This road passed south of the Μonastery of Sagmata and, below the modern-day national road, from the pass of Ritsona. Alternatively there was a road north of Thebes leading to Euripos from Mouriki, Paralimni and the port of Anthedon (Loukisia). The road from Euripos to Athens passed along the Euboean shore and Avlida, from where set off possibly a road to Schimatari and Tanagra.

2.3. The road connecting the Boeotian hinterland with the Corinthian Gulf

This road passed,
since the early Byzantine
times, through Thespiai and the Valley of the Muses towards Thisvi, leading to Domvraina bay. In the late Byzantine period the shorter road passing through Kaparelli towards the port of Livadostra (Riva d’ Ostria) was important.

2.4. The road connecting the bay of Antikyra with the the Boeotian hinterland

The reached Livadeia, where it merged with the road axis of the Kephissos valley. This road led from the northernmost part of the bay of Antikyra to Amvrossos (mod. Distomo) and Livadeia, whereas it is certain that the Monastery of Hosios Loukas during the Byzantine period had its own road connections, an important indication for the existence of the which constituted a metochion of Hosios Loukas at Antikyra, which was demolished in the 20th century. It seems there wasn’t any direct connection between Amvrossos and the bay of Krissa (mod. Itea) through Desphina, due to the particularly inaccessible territory, but to the south of Mount Parnassus, through Arachova and Delphi. (This is the itinerary, in the opposite direction, that Roger II must have followed in 1147/48, to lead his forces against Thebes.)

There must have been also a road that connected the Bay of Larymna with the plain of Kopaïs, passing through the settlement of Kokkino and Karditsa (Akraiphnio) and probably linked with the road of Kephissos towards Thebes. To Kopaïs obviously headed also the road from the port of Atalanti, which possibly approached Saint Nicolas at Kambia too, to reach Orchomenos and from there Livadeia.

3. Maritime roads and communication

During the Byzantine era, sea transportations were more important than land ones, mainly regarding long-distance itineraries. Sea transportation was less expensive, though dangerous (storms, piracy) and limited, by law, between April and October.
Due to the geographical position of Boeotia, its ports enabled the region’s connection with Thessaloniki and Constantinople to the east, and with the Ionian Islands, the Italian cities and the Dalmatian coasts to the west, as well with Crete to the south. With the concession of trade privileges to Venice from the end of the 11th c. onwards the relations with the Venetians and their trade grew even stronger, while from 1204 onwards the Venetians practically took control of the navigation along the coastal region of Boeotia. Navigation in the Aegean in an era of insecurity was confined to the crossing of closed waters, such as the North and South Euboean Gulf, the Gulf of Petalioi and the Corinthian Gulf. The Portolans mention Euripos and Atalanti, as stations of the sea route to Thessaloniki.

3.1. Ports

3.1.1. Euripos

In the Middle Byzantine times the important centers in Greece were transferred northwards. Thus, in place of Piraeus, harbor facilities and shipyards of state ships were in Euripos, which constituted an important port for the imperial fleet (βασιλικόν πλώιμον) and where the Venetians gathered their naval forces for the Aegean after 1082. In addition, it was the major port in central Greece regarding the connection with other regions of the empire and an important station en route from West to Constantinople, while it preserved commercial links between the Boeotian hinterland via Thebes and Cyclades, Crete and Thessaloniki. It possessed, according to J. Koder, a north harbor, used probably for local transportation of goods, and a south harbor used mostly as storage and intermediate station between large towns. According to D. Jacoby, however, Euripos had only one harbor.
Other important ports for Boeotia were on its northern shore, at Larymna, at Anthedona, and, to the east, at Avlida. Excavations conducted in the port of Anthedona contributed at dating the harbor’s visible remains to the 4th – 7th century, while the findings of 12th-century Byzantine pottery led to the conclusion that the harbor was in use in the middle Byzantine period as well (present-day Loukissia).

3.1.2. Ports on the Corinthian Gulf

An important port on the northern shores of the Corinthian Gulf during the early Byzantine times, was Antikyra, referred as Steiri in late Byzantine Portolan charts. The bay of Dombraina (Gianitsi), near Thisvi, maintained its importance in the Byzantine times too, while after 1204 the port of Livadostra (Riva d’ Ostria) acquired a special significance regarding the connections with the West. Along the same coastline there were other smaller ports too, that served local trade and transportation of people. These sites had also room for storing agricultural as well as other goods, such as wine, raisins, wheat, wax, honey, salt, salted fish, later distributed to the markets in the hinterland or to commercial ships for exportation from Boeotia.