History of Europe

The first Postal Service in history

Last updated:2022-07-25

If this year Correos celebrates its 300th anniversary, when in 1716 the Spanish State officially assumed the service and with powers throughout the territory, to find the first postal service in history as such, one would have to go back to ancient Rome.

One consequence of the construction of the Roman roads was that it greatly speeded up communications between the different Roman provinces and the city. And although Julius Caesar already had a group of horsemen who served him as messengers, especially to deliver his victories to the capital, as such a postal service system was established in the days of the Empire... it was the cursus publicus .

Post offices were established in the most important cities and the network of this communications system extended as far as the Roman roads. The use of this service was restricted to official mail and was financed by the state treasury. The mutationis and the mansions they were the strategic points where they could change mounts and they had to be prepared with fresh animals, veterinarians, fodder, food and lodging to satisfy the needs of the service. In addition, being an official service and unlike what happened with the rest of the travelers who used them, for the postmen these services were free. Of course, to avoid fraud and prevent crooks -because there always were- from taking advantage of everything for free, the postmen carried a diploma that accredited them as such. It is estimated that the distance that a postman could travel a day was just over 80 kilometers.

As it was such a restrictive service, in fact the people had to be satisfied with getting the news to friends or acquaintances who left on a trip, the wealthiest families had to make do with the tabellarii , private messengers. Following Diocletian's reforms in the 4th century, the service was divided into two sections:the cursus velux , for the rapid transport of mail, and the cursus clabularis , for heavy goods and the trip of high officials. This postal system was maintained until the 6th century during the Byzantine Empire.

Italian stamp tribute to the first postal service

Another variety of this system, also introduced by Diocletian and "dressed" in personal mail, were the agents in rebus . Postmen personally selected by the emperor and trained to… the art of espionage . With civil and criminal immunity, and under the umbrella of the cursus publicus , they kept the emperor informed of everything that was cooked in the Empire. In the words of the sixth-century historian Procopius:

[…] in order to obtain the quickest information on the movements of the enemy in each territory, seditions or unforeseen events in cities, and the actions of the governors and other officials of all parts of the Empire, and also in order that the tributes arrived without danger or delay, the emperors established a rapid service of public couriers (agentes in rebus).

Correos also issued a representative stamp of that first postal service in 1984 on the occasion of the World Philately Exhibition