Kapuscinski, Ryszard Travels With Herodotus (2007)

The author, a well-respected journalist and travel writer, received a copy of The Histories from his boss as “a present, for the road,” on the occasion of his first trip outside of Poland. Throughout this book, it is evident that the author, Ryszard Kapuśiński, feels a strong connection with Herodotus. The basis of the connection between the two stems from the idea that both are journalists, at least from Kapuśiński’s perspective. Admiring the ancient historian as a relativist traveler, Kapusinski describes Herodotus as “a reporter, an anthropologist, an ethnographer, a historian.”Discussions of tyranny by Herodotus—who was banned for a time in communist Poland—are considered particularly meaningful by the author (who has been posthumously accused of espionage for communist authorities).

Morazzi, Justin. The Way of Herodotus (2008)

Marozzi retraces and recounts the Histories of Herodotus from the shores of ancient Halicarnassus, through the streets of Egypt, and on to war-ravaged Iraq and the monuments of Greece. Marozzi crafts his tale by blending personal experience with ancient history. The author emphasizes the cultural observations of the ancient historian. Like his predecessor, Marozzi indulges in digressions, many of which have little to do with Herodotus, even if they echo the spirit of his writing. Interweaving his own narrative of traveling with passages from Herodotus, the author argues that the monumental achievement of Herodotus is still relevant in the modern world. Herodotus is portrayed as a forward-thinking relativist whose curiosity and tolerance could make our world a better place.

March of the Ten Thousand

Brennan, Shane In the Tracks of the Ten Thousand (2005)

In this book the follows in the footsteps of Xenophon and the “ten thousand” (actually 14,000) soldiers under the command of Cyrus, who was marching against his brother, Artaxerxes, for control of the Persian Empire in 401 BC. This journey was recorded by Xenophon in the Anabasis, which is used to plot the course of Brennan’s own journey. It is a 2500 km trek across Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, and Brennan stays true to the historical account, completing the entire journey himself on foot. Brennan finishes his personal journey in Babylon, where Cyrus intended to end his own journey (before dying at the battle of Kounaxa).

Brennan’s book is particularly important because his own journey happened over the course of 2000 and 2001, only a few years before the war in Iraq began, in which many of the landmarks, cities, and geographical evidence of Xenophon’s journey have since been destroyed. This book is also a unique piece of armchair travel literature because it allows readers to safely navigate their way along Xenophon’s path in a region of the world which has recently become extremely volatile.

This text succeeds because it is both entertaining travel literature and academic historical literature, and because the modern and historical narratives it offers are well balanced with each other. The honesty and openness of Brennan’s style of writing, his testimonies to the joys and the hardships of travel and his observations of geography, culture, and both hostile and hospitable locals, engage readers and make them feel as if they are embarking on this journey with Brennan themselves. Brennan’s relentless determination to complete this journey, despite the difficulties he encounters along the way, is a testament to his commitment to Xenophon’s Anabasis and to antiquity itself.

Alexander the Great

Stein, Aurel On Alexander’s Track to the Indus: Personal Narrative of Explorations on the North-West Frontier of India (1929)

This book tells the story of archaeologist Aurel Stein’s 6-month journey to recreate Alexander the Great’s Indian Campaign. Stein travels to the cities in present-day Pakistan, employing ancient accounts of Alexander’s journey in order to trace the journey in the area. A key discovery during Stein’s journey is that of Alexander’s Aornos (the site of his last great siege). The book is largely academic, and despite precise descriptions of topography it does not exude the personal tone suggested by the title.

Stark, Freya Alexander’s Path (1958)

This travel book attempts to recreate Alexander the Great’s journey from Caria to Cicilia. Since the historical record is thin at times, Stark has assumed the paths of Alexander’s journey using the physical evidence of the landscape when there is no written evidence available. Her determination to accurately reconstruct Alexander’s journey means that she travelled on remote routes instead of main roads, making the sense of the geography difficult for the reader to follow at times, especially when she is travelling through sequences of tiny towns, one after the other. The historical appendix was particularly helpful for this reason. The quotes from Plutarch, Arrian, Lucian, Curtius, and Pliny at the beginnings of chapters were helpful for the historical authority they carry, and the subheadings within chapters provided me with the landmarks needed to keep my place while reading. Aristotle’s influence on Alexander’s mindset and how this affected the course of Alexander’s life and campaigns as a whole was also particularly insightful. This text is itself an important historical record as many of the sites discussed may no longer exist due to modern construction, just as the traditional culture of the people of the surrounding area is dwindling and may soon cease to survive as well. Stark’s descriptions of both the joys and the hardships of travel, especially as a woman travelling alone in the early 1900s, ring with honesty and her ethnographical descriptions as well as those of the surrounding scenery are enlightening, displaying her interest in not just the history of Turkey, but the culture as well. Stark has a romanticized view of Alexander the Great, more akin to the mythical interpretations of him rather than historical ones, attesting that Alexander’s journey resulted from a dream of uniting the world and a brotherhood of man rather than a quest for power. In the conflicted modern world in which we live, Freya Stark’s account of Alexander the Great and his true path may or may not have ever been a reality, yet it is nevertheless a fascinating impression now to imagine.

Wood, Michael In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great (BBC documentary), with complementary book, In the Footsteps of Alexander the Great (both 1997)

Wood retraces Alexander the Great’s campaigns, guiding us through16 countries and over 2000 miles in total. At four hours the documentary is a long one, but it is divided into four episodes for easier viewing: ‘Son of a God,’ ‘Lord of Asia,’ ‘Across the Hindu Kush,’ and ‘To the Ends of the Earth.’ The enthusiasm for the subject shines through, and the historical information is well supplemented by legendary details, notably those preserved through oral tradition. The book version chronicles the same events, both in Alexander’s journey and in Wood’s recreation of it, but with greater documentation. The commentary is educational yet entertaining, and the book reads very quickly because of the enthusiastic style of the prose.

The Argonauts

Severin, Tim The Jason Voyage. The Quest for the Golden Fleece (1986)

Tim Severin undertakes the reconstruction of the ancient Argo, the assemblage of a modern crew of Argonauts, and a harrowing two month journey across the Aegean and towards the mythic Colchis situated in modern day Georgia. Aiming to demonstrate that Jason’s voyage may have actually taken place, the early chapters of the book recount Severin’s journeys around Greece to find a builder capable of creating a modern Argo that adheres to Late Bronze Age methods of construction. As for his modern Argonauts, Severin enlists the help of contacts from previous expeditions and relies heavily on the generosity and curiosity of an international community from Greece, Turkey, and (then Soviet controlled) Georgia. The modern Argonauts anchor in locations that are analogous to the Argo’s own pit stops of the past. From amusingly recreating the boxing match between Pollux and King Amycus to having a crewman, like Orpheus, sing songs for the entire crew, the Argonauts experienced both the pleasures and pains of ancient travel, something to which the blisters of the various crewmen can attest. On the long journey to Colchis, Severin, armed with the Argonautica carefully water-proofed, surveyed the areas through which the ancient Argonauts may have passed through. After battling treacherous currents and almost being lost in a storm, the modern Argo finally reached its destination of modern Georgia. What is perhaps most striking about Severin’s expedition is the warm reception that the Argo received everywhere she travelled. As this truly international journey demonstrates, the stories of the Greek mythic past continue to fascinate many.

The Roman World

Leoni, Umberto and Giovanni Staderini On The Appian Way: A Walk From Rome To Albano (1907)

This book discusses the travels of the authors Umberto Leoni and Giovanni Staderini on the Via Appia from Rome to Albano. The book is divided into two parts: the first provides the reader with a historical background of both the Appia, descriptions of previous itineraries, and various attempts to locate various cities and towns. The second part is an extremely detailed and specific account of the remains of various monuments and landmarks that Leoni and Staderini encountered on their travels accompanied with both ancient and modern sources to help identify and explain the history behind these ruins.

Overall, this book is a useful source if one is interested in the description and history of the archaeological artefacts found on the Via Appia; indeed, examining these ruins seems to have been their motive for making this trip. However, there is little to no description of the actual travelling done by the authors: We know that the authors walked, but nothing else is known about where they stayed, or any of the people they may have met. The sources that Leoni and Staderini would have used to give them their direction and confirm the correct route are also unknown. Horace too is barely mentioned, although he is an important source regarding travel on the Via Appia.

Douglas, Norman Old Calabria (1915)

In this well-written and engaging account of journeys through southern Italy, Douglas not only provides anecdotes about each town he visits, but also opinionated digressions on multiple issues. Context is established with historical background to the region, mainly medieval era to modern times, though periodically ancient Greek or Roman roots of towns are discussed. Horace’s connection to the region (especially the town of Venosa) is mentioned frequently. In the very last chapter Douglas mentions twice in passing that Calypso’s island was once located off the coast of Crotone before being washed away. His sources are Pascale (1796), Castaldi (1842), and Swinburne [see further under the Calypso section of this website].

Wellard, James The Ancient Way (1949)

This book is not a recreation of an ancient journey, but more so a travel memoir. Wellard moves to Italy with his wife in 1946 and buys a farm just five miles outside of Rome that happens to be on the Appian Way. Other than the setting, the book has little to do with the Romans and their ancient road and more to do with the culture shock Wellard experiences with the Italian way of life. The “Ancient Way” is merely a metaphor for Wellard’s personal journey in search of the life he is looking for, rather than a physical journey along the Appian Way. His writing is comprised of a series of short, amusing anecdotes that serve as commentary on Italian social customs verses those of the English in the 1940s, interspersed with descriptions of the luscious Italian landscape. While this book has no connection to ancient Rome, it does offer a charming and personal view of post-WWII Italy.

Green, Peter Expanding the Eye: A First Journey to the Mediterranean (1957)

Well-known classicist Peter Green’s journey to and through Italy and Siciliy is documented in this travelogue. The focus of Green’s writings is largely the sub-cultures of Italian towns and his experience as a British tourist in a post- WWII Europe. The work is not concerned with the localization of Odysseus’ journey.

Hamblin, D. J., and M. J. Grunsfeld The Appian Way: A Journey (1974)

While the book was very informative with an abundance of historical sources and examples, unfortunately it spent too much time providing a background of the Appia and those who travelled on it. It did not focus specifically on the authors’ journey, and often the case was that Hamblin and Grunsfeld would mention one location and then use the rest of the chapter to discuss the history behind any notable monuments, people who have been there, and events. This seemed to constitute the majority of the book, and it is only in the appendix that a full itinerary for the authors’ journey is provided. With regards to the ancient journeys, such as that of Horace, again there are little snippets of various accounts and anecdotes, but there is no specific focus on anyone in particular. The writers spoke with the locals, but it’s not an aspect of the journey that they paid a lot of attention to. Overall, while this book has a lot of information to offer, and would be a good source for historical background, it does not seem to address actual recreation of ancient travel.

Levin, Bernard Hannibal’s Footsteps (1985)

Bernard Levin, a British journalist inspired by a childhood admiration of Hannibal, follows Hannibal’s route on foot, starting from the town of Aigues-Mortes in southern France, walking along the Rhone river and over the Alps, and finishing in Northern Italy. Though Levin discusses the character of the Carthaginian general and references ancient historians when discussing memorable episodes in the invasion, Hannibal is not the primary subject of his book. It primarily consists of commentary on the contemporary culture of the country through which he is journeying (with many aspersions against the French), as well as personal anecdotes.

Lister, C. Between Two Seas: A Walk Down the Appian Way (1992)

Inspired by Horace’s journey to Brindisium (Sat. 1.5), Charles Lister followed the Via Appia from Rome all the way to Brindisi in 1960. The author describes the places and the local people, providing a strong historical background of each area with both modern and ancient sources. The book manuscript was shelved for decades before its publication.

Lister displays an intense interest in Southern Italy as “still untouched, something rough and pagan and back to good old nature… where the hollow laugh of Horace still echoes in caves beside the blue sea.” As one can gather from this quote, the book is not a specialized account of Appia Antica but rather travel writing. Lister walks most of Horace’s route on the Via Appia, only taking a bus or boat when he had no other choice. Very few of the locals that he encounters seem to be aware of Horace’s journey. A construction overseer in Benevento, when the topic of Horace is raised, begins to talk of the remains of a giant found in a nearby cave, who reportedly cooked his guests and serve them to the next travellers. Apparently Horace has been conflated with Polyphemus!

When in Gravina, Lister looks for the Bandusian Fount, the subject of Ode 3.13. Near Taranto Lister manages to locate the river Galesus, mentioned in Ode 2.6. At Venosa, he discusses a statue of Horace that is placed in the square of the poet’s home town. Nonetheless, Horace is not as frequent a topic as one might expect in a book motivated by a reconstruction of his journey. The tone of the travel writing, however, is often reminiscent of Horace: “…the whole place is stinking with the ripping of paper bags and the handing-round of food and the noise of communal devouring…all gargled down with mouthfuls of wine and spitty grins of satisfaction in a few ravenous minutes as the racing bus floats along an effluvia of cheese, garlic and sardines and we all publicly consume each other’s private flavours.”

An interesting postscript describes Lister return to Italy after thirty years.

Portella, Ivana Della (ed.) The Appian Way: From its Foundations to the Middle Ages (2004)

This book is described by its editor as “a travel journal dotted with literary quotations.” There are three authors, Giuseppina Pisani Sartorio, Francesca Ventre, and Ivana Della Portella, each of whom is allotted a segment of the Via Appia to write about. Re-tracing of ancient journeys is not a motive, but there are references to Horace Satires 1.5 and to the travel of Spartacus.All three authors describe locations on the Appian Way, with discussion of their historical significance and ruins/remains/monuments. Medieval and modern history is covered, as well as Roman history. This is an academic work, not travel writing, but the authors clearly travelled (apparently on foot) to the places described. The itinerary is thorough, with every little town that they pass through mentioned. Travel also occurs on the Via Appia Traiana, a counterpart to the Via Appia Antica.

Stothard, Peter The Spartacus Road: A Personal Journey Through Ancient Italy (2010)

Inspired by the story of Spartacus and his rebel army, Peter Stothard attempts to follow Spartacus’ route all around Italy. The book is very informative about ancient Roman history and culture, notably regarding the authors Statius and Horace. Stothard frequently compares Horace’s journey to Brundisium to that of Spartacus’, especially when he travels on the Via Appia. There is little emphasis on Stothard’s own travels, although he is very specific about his itinerary. Of interest is the author’s conversation with a Korean couple who were also following Spartacus’ route. The travel together until they parted ways in Pompeii. Later on in Scilla, the author meets the Korean wife and they continue their discussion of the travels of Spartacus.

Kaster, Robert. The Appian Way: Ghost Road, Queen of Roads (2012)

“What the hell were we doing there?,” begins this travel book composed by a distinguished Roman historian. With little first-hand experience of Italy, but intrigued by the Via Appia, Robert A. Kaster and his wife set out “to explore the Appia for all it was worth.” The re-tracing of ancient journeys such as those of Horace is not a motive, although there are references to him and Spartacus. While this book has plenty of historical background accompanying the monuments and landmarks that are described, it is also travel literature with descriptions of the places they stayed, the people they met, and their modes of transportation. There were two separate itineraries, each of which was discussed in separate chapters. The first focused on walking the first nine miles of the Via Appia Antica near Rome, and the second detailed travel by car from Brindisi back to Rome.