Railroad History

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The father of the railway: The Diolkos

The Diolkos was a paved trackway near Corinth in Ancient Greece which was used to transport boats across the Isthmus of Corinth. Instaed of circumnavigating around the Peloponnese peninsula, ancient Corinthian ships were quickly transported across the Isthmus.

The Diolkos had two main uses. The first was the transfer of supplies and goods. In times of war it also became a preferred means of speeding up naval campaigns. Approximately 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 miles in length, it is looked at the as the predecessor to the modern railway. Transportation across the Isthmus lasted from approximately 600 B.C. to 150 years after the birth of Christ.

Greek Warfare

Greek historical documentation sites that the Diolkos played an important role in ancient naval warfare. Greek historians note several occasions from the 5th to the 1st century BC when warships were hauled across the Isthmus. In 428 BC, the Spartans planned to transport their warships over the Diolkos to the Saronic Gulf to threaten Athens,while later in the Peloponnesian War, in 411 BC, they carted over a squadron heading quickly for operations at Chios.

In 220 BC, Demetrius of Pharos had a fleet of about fifty vessels dragged across the Isthmus to the Bay of Corinth by his men. Three years later, a Macedonian fleet of 38 vessels was sent across by Philip V, while the larger warships sailed around Cape Malea. 

After his victory at Actium in 31 BC, Octavian advanced as fast as possible against Marc Antony by ordering part of his 260 Liburnians to be carried over the Isthmus. In 868 AD, the Byzantine admiral Niketas Oryphas had his whole fleet of one hundred dromons dragged across the Isthmus in a quickly executed operation, but this took place most likely on a different route.

Greek Commerce

The trackway was used and maintained long after its construction which indicates that merchants used the trackway for their ships instead of a longer and potentially dangerous trek around the Greek Cape Malea.

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