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Settlement networks and river navigation in the Rioni—Western Georgia. From Strabo to Jean‐François Gamba and back again

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Abstract Before the advent of steam power and railroads, rivers acted as important highways for trade and transport, allowing for considerable reductions in the time spent moving people and goods inland from the coast. However, ancient written sources provide little information about how this transport was conducted in fluvial systems of local or regional significance, focusing instead on major rivers like the Nile or the Tiber. A good example of this is the Rioni River (known in ancient literature as the Phasis) in western Georgia, which functioned as a crucial route for communication and trade throughout history. Travel reports from 16th to 19th century describe in detail the navigation of this river. This contribution aims to use these sources to provide perspectives on how such a fluvial network might have functioned in antiquity. In addition to suggesting that a transport network must have needed a closely‐knit set of river stations to operate, the examination of these sources has important implications for the approach of archeologists to the study of anthropogenic activities in this riverine environment. It calls for a research methodology that goes beyond the site‐based approach currently followed by modern scholarship and explores riverine settlement patterns from a landscape and network perspective. This article is categorized under: Human Water > Human Water
The river Rioni. The black line indicates Gamba's journey by land from the delta to Kutaisi (author; basemap: © OpenStreetMap contributors)
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The river Rioni at Chaladidi (May 2019—author)
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