Since the time of Emperor Augustus, who established the cursus publicus, the postal system designed to control and manage the vast territory of the Empire, to allow mail to move profitably within the Roman road network, it had been necessary to find somewhere to stay overnight, find refreshment and change horses. These needs were met by the mansiones, unique structures, whose name derives from the Latin verb manere, meaning to stop or to stay.
They were placed at various distances from each other, but could generally be reached by travellers within a day’s walk.
The mansio had an articulated structure, similar to that of a small village, the vicus, which was often used to house imperial or military officials in transit who found taverns and workshops, bedrooms, and spacious stables for their steeds. Often the mansio was also equipped with a spa complex, testifying to the importance of body care for the Romans, even during “business trips”.
The only post station from the imperial age so far found in Sicily is Sofiana, where thermal bath buildings can be recognised.
The most recent archaeological studies and investigations in the first decade of this century made it possible to recognise the Sophiana site as the site of a medium-sized Roman city. The urban agglomeration, with regular roads, dwellings and services, expanded around the original nucleus of the mansio, with maximum development around the 4th century AD, in the Constantinian era, after a period of abandonment at the end of the 3rd century, probably due to destructive natural events.