“Muleteers” and Equines Through History
The muleteer—in Greek, αγωγιάτης (agogiatis) or κυρατζής (kyratzis)—has historically served a vital function in Hydra Island’s transport: of goods, in the old days of large casks of wine (in askia), and of people, such as doctors visiting patients, government officials performing their duties, and so forth. Greek horsemen are skilled professionals, often having learned the trade from their fathers or other family members from a young age.
The drivers use mules and donkeys, as well as horses, in their work, and until the arrival of wagons and trucks in the 1930s, these animals provided the dominant mode of transport for both people and products. In Hydra, because the island is a protected national monument where all but a few essential vehicles (trucks to collect garbage and move extremely heavy loads, an ambulance) are banned, equines remain the main form of land transport even today.
In the past, for his services the muleteer (agogiatis) received a payment, called agoi (αγώϊ), set according to the route (στραθιά—strathia) and sometimes according to the weight of the goods transported. In those years, the agogiatis, usually a farmer himself, could in this way supplement his income from agriculture and earn a relatively good living. However the job of agogiatis is now included in the category of Greek traditional professions that are disappearing, and only intelligent governmental and municipal policies can ensure their survival.
Dramatic statistics show that this profession is under threat not only in Greece but in other Mediterranean countries, where motorized transport had replaced the use of equines across the board. The island of Hydra, however, has stood firm against this trend. By a decision of the municipal council, we have no private cars, lorries, buses, or motorbikes; even bicycles are banned within the town limits. Hydriotes conduct the vast majority of their land transport with mules, horses, and donkeys.
Despite the economic crisis and everyday problems, Hydra’s horsemen still work in a profession with a dignified past and have dreams for a promising future. The island of Hydra provides a unique model of human-animal interaction and sustainable development and serves as an example to the rest of the world.