It should be simple: you want to explain a scene of people coming right into a town for market. Or possibly it’s just a chance encounter on a roadway with some merchants. Or maybe it’s peasants ~ above their way to market, invited down with hay or squash. What room they transporting it in?

Answering the inquiry isn’t a issue of a couple of minutes or also a couple of hours. There are whole publications on this topic of wagons and transport, and the answers room complicated. Eh, five well. Welcome to the center Ages, right? every little thing here is complicated.

You are watching: Medieval merchant cart

But for the writer, complex is whereby the fun is.


Carts come first, climate wagons, climate trucks.

Even that simple statement is tricky, for “truck” is a verb the goes way back, at the very least to the at an early stage 17th century, however it was not provided in the sense of a car for carrying heavy loads until the late 18th century. For this reason that part is easy: no van in the middle Ages.

Carts space the oldest form of fabricated transport. They show up with the more quickly traces that cities, traction by all sorts of pets from dog to humans, and also from goats to horses. A handcart is probably the oldest form, due to the fact that all other varieties of carts require some type of harness for the animal. They’re also the cheapest, for this reason if your personalities are negative (and if your people is quasi-medieval, climate 80% or an ext of your characters are in fact poor), then they’re most likely to be making use of a handcart. A handcart is really little more than a variation on the wheelbarrow.


Carts to be in fact used for all sorts of unique purposes. In these photos we watch a dare to organize a baking oven. Many households, especially in towns, walk not have actually an oven–they purchase bread from a baker. However as the picture shows, in part cases, the baker might make home calls.

Don’t underestimate the energy of the handcart. Pioneers crossing the American West went the whole distance advertise a handcart, a distance of around 1300 miles.


The Mormon handcart suppliers are a famous instance that this, whole trains the handcarts, pulled by straightforward human power.


Wagons are more complicated. There space some in history important elements you might want to keep in mind; specifics spokes, wheels, and also suspension. Acquisition the simplest first, you can forget about suspension. Springs in all develops are post-medieval, and even suspension using leather belts is an extremely late (14thc) and expensive.

Spokes were a good innovation the the old world, replacing the simpler, cheaper however far less resilient wheel of hard wood. Roman wagons had actually ten spokes, however the number might vary. The wheels themselves were wood, yet they might be rimmed v metal. Many importantly, the hubs were steel in old Rome, but it shows up medieval wagons offered wood hubs. These wear out much much more quickly.


Land move was far much more expensive than shipping, maybe ten times more, so merchants or militaries needing come move goods over long ranges used water whenever they could. The wagon was better for short haul, speak a hundred mile or less. Longer was possible, of course, but you’d much better bring fix kits.

Roads were poor anyway, and also every bump to be transmitted straight up come the cargo. This has actually some amazing consequences. For example, beer doesn’t do well shaken up, whereas alcohol does just fine. This is one variable (there to be others) in why beer was such a neighborhood product while wine to be an international trade item. Another an effect was that paved roads were hell on wheel (sorry, couldn’t resist). A cobblestone street was choose a jackhammer, tearing personal wheel rims, break axles and spokes, and shaking the cargo. We room accustomed to thinking of paved roads as a authorize of Progress, and also that middle ages roads gift unpaved was a authorize of being technologically backward. It remained in a way, however it was likewise not really handy to have paved roadways until us had occurred suspension systems that could stand up to the pounding. Also those famous Roman roadways had wide paths on one of two people side for wagons. The paved component was for the footsoldiers.


Spokes were one innovation, but probably the most necessary was the harness. So long as the beast of load was attached come the wagon by wrapping something approximately the neck, move was severely limited. You would choke the bad thing. The harness move the weight down, around the shoulders and chest, which lets the ox or equine put its full strength into the pull. The harness was among the good technological advancements of the center Ages.

Carriages and Other Newfangled Devices

“Carriage” was acquired from dare (“car” is one alternate type of “cart”); originally it denoted the means of transport–á la dare = carriage. Ultimately it designated a particular kind the four-wheeled car intended particularly for transporting people. Leather suspension was used at first, but in the 17th century came the good innovation of feather suspension, which to be nothing an ext than curved bars of metal on i m sorry the carriage human body rode, bending under and back up. What luxury! Why, one might even take trip in comfort on city streets.


Then over there is the tumbrel, which is indelibly attached to the French Revolution, but which in truth was an simple two-wheeled farmer’s cart. Its large wheels and also high sides to be perfect for carrying hay or various other harvested goods. Or traitorous enemies of the République.


With the exploration of rubber and also rubber processing, wheels could be placed on the made the ride even far better <646>. Between metal hubs, rubber tires and spring suspension (coiled springs), the ride ended up being smooth together … if not silk, then perhaps cordouroy. And so we deserve to return come trucks, which was a hatchet in use before the breakthrough of the internal burning engine. In the 19th century it was quite typical to view trucks traction by horses.

By the 19th century, we have a large array of rolled transports, consisting of chaises, charabancs and coaches. Because modern background is not my field, I’ll leave off there.

For the Writer

Let’s establish this at the outset: high-speed wagon chases are best out.

Which is another way of saying that a wagon is not likely to accounting the foreground of her story. The information below is practically literally background—just a information to use below or there. Even so, i’m hoping the you might have the ability to use one of those details in an amazing way. You can imagine an i turned down or grounding wagon, a runaway, even a website traffic jam. Among my favorite wagons is Nordic, in which the body of the wagon could be lifted turn off the wheels in winter time, converting it to a sled.

One kind of wagon you might not think around right turn off is the medieval pageant wagon. This were provided in middle ages cities on which to phase plays or other public demonstrations, and also were additionally used through traveling theater troupes as the way to bring their phase from one town to the next. Medieval pageants, by the way, provided vital source of occupational for artists. Even famous ones prefer da Vinci or Michelangelo gained at least occasional work-related from paint sets or developing these pageant wagons.


I administer one image here, however if you execute a find you will find a number, some incredibly elaborate. The point, of course, to be to show off the skill and wealth that a specific guild, abbey, or town, rather choose floats in a contemporary parade. Such a pageant wagon might do an excellent work together a Trojan horse or the setup for a spectacular assassination. Or a romantic proposal. We don’t need to be all blood and also murder, carry out we?

I’d love come hear if this article has sparked any type of ideas of your own.

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Further Reading

Gerhold, Dorian. Road Transport prior to the Railways, Cambridge 1993

Gies, Frances & Gies, Joseph. Cathedral Forge and also Waterwheel: an innovation and invention in the center Ages, Harper Perennial edition (Paperback), new York, 1995

Gimpel, Jean. The medieval Machine, brand-new York, Penguin Books, 1977

Leighton, Albert C. Transportation and Communication in beforehand Medieval Europe ad 500-1100, David & Charles, 1972

E.L. Skip Knox is the creator of the fantasy people called Altearth, a location where magic is real, monster roam the land, and also the Roman empire never fell.