8

As we know, the Greeks and later also the Romans built street networks to connect their settlements to each other. For me, this fact raised an issue: How did the Greeks and Romans move between their destinations? Did most people use one horse per man? Did they use chariots? Did they have some kind of "public transportation" systems like horses with big wagons for multiple persons?

And yes, I am aware, that travelling per ship was a very common way to travel in the Mediterranean world. But what about travelling for example from Rome to Mediolanum?

8

First off the Greco-Roman world extends over a long time period. Depending on how you measure it that could span a millennium. So the answer to your question changes depending on when you are travelling, (and the season of the year; some seasons you travel by sea, and some you must travel by land) and where you are travelling.

Beyond that, the answer depends on your social class. If you are a plebian, you're going to walk. If you are a slave, and IF you are permitted to travel, you're going to walk. If you are of the Senatorial class, you may ride, or you may be carried. The equestrian class were originally those who were wealthy enough to own/support a horse and armor, and notionally if you were below that threshold, you were not going to ride.

While I cannot prove it, I would be very skeptical of any claim about public transport. Public services are (in general) an artifact of the modern welfare state. Rome provided some public services (the Urban Praetor was responsible for the sewers), but generally those services were provided grudgingly and poorly. There is no fundamental public interest in speeding travel.

I suspect that Romans walked, with very few exceptions.

The following paper models potential transport, and includes speed estimates. Travel in the Greco-Roman World

Most of the travelers along Roman highways were caravans, camels, horses, and donkeys.
Bible History

Travel & Transportion in Ancient Greece is a bit older than you asked but does discuss carts and chariots.

7
  • 2
    If you were a Senator in the city of Rome, you also walked almost all the time. You needed to be seen with your large pack of important clients by the other Senators. Also, all carts and wheeled vehicles were banned from Rome during daylight hours. – Oldcat Jul 25 '14 at 17:23
  • 3
    Excellent point @oldcat, but I think OP was specifically concerned with inter-urban travel. Between cities the prohibitions against daylight carts weren't relevant, and there were fewer clients to see/be see with. – MCW Jul 25 '14 at 17:25
  • 1
    Even then, there was a lot of walking. There is the famous scene when Milo and family met Clodius and his family when both were travelling on the Appian way. Their guards got into a fight and Clodius was killed. Most of the entourages were on foot, if not all. – Oldcat Jul 25 '14 at 17:31
  • 1
    There was at least one public service that was provided in the highest quality and had direct impact on travel: Romans built excellent paved roads. – Michael Jul 27 '14 at 15:16
  • 4
    The roads were primarily for military advantage, not a public service. – MCW Jul 27 '14 at 18:25

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.