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?


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.

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    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
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    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. – Mark C. Wallace Jul 25 '14 at 17:25
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    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
  • 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
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    The roads were primarily for military advantage, not a public service. – Mark C. Wallace Jul 27 '14 at 18:25

Chariots, LOL, I want a chariot. Well dude, sorry to disappoint you, but they WALKED as amazing as that may seem. Unless you were a child or old guy with bad legs, in which case you rode an ass. The problem with asses is that they are as slow as molasses and they can get ornery if you overburden them. Like horses they are insanely uncomfortable if you ride them more than an hour or two.

Before saddles were invented, horses could only be ridden relatively short distances, and in any case, were only for the rich. Try riding a horse for a few hours with only a blanket or bare back. I guarantee you will not repeat that experience. In fact, if you can ride a horse for more than an hour with only a blanket or Roman saddle you are a better man than I. Modern saddles, which were originally developed by the Mongolians, have a very special frame and padding of ingenious design, and stirrups, The Roman saddles were greatly inferior to modern saddles and much more uncomfortable to both the rider and the horse.

Even with a modern saddle, long distance travel is uncomfortable. My great, great, great grandfather, who was in the 7th Cavalry rode all the way from Texas to Pennsylvania on horseback with no rest after his tour of duty was up, and this was considered a feat of endurance worthy of his badass reputation.

REALLY rich people got carried around on litters, called lecticae.

You could also travel by cart, drawn either by oxen or horses, but this was a VERY jarring ride because the carts had no springs; basically an act of desperation. Generally, people only did this if they were so sick they could not walk. Riding in an axel-only cart on a cobblestone or dirt road will make you wish you were dead.

Chariots are actually a pretty good way to travel, but you have to stand up, and they were very expensive. For this reason they were more of a war vehicle for the elite rather than a travel device. Romans did not use them significantly.

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    I think your ancestor's horse is the one who deserves the badass reputation. – Ben Crowell Jul 26 '14 at 2:15

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