I am writing a story about a soldier who survived an ambush and he hid several days. Then he walked to a village. While he was on the way (walking on a road) he saw a caravan ...

So my question is: in the Roman era, did the caravans or passing people riding horses simply give strangers a ride if they had the same destination? (generally speaking)

I mean, in our modern era auto-stop is common in general. Many trucks would stop for strangers. At least that's what we see on TV. In ancient times bandits were everywhere but also in our modern era, a criminal can hijack a truck that contains a lot of food.

Anyway, would someone stop for this soldier? Or didn't people give lifts in Roman times?

  • 2
    @MarkC.Wallace seems to be an alternative name for hitchhiking.
    – Semaphore
    Apr 26, 2015 at 22:33
  • @mark c.wallace .. I mentioned in roman era and in a road between the forest .. if you need more info tell me . I mean by Auto-stop .. when a vehicle or a truck pick a stranger from the road and drive him to a destination for free.
    – Baalback
    Apr 26, 2015 at 22:41
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    I'm pretty sure some hitchhiking would have happened (anywhere, really), but I don't know if we could possibly measure its frequency in any meaningful way.
    – Semaphore
    Apr 26, 2015 at 23:14
  • 2
    Still to broad. Rome spans a continent and a millennium. When Hannibal was active, or during the year of five Emperors, or the civil war, probably not.
    – MCW
    Apr 26, 2015 at 23:28
  • Autostop means hitchhiking, at least in Italian. Then probably in other romance languages too.
    – Matthaeus
    Apr 30, 2015 at 9:30

3 Answers 3


Short answer: no. In general, nobody got "rides" in the ancient world because there were no rides, everybody walked for the most part. Carts were only used to carry cargo, not passengers. You would not want to try to ride in a cart because they had no suspension. Try this: get in a wheelbarrow with a wooden (or iron) wheel (not a pneumatic wheel) and have a friend push you over a cobblestone street. You will not want to repeat that experience.

Of course, sometimes people were carried. For example, if you could not walk and it was essential you get somewhere you might be transported lying down in a cart. Be prepared for serious pain. Normally the only thing biological transported in carts were food and corpses.

Another option was the Roman litter--basically a couch carried by slaves--depicted below:

Roman litter

Rich people used them. I doubt your average senator would be willing to get out and walk while a vagrant took his place. Some self-indulgent snobs were known to ride all the way to Pompeii in a litter. Glad I am not one of their slaves. Such a long trip would require a LOT of rest stops.

In ancient times horses were rarely used for long-distance travel because their horses were relatively small and their saddles were inferior, not even having stirrups. Modern saddles are actually very sophisticated items believe it or not. Roman saddles wore the horse down much faster. For this reason the cavalry actually walked most of the time. You only got on the horse for the battle or for a maneuver. Try riding a pony bareback or with just a blanket and see how far you can go. That will give you a sense for it.

Sometimes horses were used for travel in relays between stations. This was mostly for military messenging and was VERY expensive. Also, there were some special horse-riding cultures like Mongols and Scythians of various types. These people used specialized saddles and specially bred horses. Also, these men tended to be light and small of stature. I assume your story does not take place in northern Asia.

Another beast of burden was the ass, appropriate only for (light) women and children and only for limited amounts of time. A boy might get a ride on an ass from a stranger who had no load. Other than that, you are hoofing it.

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    Your answer is filled with interesting details. Especially about the horses. so that's explain why mongoles had advantages with horses because no one was able to travel with horses like them ...as you explained.
    – Baalback
    Apr 27, 2015 at 13:59
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    Wonderful answer! There is one more point to make: Roman roads were property of the State with numerous checkpoints where a civilian traveler had to produce a permit for using that road. Even if the soldier in your story somehow managed to hitch a ride in a bumpy cargo cart he would get intercepted at the first checkpoint: given the ambush the local checkpoint would presumably manned by hostiles. BTW, those checkpoint were another reason why a passer-by would not offer the soldier a ride: if discovered both the soldier and the cart owner would likely be executed.
    – Michael
    Apr 27, 2015 at 21:24
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    Your info on equines is very wrong. Ann Hyland's Equus is the book for Roman horses, donkeys & mules. Mules and donkeys were used as regular mounts for men over long distances, just as in the 19th C Mideast. Horses of this period averaged 14-15hh, not small, w/large breeds like the Nisaeans and 16-17hh steppe horses excavated (Akhal-Tekes by breed). Mongols are irrelevant t this time: excavated "Scythians" averaged taller & heavier than classical Greeks & Romans (Renate Rolle The World of the Scythians)
    – Zither13
    Apr 30, 2015 at 8:34
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    The Gauls used saddles: the Romans did not. This was a choice, because they had hired clibanarii who used treed saddles w/stirrups. Stirrups are useful in combat, but not necessarily the most comfortable for long-distance travel, esp if you keep them down at the best fighting length. The airs above the ground at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna are performed w/o stirrups & new riders train w/o them to give them a good seat. Classical riders also selected horses to have a well-padded back (Xenophon, On Horsemanship) not like modern horses.
    – Zither13
    Apr 30, 2015 at 8:45
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    @Michael except he shows no references and is wrong in several points.
    – CGCampbell
    Apr 30, 2015 at 13:24

What period? What place? A soldier for whom? Attacked by whom? Going where?

If this guy is a Gaul ambushed by political enemies of his family in the time of Julius Caesar, near his home, it's a different story than a Legionnaire in North Africa during the Punic War. Starting w/road regs differ.

First, there were different classes of roads. The ones you think of, made all of stone, last for thousands of years, are primary military roads. They existed to march the Legions on. In many places, there simply wasn't one, and the local road was improved dirt. Traffic on the big roads was limited, to prevent wear and tear. Cartwheels are the worst, so only occasional light buggies or official wagons got the go. Otherwise, everyone was walking or riding on an animal.

Because of this, outside of cities, except for short hauls, merchandise moved on sumpter beasts, not wagons. So your caravan is a good choice: merchants and guards on horses leading pack mules or pack horses.

Your character might ask permission to tag along. The chief merchant might okay this if he doesn't look dodgy. Thing is, most horses can't carry two riders: they aren't up to the strain. There would have to be a horse free for him

He might volunteer to join the guard in exchange for food & a mount until they get to X.


Lionel Casson, Travel in the Ancient World

Jack Coggins, The Horseman's Bible

US Army, Field Manual #25-7 on sumpter mules & horses

Ann Hyland, Equus


I mean, in our modern era auto-stop is common in general. Many trucks would stop for strangers. At least that's what we see on TV. In ancient times bandits were everywhere but also in our modern era, a criminal can hijack a truck that contains a lot of food.

Hitchhiking is a practice emerged with the development of capitalism. Indeed, the person driving a truck is usually a hired worker, not the truck's owner. Thus, the truck driver has at their disposal resources much greater than what they need for transporting themselves, and which value they only vaguely understand. Thus, they don't mind sharing.

This was not the case throughout much of the human history, where travelling on a horse or in a carriage was indicative of both wealth and social status. A rider wouldn't give a ride to a person they despise due to their social origin, skin color, etc. Somebody of a close social rank, e.g., traveling on a donkey's back, would not share, because it would strain the donkey - their main treasure and possibly also the source of income for the whole family.

This reasoning also applies to someone giving you a ride in their car in modern times - that a person of humble social origins may be rich enough to own much more than what they need for transportation is again the result of capitalism and industrial revolution (most people in the world is not that rich, contrary to the skewed impression one gets by living in western wirld.) One is still less likely to get a ride with someone of a higher social standing - e.g., in a presidential motorcade or with a Hollywood star - unless their rider decides to demonstrate their closeness to simple people, for the sake of public relations.

  • That's your personal opinion; not factual. It doesn't answer the question.
    – Jos
    Sep 29, 2023 at 10:20
  • @Jos I don't think that the development of capitalism and new type if socioeconomic relations in 18-19th centuries is a matter of personal opinion.
    – Roger V.
    Sep 29, 2023 at 10:22
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    Which has no relevance whatsoever to the question.
    – Jos
    Sep 29, 2023 at 11:25
  • @Jos I think historical forces and social developments are as much history as specific events, personalities, and old uniforms. But I appreciate you for explaining your downvote.
    – Roger V.
    Sep 29, 2023 at 12:41
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    Hitchhiking existed in the Soviet Union which doesn't support your argument. You don't need capitalism to have hitchhiking. What you need is an industrial base that can produce vehicles relatively cheaply and vehicles with at least two seats or at least a tray in the case of a truck. Oct 1, 2023 at 7:30

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