I was reading the Wikipedia entry for the War of the Bavarian Succession, and it said (my emphasis):

For some historians, the War of the Bavarian Succession was the last of the old-style Cabinet Wars (Kabinettskriege) of the Ancien Régime in which troops maneuvered while diplomats traveled between capitals to resolve their monarchs' complaints.

I am curious about the emphasized information, how long did it take to travel, for example between Berlin and Vienna for a diplomat? What mode of travel was likely taken by a diplomat? It seems to be a high-ranking position, so maybe they took the convenient (but not fastest) mode of transportation. I imagine it was very difficult to conduct diplomacy when it takes days (or weeks?) to send diplomats and get feedback.

  • 6
    Interesting question. Possibly an answer can be found in memoirs of the era. A point about the difficulty of diplomacy then and now, though - back then ambassadors and special envoys had plenipotentiary powers and often would conclude treaties based on their own judgement. The treaty would of course need to be ratifiedx by the government later, but the point is that verty little consultation, if at all, was necessary between the envoy and the government during the negotiations stage. So it was not much more difficult than today, I think. Jul 29, 2013 at 8:30
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    @FelixGoldberg Good point, I heard that too about plenipotentiary powers. But in this case, the Wikipedia article specifically said that "diplomats traveled between capitals to resolve their monarchs' complaints", so I guess in this case travel was necessary
    – Louis Rhys
    Jul 29, 2013 at 8:57
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    Sure, some amount of travel was necessary. I was just pointing out that there wasn't as much shuttling back and forth as is common in modern diplomacy. Jul 29, 2013 at 9:00
  • Two diplomats active around that time whose memoirs might tell us something are: Graf Jakob Friedrich von Rohde (envoy in Vienna around this period) and Freiherr Josef von Ried (ambassador in Berling around this time). I wasn't able to find much by either of them.
    – kmlawson
    Jul 29, 2013 at 17:44
  • 1
    For a very rough estimate, it seems reasonable to assume a speed similar to walking speed on modern roads or maybe a bit faster. Google maps says you can walk it in 121 hours, so something like 10 days seems reasonable. Jul 29, 2013 at 18:11

5 Answers 5


Several memoirs of the period suggest that the Berlin to Vienna journey very likely could be completed in 12 days or less. This matches up fairly closely to @Eugene's estimate of two weeks.

However, one account suggests that someone with more limited resources and unexpected delays could easily take much more time.

The route they [1,2,3,4] usually seem to take is the following with locations mentioned in some accounts in [ ]:

  • Potsdam (where Frederick II held audience with diplomats) or Berlin (where diplomatic corps was based)
  • [Leipsic (Leipzig)]
  • [Meissen]
  • Dresden
  • [Peterswald[a] (Petrovice) - cross into Austria]
  • Prague
  • Vienna

Vienna to Prague Six days

William Wraxall (Wikipedia) claims to have left Dresden 24 November by carriage (he doesn't say how many horses), and arrived in Vienna on 30 November (probably 450-500km). “On my journey to Bohemia, Moravia, and Upper Austria, I only stopped to change horses” [1:297] He also claims that of this, he made the stretch between Dresden to Prague (probably 150-175km) in 38 hours [1:296].

However, this leaves us with the stretch between Dresden and Berlin, which is probably 180-200km directly north, but a number of accounts seem to suggest that rather than direct, they travelled via Leipzig (perhaps 275-300km)

Berlin to Leipzig Three Days

A number of travelers going from Berlin to Vienna seem to pass through Leipzig rather than go directly south. This does not mean that diplomats didn't take a more direct and faster route but gives us an outer estimate. Joseph Marshall (Joseph Hill) writes of a departure from Berlin on 1 June, and arrival in Leipzig on 3 June. [3:287] He goes on via Meissen to Dresden, but not clear how long it took since he appears to have stayed in Leipzig and Meissen for a time. Warning: This account may be, as many travel books of this kind in earlier times, a compilation of other circulating accounts posing as a single narrative and the contents should be treated with care. See this H-Habsburg entry.

Even if the diplomat traveled the "long way" via Leipzig, and the Leipzig to Dresden portion took the same amount of time as the longer Leipzig to Berlin portion, this still yields 6+3+3=12 days. If diplomats took a much more direct road from Dresden to Berlin, this time would likely be shorter.

On the Other Hand

Frederick II, who strictly limited interaction with diplomats who he kept in Berlin while holding special interviews in Potsdam, seems to have treated his own diplomatic service as a form of "covert taxation of the nobility" [5:100] which lead to the (claimed) impoverishment of some of his envoys, including Graf Jakob Friedrich von Rohde in Vienna.

If you didn't have good resources to pay off all the post expenses and "extra-post" expenses and other challenges and have carriages with fast horses, the trip from Vienna to Berlin could take much longer. One 1773 anonymous account reports that the Prague to Berlin segment alone took 12 days due to delays.[2:179-181]

Calculations of stage coach travel distances, etc. around the world are very useful for determining the outer bounds of what is physically possible. However, to the degree possible, we should try to answer questions like these based on historical sources when these are available. Some of course, may yield less plausible claims:

There is a claim of the fast trip of a courier from Berlin to Vienna in an alleged 48 hours in 1783:

From Vienna, where recruits are raising, and preparations for an approaching war are carrying on, with the utmost activity, and where the workmen are busy night and day in the arsenals. Add to all this, that a courier arrived at that city lately from Berlin, who had performed the journey of 144 leagues in 48 hours; the importance of whose dispatches was evident from the bearer's having nearly sacrificed his life to deliver them speedily to his Imperial Majesty, and from the orders immediately sent to all the troops in Upper Austria, as well as those in Hungary and Bohemia, to hold thesmelves in readiness to march on the first notice.[6:167]

It does not hurt to be skeptical of a claim like this and might be good to compare with similar claims in contemporary accounts of how far horses could travel in urgent situations. @Eugene's calculations suggests that this number is highly unlikely.

Sources cited as [Source Number:Page Number]


  1. 1800 William Wraxall, Memoirs of the courts of Berlin, Dresden, Warsaw, and Vienna, in the years 1777, 1778, and 1779. Archive.org

  2. 1774 The Annual Register, or a View of the history, politicks and literature of the year Gbooks

  3. 1773 Travels through Holland, Flanders, Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Lapland, Russia, the Ukraine, and Poland, in the years 1768, 1769, and 1770 Gbooks

  4. 1779 A View of Society and Manners in France, Switzerland, and Germany: With Anecdotes Relating to Some Eminent Characters. By a Gentleman, who Resided Several Years in Those Countries, Volume 2 Gbooks

  5. H. M. Scott The Emergence of the Eastern Powers, 1756-1775 Gbooks

  6. 1783 The Gentleman's Magazine: And Historical Chronicle. Volume III, Gbooks

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    48 hours for Berlin-Vienna (travel distance anywhere from 600 to 1000 kilometers) in 1783? Forget it. Mongols were the best horsemen of all time, their record stood at 193 km/day. In any case the question did not ask about couriers but about diplomats. Jul 29, 2013 at 9:52
  • Thanks for the comment Eugene! I am just as skeptical of the 48 hour number, it does seem incredible. Hope someone can use it as a starting point to find and compare more contemporary claims and routes. Important to combine your calculations (which look great) with some more sources. The other answer here using ORBIS is another nice contribution. Great to see a good variety of approaches here!
    – kmlawson
    Jul 29, 2013 at 10:52
  • Could it be accounted for by the practice of changing horses at post stages? It was a practice that was reasonably common and invented by the Mongols.
    – Kobunite
    Jul 29, 2013 at 15:33
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    +1 This answer, in its latest version, is the best and deserves the green checkmark. Jul 29, 2013 at 20:40
  • Post horses were hardly invented by the Mongols. The Persians under Cyrus had them and probably were not the first either.
    – Oldcat
    Oct 31, 2014 at 20:12

Straight-line distance from Berlin to Vienna is 523 kilometers or 325 miles according to Wolfram Alpha. In a car traveling at a constant speed of 55 miles per hour (ca. 88 km/h), total travel time would be 5 hours and 55 minutes. However, roads are not perfectly straight. According to Google Maps the shortest route is 678 km long and you would need at least six hours and 43 minutes by car.

Various sources state that the condition of roads in the late 18th century permitted experienced horseback riders to travel distances up to 100 kilometers per day. But you would need to change horses along the route several times. So the theoretical shortest time, assuming that the road then was as long as it is today, would be seven days.

Lithography from early 19th century showing stagecoach mired in mud

Reproduction of German lithography (c. 1820) found on http://www.zeitspurensuche.de/04/post2.htm#Unfall

However, that is unrealistic. Roads were in varying condition then, there was no unified network. The total road distance surely was closer to 1000 km than to 678 km. All sorts of mishaps could occur along the way. To get from Berlin to Vienna you had to traverse a patchwork of principalities and fiefdoms, some of which stopped you to demand that you pay a customs fee.

You are probably right that a diplomat would have preferred to travel by carriage than on horseback. That would have limited them to a daily maximum of 80 kilometers, likely much less. So in my opinion, two weeks is probably a realistic estimate of the travel time for diplomats between Berlin and Vienna in the late 18th century.

For comparison: In the New World, going along the nearly straight Jersey Turnpike from New York City to Philadelphia entails driving about 100 miles (~170 kilometers), an hour and 43 minutes by car. In the late 18th century this trip required three days by (fast) stage coach according to Stage Coach and Tavern Days (1900). However, this was a well-established, competitive run and one should expect long hauls between less frequently paired destinations to last disproportionately longer.

Roman road column, Aoste region

Roman road column, Aoste region, present-day Italy.

By Lysippos (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

Keep in mind that the most important variable limiting travel speed was not the quality of horses (more or less constant through the ages) or carriage technology (improvements made largely affected comfort, not speed) but the condition of the roads. No major road building had been done in Europe since the Roman era. What remained of Roman paved roads was in disrepair, and the deeply rutted dirt roads were much worse.

Postal distance column in Saxon town of Annaberg, 1727

Postal distance column in Saxon town of Annaberg, 1727. Note the distance to various destinations being given in "hours". In fact, a postal "hour" was a fixed length of 4.531 kilometers, often called a half mile (yes, the Saxon "mile" then was 9.062 kilometers long!)

By Oxensepp (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC-BY-SA-3.0-2.5-2.0-1.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

A comparison table lists the speeds achievable for horse-drawn carriages:

(ca. 1700) approx. 2 km/h 20- 30 km per day
(ca. 1800) approx. 3 km/h 30- 40 km per day
(ca. 1815) approx. 4 km/h 40- 50 km per day
(ca. 1830) approx. 6 km/h 60- 75 km per day
(ca. 1850) approx. 10 km/h 100-120 km per day

The fivefold increase in coach travel speed from 1700 to 1850 was almost entirely due to the improvements made in the quality of overland roads. Keep in mind that a human walks at a typical speed of four to five kilometers per hour. In the Hollywood movies, when you see horse-drawn carriages they usually move at a brisk pace... but that is not what it was like for most travelers then.

(I'm actually a bit skeptical of that table, the figures for the early years are probably too low. My estimate is that a diplomat in the service of the Holy Roman Emperor could cover up to 60 kilometers of ground in a day of travel by horse-drawn carriage.)

  • I can't believe 2 km/h... it's slower than going by foot
    – Voitcus
    Jul 29, 2013 at 20:09
  • @Voitcus Right, as I said I don't believe the 2 km/h, either. There is a reason, I think, that the 18th-century Saxons defined a "mile" as two "hours" or 9.062 kilometers. One would not be wrong, in my opinion, to take an average speed of 4.5 km/h as a likely travel speed achievable in good conditions, though actual results would vary on a given day. Jul 29, 2013 at 20:55
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    Re the saxon mile; the Scandivian mile to date is 10 km.
    – gerrit
    Jul 29, 2013 at 22:02
  • Do you have a source for the bolded portion of this statement: "... permitted experienced horseback riders to travel distances up to 100 kilometers per day. But you would need to change horses along the route several times. "? I dispute the need for several, or even any, mount changes when riding a fit, well-tended horse at a trot instead of the gallop. This is not the Pony Express through Indian country being discussed. Jul 30, 2013 at 0:28
  • @PieterGeerkens Yes, you might be able to get 100 kilometers out of a single horse on a single day... one time. I don't see anyone in 1773 riding the same horse for 100 km per day, seven days in a row. It's probably a physiological impossibility. Jul 30, 2013 at 0:34

Using ORBIS which reconstructs travel through the Roman Empire circa 200CE as a basis, a fast carriage across ~700kms (I chose Naples to Verona) would have taken about 10 days. A horse relay team between the same cities only took 3.6 days to cover 763 kms. One could use these numbers as a rule of thumb for all pre-industrial travel on decent roads.

That said, I dare say that travelling down the Danube would have been preferable to the road. Again, as per ORBIS, river transport would shorten the journey between Regensburg (Castra Regina) to Vienna (Vindobona), a distance of ~440 km, from between 4 (military) to 7 days in 200CE.

Depending on whether it was a courier delivering a message to a diplomat travelling himself, it might be reasonable to estimate that the journey between Berlin and Vienna might have taken anywhere between 3 and 10 days.

(Although ORBIS does take a lot of factors into account, this answer does not account for either political and geographical roadblocks or technological improvements in 1770s Europe. It's simply an educated guesstimate.)

  • 6
    Your mistake, I believe, is to assume "technological improvements in 1770s Europe" over the days of the Roman Empire. There may well have been such improvements in the design and manufacture of carriages -- I don't know -- but they would have been dwarfed by the much poorer state of roads. As shocking as it may sound, travel in 1770 was slower than over the same road in 170! Jul 29, 2013 at 10:59
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    @EugeneSeidel Very good point, still I am upvoting for the use of ORBIS! Jul 29, 2013 at 13:13
  • Upvoting for mentioning that travel by water would have been the preferred mode.
    – T.E.D.
    Jul 29, 2013 at 13:16
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    @T.E.D. In either direction? Jul 29, 2013 at 13:20
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    So going by vessel on the Danube part of the way wasn't necessarily faster. It's a complex calculation that needs to factor (1) the detour penalty incurred from not hewing as close as possible to a straight line on the map (2) logistics of having ship transport and labor (incl. for towing) available when you want (3) the time savings gained if a ship's captain was confident enough to continue during night time. Not a simple calculation for Berlin-Vienna-Berlin then, or at any time. Jul 29, 2013 at 13:44

Let's consider a well documented journey by Napoleon in 1809, a mere 40 years later. The basic technologies are all the same, though the network of metalled roads has been steadily expanding through that time. Napoleon was in a hurry, had the resources of an Empire at his command, and travelled similarly to how a diplomat might have travelled in the preceding hundred years (in a carriage) because he had a campaign to plan and luggage to carry. Update: (And, as far as Strasbourg, Josephine to love and cherish.)

Napoleon left Paris in the wee hours of April 13, 1809, in the Imperial coach, and arrived in Donauworth in the early afternoon on the 17th. [Update #2: Dawn on the 17th, not early afternoon, so about 8 hours less travel time.] He stopped only to rest and feed the horses and to eat, choosing to sleep in the carriage while travelling. This makes a total travel time of about 108 hours.

Update #2 - This paragraph copied from comments below:
The Imperial Guard was en route from Spain and arrived some weeks later; it did not accompany Napoleon. According to Thunder on the Danube (page 159): Napoleon travelled only with his personal guard; the Imperial carriage; and Josephine as far as Strasbourg. He stopped a handful of times to reassure allies (Kings of Wurttemberg and Bavaria) and meet with his niece, the Oudinot family and a couple of others. In the absence of his own guard the Wurttemberg Guard escorted him through that territory.

The road distance today is listed as 762 km, so let's take a figure of 850 km for two hundred years ago. This direction of travel was along major trade routes from France into Central Europe, as well as along the major invasion route into (or out of) France from Central Europe. There is no reason to believe that the route was substantially less direct then than now.

This clearly shows that a determined individual, with the financial resources to acquire new horses as needed, travelling on major roads of the time in a coach, could achieve a speed about 8 km per hour. Clearly this was an in extremis situation, as is evident to anyone familiar with the Eckmuhl phase of Napoleon's 1809 campaign. It is doubtful that anyone could have achieved better in the years from between 400 CE and the onset of the railway in the 1830's. A more normal pace for a diplomat might be 1/2 or 1/3 that set by Napoleon, entailing a travel time of 8 to 13 days respectively for a distance of 850 km over a well travelled road in Central or Western Europe..

Note that a horse's working gait is typically a trot, is about 13 kph (breeds and individuals vary), and can be maintained by a well treated horse for several hours at a time over suitable terrain. The use of multiple ranks of horses to pull a carriage allows the team to pull the carriage at a trot for longer by reducing the load on the individual horses. The rule of thumb is that each pair behind the first only contributes half as much as the pair in front; however I believe the alpha horses must be put in front for the team to be well behaved (just like a dog sled).

As an aside, the network of metalled roads (pikes) was expanding across Europe through this period. The Turnpike Act in the UK (allowing the establishment of private metalled toll roads) was already 100 years old by 1770. One might reasonably expect that similar arrangements existed in the larger nations of 18th century Europe: France, Prussia, Austria-Hungary, Bavaria, though I cannot track down explicit sources for this. (Eastern Europe was a different story, which might explain why travel from Berlin to Vienna went via Leipzig.) Certainly by 1809 Bavaria was criss-crossed by a network of Pikes that both Napoleon and Charles endeavoured to make use of.

John H. Gill's 1809 Thunder on the Danube Vol. I describes Napoleon's journey in the first several paragraphs of Chapter 5.

  • Really interesting material. Would love to see you cite some sources for the various claims. Especially since I'd like to read more.
    – kmlawson
    Jul 30, 2013 at 0:49
  • I translated 50 pages or so of Campagne de 1809 en Allemagne et en Autriche (1899) by Saski two years ago for personal use. Any decent account of the April 1809 campaign in Bavaria will recount Napoleon's frantic race to meet up with his troops before Berthier could destroy them ;-) Any web site on horses will discuss the working gait and average speed for various breeds of interest to that site. I discovered the Turnpike Act while looking up the beginning of the metalled road network in Western Europe. Jul 30, 2013 at 0:54
  • I already knew from previous research about Bavaria (for my in-development game on the period) about the network of Pikes in Bavaria by 1809. (And thus knew to look up the metalled road network that lead me to the Turnpike Act.) Much of this research is from personal notes about movement in 1809 for my in-development game, rather than having been done specifically for this question. Jul 30, 2013 at 0:57
  • How big was Napoleon's travelling party? Did he travel with troops or just guards?
    – Louis Rhys
    Jul 30, 2013 at 3:04
  • The Imperial Guard was en route from Spain and arrived some weeks later. According to Thunder on the Danube (page 159): Napoleon travelled only with his personal guard, the Imperial carriage, and Josephine as far as Strasbourg. He stopped a handful of times to reassure allies (Kings of Wurttemberg and Bavaria) and meet with his niece, the Oudinot family and a couple of others. In the absence of his own guard the Wurttemberg Guard escorted him through that territory. (issuu.com/penandsword/docs/thunder_on_the_daube) Jul 30, 2013 at 4:14

Tassis operated by using a courier on horseback, riding with its maximal speed. The courier made stops every few kilometres just to change his tired horse to a fresh one, that was already awaiting for him. It could also be that there were two or more couriers along the distance travelling only some part of the way each (so they did not have to eat or sleep).

Top speed of a horse is ca. 88 km/h; I think half of it would be adequate, because of roads and that this is a top speed, and if he travelled by night, it should also be reduced. Having this in mind a way 1000 km long could be travelled in ca. 24 hours.

The message itself could be then delivered relatively fast, if it was urgent, and there was no risk of stealing the message by enemy.

Of course diplomats wouldn't spend this time on a horseback. They required more comfort and some protection, as roads were not safe enough. They need to stop for dinner or sleep. I think that time needed would be (if they were in hurry) at least ca. 3-5 days.

  • 2
    Dear Voitcus, your figures are fantastic (not "fantastic" as in "great" but "fantastic" as in "dreamlike"). Learn to ride horses, travel in a horse-drawn carriage, and you will see from first-hand experiences what is possible... and what isn't. Even with relays, or stages (that is where the word "stage" in stage-coach comes from) both 24 hours (for horseback riding) or 3-5 days (for horse-drawn carriages) were not possible given the state of roads in late 18th century Europe. I dare say they would be impossible even today and even if modern highways were blocked free for that purpose. Jul 29, 2013 at 11:09
  • Well yes... Your answer is however fantastic (not "fantastic" as in "dreamlike" but as "great")
    – Voitcus
    Jul 29, 2013 at 20:07
  • Top speed of a horse is irrelevant; it's working gait (trot) and associated speed (around 13 kph, varying somewhat by breed) are more useful. The Pony Express could get away with galloping the horses 10 miles and swapping them out by charging $5.00/ounce (1860 dollars!). But they had to get rider, mount, and mail through Indian country. Jul 30, 2013 at 0:33

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