History of Road Transport in Antiquity

Greek street - 4th or 3rd century BC - The Porta Rosa was the main street of Elea. It connects the northern quarter with the southern quarter. The street is five meters wide and has an incline of 18% in the steepest part. It is paved with limestone blocks and on one side there is a small gutter for drainage.

The history of road transport began with the development of tracks by humans.

Let’s explore the Road Transport History in Antiquity.

The first modes of road transport were oxen, horses transporting goods over tracks that usually followed game trails, such as the Natchez Trace. In the late Paleolithic Age, humans did not need erected tracks in open territory. The first upgraded trails would have been at mountain passes, forts, and swamps. The first changes would have mainly consisted of clearing big stones and trees from the path. As trade increased, the tracks were often widened or flattened to accommodate animal and human traffic. Some of these dirt tracks were formed into reasonably extensive networks, allowing governance, trade, and communications over vast areas. The Iroquois Confederation in North America and the Incan Empire in South America, neither of which had the wheel, are instances of practical use of such paths.

Harappan roads in Ancient India

Street paving has been discovered from the first human settlements around 4000 BCE in towns of the Indus Valley Civilization on the Indian subcontinent in ancient India, such as Mohenjo-Daro and Harappa. Roads in the towns were long and straight, crossing one another at right angles. The brick-paved roads were constructed in the Indus Valley Civilization on the Indian subcontinent from about the same time.

Wheeled transport

Wheels seem to have been developed in early Sumer in Mesopotamia around 5000 BCE, possibly initially for pottery making. Their primary transport use may have been as accessories to travois or vehicles to overcome resistance. It has been debated that logs were used as rollers under sleds before the development of wheels, but there is no evidence for this. Most ancient wheels appear to have been attached to hardened axles, which would have demanded regular lubrication by vegetable oils or animal fats or separation by leather to be efficient. The first simple two-wheel carts, possibly developed from travois, seem to have been used in northern Iran and Mesopotamia in about 3000 BCE and two-wheel chariots appeared in about 2800 BCE. Onagers related to donkeys hauled them.

Roman roads

With the arrival of the Roman Empire, there was a requirement for armies to travel quickly from one region to another, and the roads that survived were often muddy, which significantly delayed the movement of large troops masses. To solve this issue, the Romans constructed great roads. These ‘Roman roads’ used long roadbeds of heavy stone as an underlying layer to ensure that they kept dry, as the water would flow out from the crushed stone instead of turning into the mud in clay soils. The legions made a great time on these roads, and many are still utilized millennia later.

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