Squeaky wheels & shows of wealth

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


I just finalized the second draft of a novelette I’ve been working on the last few months and took a breather to go through some of my notes and do some organizing. I do a lot in my stories with transportation via horse & cart, & ships (and horseboats!) so here’s what I’ve learned…

Fun Facts

  • The traditional Roman punishment for patricide was “death by containerized transport,” with the convicted sewn up in a sack with various live animals, drawn by oxcart to the river or sea and then drowned.
  • Wheeled transportation was probably invented in the Eurasian plains before being exported to Mesopotamia.
  • Wheeled transport was banned in Japan in the beginning of the 17th century in order to inhibit rebellion against Shogunate rule.
  • In Mesoamerica, travel by litter emphasized the privilege of the upper classes — and personifications of deities.
  • There are lots of theories about why Mesoamericans and sub-Saharan Africans were both aware of wheeled transportation before the Colonial era and didn't adopt it, but scholars aren't totally sure.

Banned Cars

Wheeled conveyances like carriages and carts were illegal in Ancient Rome, except for wagons used for public infrastructure projects and the carriages of prominent officials. Riding horses through the city varied between unpopular and outright banned, although elderly senators and sick people sometimes used litters. [Read More]

Spoke Wheels

Early "war vehicles" had solid wheels and were pulled by teams of donkeys or onagers. The invention of the chariot was revolutionary mostly because horses are awesome and just as importantly, spoked wheels were significantly more lightweight and maneuverable. [Read More]

Human Power

Most palanquins are carried by between 4 and 6 bearers, but many scenes of ancient elites show many more porters than that, both for litters and chair conveyances. There are two possible reasons: smaller groups can move more quickly and easily but grow tired, so the porters might swap out. Also, its a display of ostentatious wealth, since during parade it’s fine if a larger group that’s harder to coordinate moves more slowly, since the point is display not speed. [Read More]


People in the ancient world expected wheels and joints to squeak; they had little use for lubrication since most wheels moved slowly except those which were easily splashed with water, like potter’s wheels. The one exception is chariot axles, which were sometimes smeared with the dregs of olive oil or lard. Mostly, though, water was used. 😬 [Read More]

If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my article about early carts.


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