Medieval to Modern Transportation – the Industrial Revolution and Beyond
While today we travel at great speed covering vast cross-country, or cross-continent distances within hours via plane, train, or automobile, Medieval peoples travelled far slower covering far less of a distance and none could have dreamt of the dawn of modern transportation experienced eons after their time had ended, burgeoning during the first industrial revolution and picking up speed during the technological revolution.
The evolution of primitive transportation to the modern transportation modes we have at our disposal today, thanks to brilliant minds such as aviation pioneers the Wright brothers Orville and Wilbur, steam engine tramway inventor Richard Trevithick, or car industry pioneers the Renault brothers Louis, Marcel and Fernand, would have been inconceivable to the people of the Middle Ages.
This was a time period in which travel by foot was the most common way of journeying across the land for the majority of people. Horses, donkeys, mules and oxen pulled carts were generally reserved for royalty and the wealthier classes who could afford such luxuries, as well as more well-off traders dealing in such transport goods as wool, and some other Medieval folk such as knights, diplomats/envoys and mounted soldiers.
Travel through History – Where did People in the Middle Ages Journey?
Most peasants travelled within a very small radius upon their King’s land, as far as to the nearest market to buy food, or to work, and then home again. Farmers would venture as far as to the nearest village to sell their produce. As peasants belonged to the land they were born upon, they had to receive permission from their King before leaving their King’s domain.
The noble classes would travel further, between their vast estates and on occasion further still for special events. Pilgrims and knights would venture far and wide and merchants would often opt for water travel by ship (equipped with sails, or rowed by men) to access foreign markets to sell their wares across the known world and bring back exotic goods.
Travel through History – The Problem with Medieval Period Land Transport
European road networks ingeniously established by the Romans, fell into disrepair after Rome’s fall. What were once well maintained overland routes quickly turned to muddy tracks during winter and at best, uneven dirt paths throughout the rest of the year.
As overland roads were severely damaged (until around the 12th century when road rehabilitation began) and travel by land required extensive leg work, or access to horse, mule, donkey, oxen and/or carts, along with coin for tolls, tips, lodging, food, veterinaries (if an animal was used) and more, water travel proved by far the quickest, cheapest and most efficient option for transporting goods, especially for longer journeys.
Travel through History in Medieval Times How Fast Could People Journey?
Whilst the average Medieval peasant could walk at approx. 3 miles per hour, covering a mile every 20 minutes, professional couriers could trek up to 31, or 38 miles a day by foot! A horse could travel up to 40 to 60 miles a day before requiring a rest, whereas a cart pulled by oxen (depending upon the weight of the load and quality of the cart) could travel up to 10 miles per day, and a horse pulled cart 20.
It wasn’t until the bridging years between the Late Middle Ages and Early Renaissance period when human patronage of carts increased due to the improvement of roads coupled with the introduction of primitive carriage suspension technology and by the 15th Century, ships were built with 3 masts.
Medieval Period Transportation Improvements were Key to Fostering a New Age of More Modern Transportation
Like the first and second industrial revolution, transportation was vital to social improvement, economic prosperity and European development during the Medieval period. The burgeoning transportation innovations of the Middle Ages and the discovery of the Americas helped bring about the booming economy enjoyed by the eras thereafter.
Similarly, echoing the benefits brought about by Medieval advancements, more modern transportation developments harnessed up until around the First World War also sparked a period of vast social, economic and technological improvement across primarily Europe, Britain and America.
The First and Second Industrial (Technological) Revolution Sparked the Evolution of Modern Transportation
In 1898, Louis Renault invented his first car – the Voiturette, along with the direct drive gearbox which greatly improved driving efficiency, allowing for noise reduction, higher torque at lower RPM, along with more advantages as well. Amongst other Renault accomplishments with his brothers through their Renault company, they adopted modernised automobile principles to improve car design and ultimately evolve this mode of road transport.
By 1907 50% of London’s taxis were Renault’s.
Much like the Medieval wooden ships such as the Galley, Trade-Cog and longboats of the Vikings, which were used as both vessels to move goods and people, as well as vessels to transport soldiers and/or wage high-seas warfare, 500 of Renault’s taxis were used during World War I to transport troops to impede the Germans advance upon Paris in 1914.
Car usage increased after WWII and by 1959 around 32% of British families owned a car.
Today people travel by car, plane, train, bus, ship and even space shuttle. The transport modes which will likely be pioneered eons from now, will probably be just as inconceivable to us, 21st century folk, as Louis Renault’s the Voiturette would be to the Medieval peoples.
As the Frenchman Jean-Baptiste Alphone Karr once wrote during the Industrial Revolution: “the more things change, the more they stay the same”…