Before you grumble about your commute or GPS taking you on a wild goose chase, remember that travel wasn’t always as straightforward as it is today. Most of us would take a traffic jam on the freeway over having to haul a ship across land any day!
Not by Choice
Unfortunately for our ancestors, they didn’t have that choice. Here are ten daunting, though seriously impressive, ways they found to get around, plus some fun facts you might have yet to learn.
1. The Persians and the Royal Road
Around 500 B.C., the Persian Empire constructed the Royal Road, a well-maintained highway stretching some 1,700 miles from Susa, in modern-day Iran, to the Aegean Sea in Turkey. This engineering marvel allowed messages to be delivered across the empire in just a week.
Fun Fact: Forget the Pony Express! The Persians had a system of mounted couriers called ‘Angarium’ who could traverse the entire Royal Road in just over a week, which was quite the feat back in the day!
2. The Roman Highways
Ancient Rome was famous for its impressive network of roads, some 50,000 miles, built between 500 B.C. and A.D. 476. Their motto was “all roads lead to Rome,” and they weren’t kidding! Their road network was built for speed and durability, using a combination of materials like stones, sand, and gravel.
Fun Fact: Roman roads were so well-constructed that some are still in use today. The Appian Way, for example, is still walkable, and modern highways use parts of the Via Augusta.
3. Chinese Canals
Did you know the ancient Chinese had a knack for water travel? The Grand Canal, completed during the Sui Dynasty in 609 A.D., was a major artery for commerce and communication, stretching over 1,100 miles.
Fun Fact: The Grand Canal is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is the longest and oldest artificial waterway in the world. Talk about making a splash in history!
4. Roads in Ancient India
Ancient India saw the development of extensive road networks for both trade and military movement. Ashoka, a Mauryan king, even established roadside facilities for travelers, including wells and rest houses.
Fun Fact: The concept of motels isn’t as new as you might have thought! Ancient India had something called ‘Dharamshalas’—rest houses for weary travelers and their animals.
5. Incan Road System
The Incas didn’t have the wheel, but that didn’t stop them from building a vast network of roads across rugged mountains and dense jungles. This system spanned over 25,000 miles and included bridges, causeways, and tunnels.
Fun Fact: Who needs Google Maps when you have khipus? The Incas used a complex system of knotted strings, or khipus, for record-keeping and possibly even for mapping their road network.
6. Ancient Greece and the Isthmus
The Greeks had an ingenious solution for moving boats between the Corinthian and Saronic gulfs: the Diolkos, a paved trackway that allowed ships to be hauled overland.
Fun Fact: The Diolkos was essentially an ancient “ship railway.” Ships were loaded onto wheeled platforms and pulled by teams of slaves or oxen over the trackway, cutting their journey time significantly.
7. Roads in Ancient Mesopotamia
Rivers were the superhighways of Mesopotamia, but overland roads were also used, primarily for military campaigns and trade. These were not paved but marked and maintained routes, sometimes accompanied by way stations.
Fun Fact: The wheel was actually invented in Mesopotamia around 3500 B.C., initially not for transport but for pottery-making. It took them another few hundred years to think, “Hey, this could help us move things around!”
8. The Silk Road
This is not one road but a network of trade routes connecting the East and West from the 2nd century B.C. to the 18th century. This route was critical for the exchange of goods, culture, and even disease.
Fun Fact: Despite its name, the Silk Road transported far more than just silk. Spices, gold, ivory, and, sadly, diseases like the bubonic plague (which caused the Black Death in Europe) also traveled along this route.
9. The Ancient Egyptian ‘Ways of Horus’
The Ways of Horus was an ancient road linking Egypt to Palestine. It was mostly used for military campaigns and was frequently mentioned in ancient texts.
Fun Fact: The Ways of Horus had fortified towns and water stations along the route. You can think of it as an ancient version of pit stops!
10. Prehistoric Britain and the Ridgeways
The Ridgeways are ancient trackways in Britain that follow the high ground, avoiding marshy lower ground. These routes were used for trade, warfare, and ceremonial purposes.
Fun Fact: Some parts of the Ridgeways are still walkable today and form part of the modern long-distance walking routes, such as the Ridgeway National Trail in the United Kingdom.
Here’s What Travel Was Like 100 Years Ago
Travel has definitely improved over the past 100 years. And by the way, if you’re thinking 100 years ago was back in the 1800s, you might be showing your age…100 years ago was 1923 and Americans were hitting the road in their new-fangled automobiles.
Here’s What It Was Really Like to Drive a Model T Ford
Tired of driving down easy-street in your super comfy modern car? Well, have no fear because the Model T is here! Let’s take a ride down memory lane with a humorous look at what traveling in a Model T was like when it first came out.
Facts About the “Greatest Generation” That Prove How Much We Owe Them
Every generation leaves its mark on history, but the Greatest Generation—those who faced the challenges of the early 20th century head-on—did more than just that. They carved out the world as we know it today. We owe them a lot, not just for their courage and resilience but for setting a precedent that still guides us when dealing with life’s obstacles.
This article was produced by Our Woven Journey. Featured Image Credit: Deposit Photos.
Karee Blunt is a nationally syndicated travel journalist, focused on discovering destinations and experiences that captivate and inspire others through her writing. She is also the founder of Our Woven Journey, a travel site focused on inspiring others to create memory-making adventures with their loved ones. Karee is passionate about encouraging others to step out of their comfort zone and live the life they dream of. She is the mother of six kids, including four through adoption, and lives with her family in the Pacific Northwest. You can learn more about Karee on her about me page.