Ancient travel

Apr 2016
7
Scotland
#1
Okay, to make a long story short, I'm studying games development. As part of world building and plot structuring of a specific concept I'm trying to flesh out, I need to figure something out. It'll sound a bit odd, but bear with me.

In the late 1200's, 1290 to be specific, just a few years after the death of King Alexander III, assuming they have the necessary supplies, how long would it take a farming family of three, a man, a woman, and a 4 year old child, to get from the highlands of Scotland, to the Iga province of Japan. This is assuming minimal negative encounters with other humans, and they aren't going through England. They haven't got that location specifically in mind, but they are moving in that direction.

If you need more details, I'll try my best to answer, thanks.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,644
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#3
According to who did it for real in that period it took years. For example Marco Polo, according to what it's reported in "Il Milione", traveling through Asia took a bit more than 3 years to reach the Chinese far east [so with a vessel it was a matter of some days to reach Japan]. He left from Venice.

Anyway the reasons for the journey of Polo were particular and he spent a lot of time to run his business.

So, I would start reminding that in XIII century they walked, usually with one or some donkeys or mules to transports goods, food, water, cloths ... Let's say that our farming family found a vessel in Dundee [which was a Royal Burgh] to navigate to the continent. I have walked through the Scottish Highlands [covering 30km per day] so that, considering that it was a family with a children, I tend to think that they would have covered 15 km per day.

From Western Highlands to Dundee I guess it took about 12-15 days for a family.

In that period the Empire [Germany] was the most functional destination. It gave access to Northern Italy which meant Venice and Venice was a natural starting point for Europeans wanting to reach Asia. I have just mentioned Marco Polo ...

It would have been useful if a member of the farming family was also a carpenter or able to do something useful for chariots and tools ... to persuade a German merchant to allow them to travel with his caravan. Merchants had horses and chariots, and the Empire offered some streets, the rivers to navigate, bridges ... I would add 2 months to reach the southern walls of the Alps.

So, being cautious I would estimate a time of 3 months to reach Venice from the Highlands, accompanied by the German merchant since they arrived in the Empire.

From Venice to Japan, eh ... in the XIII century it was a jump into the dark. Marco Polo was back only at the end of XIII century, so our farming family wasn't ably to rely on his tales. But in Venice they knew a lot about Asia.

In any case, traveling with an other merchant [may be a Venetian] with chariot and horses, being extremely lucky to find indications about the quickest directions to follow ... from Venice to the Chinese coast it took almost a year [I repeat, being lucky].

Without horses and chariots, so without a merchant, only walking with mules and donkeys ... it took two years [being extremely lucky!].

So, being again cautious ... I would say 1.5 years [from Scottish Highlands to Japan] with the aid of merchants with chariots and horses; 3 years walking [and being at least a bit lucky ... it would mean about 6 months less than the travel of Marco Polo who actually wandered a bit].
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,644
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#4
Without luck, I would sum the time taken by Polo [about 3.5 years] to 4 months to travel from the Highlands to Venice = a bit less than 4 years.
 
Jan 2015
2,933
MD, USA
#5
"Assuming the necessary supplies"--they aren't going to be able to carry them. Even if they managed to find a much more direct route than Marco Polo took (which they would not know about), it's still a couple tons of food, clothing, and other necessities. You're talking a train of pack animals which will require several helpers at least to manage. Or wagons with 4 to 8 draft animals each, with drivers. If you don't have weapons or maybe even guards, the first thugs who want the stuff or the women will rob the train. Any sudden storm in a mountain pass could kill everyone, or at least kill a couple pack animals which amounts to the same thing. (Modern hikers die in mountain storms all the time, often within a couple hours' walk of modern facilities.) Or an accident crossing a river. They'd need money for lodging, tolls, ship passage, perishable foods, guides, and bribes. Most of the journey will be in areas where they don't speak the local language, and may not be very welcome because of that.

Any work the travellers try to take on to "pay their way" will delay them for days, weeks, or months. It isn't really possible to hunt for food while travelling, not that farmers really have the knowledge or equipment for hunting in any case. Gathering food in the wild is also time-consuming, and is seasonal. Helping yourself to someone else's crops is theft and can get you hanged. Prostitution may be an option...

Medieval European *kings* didn't go to Japan, or China, or even India. Partly because they didn't know they were there (aside from wild and mostly erroneous rumors). But mostly because there was just no practical way to do it.

Sorry, I'm a wet blanket... And I realize it's just a game, so I'm probably just missing the point!

Matthew
 

kazeuma

Ad Honorem
Jun 2012
2,366
#6
Actually it would not be hard Scotland -> Japan.
The easiest way is Scotland -> Russia via boat there are boats that cross the seas.
Russia -> Korea by horse or dogsled (if during winter). Korea -> Japan by boat. I would say it would take maybe about a year and a half.
 
Feb 2012
900
Iudaea
#7
If it was possible to sail through the arctic ice sheet, it would have been possible to reach Japan from Scotland in less than 6 months. Unfortunately, it's impossible even today. Never understood why even airplanes don't take this route.
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,644
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#8
If it was possible to sail through the arctic ice sheet, it would have been possible to reach Japan from Scotland in less than 6 months. Unfortunately, it's impossible even today. Never understood why even airplanes don't take this route.
? Just today a Finnish girl has arrived in Italy; she will stay at my brother's in a program of research about global warming involving exchange of students ... my niece was in Finland last November. Well, to travel towards East Asia, we go to Finland [the Earth, being a sphere, is shorter far from the equator, you know ...] and when my niece was coming back to Italy, in the main airport she noted a lot of Chinese tourists going back to China ...
 

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
26,644
Italy, Lago Maggiore
#9
Actually it would not be hard Scotland -> Japan.
The easiest way is Scotland -> Russia via boat there are boats that cross the seas.
Russia -> Korea by horse or dogsled (if during winter). Korea -> Japan by boat. I would say it would take maybe about a year and a half.
Why not to take an Aberdeen-Milan-Tokyo flight?

Now, humor a part, Russia wasn't the best way to enter Mongolian territories. Better to pass through Venice [or may be Genoa], a city with some good relationships with the Mongols.
 

MAGolding

Ad Honorem
Aug 2015
2,847
Chalfont, Pennsylvania
#10
They could travel by boat to Germany, go down overland to Italy, take a ship to Egypt, cross to the Red Sea, take a ship from Egypt to Arabia and India, get on a Chinese ship in India and go on to China, travel by land or sea to some place like Korea close to Japan and then sail across to Japan.

Or you could have them sail from Western Scotland to Portugal or someplace and then get on a Moroccan ship headed for Egypt but a storm blows them south and west for weeks and then they head northeast and when they find land realize they are on the Eastern coast of Africa and head north to Muslim ports in Atrica. There they get on the first of a succession of ships to India, the East Indies, and China, and finally get a ship for Japan.

In either case the question is why do they travel on ships with Muslim crews, and why do they go on to Japan? Maybe they are going on pilgrimage to the Holy Land but get enslaved on route by a Muslim merchant determined to reach China (and later Japan) and are forced to go with him until they work off a debt to him and are released.