How Common Were Four-Wheeled Carts in Pre-1000 CE Europe?

Aug 2016
Today my history professor claimed that four wheeled carts started to become widespread in Europe during 1000 CE, and that this and other technological achievements allowed agriculture to support a much larger population in Europe.

It seems odd that people would suddenly start realizing the benefit of 4-wheeled carts over 2-wheeled carts. Can anyone provide me with some context for this remark? Like, wouldn’t the Romans have used them in latifundia? Was there some technological advancement that allowed much more 4-wheeled carts to be made?
Aug 2018
"The first evidence of wheeled vehicles appears in the second half of the 4th millennium BCE, near-simultaneously in Mesopotamia (Sumerian civilization), the Northern (Maykop culture) and South Caucasus (Early Kurgan culture), and Eastern Europe (Cucuteni-Trypillian culture), so the question of which culture originally invented the wheeled vehicle is still unresolved.

The earliest well-dated depiction of a wheeled vehicle (here a wagon — four wheels, two axles) is on the Bronocice pot, a c. 3600 – 3350 BCE clay pot excavated in a Funnelbeaker culture settlement in southern Poland.[6] In nearby Olszanica 5000 BC 2.2 m wide doors were constructed for wagon entry. This barn was 40 m long with 3 doors.[7]

The oldest securely dated real wheel-axle combination, that from Stare Gmajne near Ljubljana in Slovenia (Ljubljana Marshes Wooden Wheel) is now dated within two standard deviations to 3340–3030 BCE, the axle to 3360–3045 BCE.[8]"

Wheel - Wikipedia

"The image on the Bronocice pot is the oldest well-dated representation of a four-wheeled vehicle in the world.[4] It suggests the existence of wagons in Central Europe as early as in the 4th millennium BC. [...]

Bronocice pot - Wikipedia

The early Indo-Europeans in Eastern Europe made extensive use of four-wheeled wagons from the 4th millenium BC onwards: (PDF) Catacomb culture wagons of the Eurasian steppes

An accident at work? Traumatic lesions in the skeleton of a Yamna “wagon driver” –

What your teacher said is nonsense.
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Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
I'd always assumed supply carts in Medieval Spain were 4-wheeled. No real evidence for thet statement. Just seems common sense as two-wheeled ones wouldn't carry much and would fall over without the horse!!


Ad Honorem
May 2016
Giving such a precise date (even with margin errors) for all Europe seems risky.

Ario gave an interesting answer. And I began to think what archaeological sources I recalled in Portugal (and in the Occidental Iberian Peninsula) with 4 wheels charts.

The so called “warrior steles” in the Occidental part of the peninsula are all* with two wheels carts.

The datation of these steles is often discussed, but we can say that they are from the Bronze Final period or even the Iron Age. So… w could say around the year 1000BC if we are looking for a round number.

* all… as far as I recall.

As for votive carts, I can recall two:

The votive cart of Vilela, a 4 wheel cart, in bronze, probably from around the 4th century BC:

Carro Votivo de Vilela (site in Portuguese, but you can see the cart’s image);

And the older votive cart of Baiões, also a 4 wheel cart, from around the 11th century BC:

HISTORIA DE ESPAÑA: LOS PUEBLOS PRERROMANOS (site in Spanish, but you can see the cart’s image).

Not really the answer you were looking for, but maybe this tips can help.


Forum Staff
Aug 2016
I agree with the above posters that there is evidence of four-wheeled wagons at least as early as Greek and Roman times, if not earlier. The evidence, however, is somewhat scarce - mostly pictures scattered here and there. Most artistic depictions of ancient wheeled transportation is of the two-wheeled kind - a cart, not a wagon. I would agree with your professor that by the High Middle Ages wagons were in greater use than they were in earlier times.

I suspect the issue is one of harnessing. Tandem harnessing - placing pairs of animals in front of each other - was invented about 1000 CE. Without tandem harnessing, only light loads could be pulled. There was no need for a wagon that could carry a heavy load if two animals were not strong enough to pull it. About the same time as tandem harnessing, they also invented the horse collar-style harness that allowed the horse to put his shoulders into the push. Earlier harnesses were less efficient in terms of harnessing the horse's potential as a draft animal. So it wasn't that the wagon hadn't been invented before, it has more to do with being unable to move a heavy wagon without proper harnessing which had not yet been invented in Roman times. The few depictions of ancient wagons mentioned above were probably used to pull light loads that for whatever reason didn't fit in small carts.


Ad Honorem
May 2016
The votive cart of Vilela, a 4 wheel cart, in bronze, probably from around the 4th century BC:
I made a mistake here. Really don’t know why I wrote “4th century BC”, I should had written around 10th Century BC/1st millennium BC, as the text clearly states. My apologies!


Ad Honorem
Aug 2011
The Trunholm chariot suggests that they were known as early as 1400BC in Scandinavia.

The bronze age 'Kings Grave' at Kivik in southeastern Scania is the largest Nordic Bronze Age grave. It is made of stone, and some have calculated that 200,000 wagon-loads stone had been used for the construction. This shows that there already was a strong central power in the Bronze Age in Scania 3.300 years ago. The burial chamber is decorated with pictures of spoked wheels, axes, ships with people on board, lur players and much more.

The King's Grave - Wikipedia