by buggy or ship
February 19, 2007 5:03 AM   Subscribe

In Medieval times how long would it take for a diplomat, merchant, or otherwise well funded individual to travel from, say Paris to Moscow? London to Constantinople?
posted by parallax7d to Travel & Transportation (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
A horse and cart can manage about 10 mph, and it's about 1500 miles for either journey. 150 hours of horse travel equates to at least two-three weeks on the road. Medieval shipping was no faster, and would have been less direct for either route.
posted by roofus at 5:29 AM on February 19, 2007

Viking ships traveled, probably at best, at about 3 knots (so far as I recall). Theoretically those were the fastest ships out there, so I would say "conventional" shipping of the time was much slower, but this is not my area of expertise.

Traveling by road, you would be beset by bad road conditions, the need to stop at towns to get more supplies, sidetrips for pilgrimage sites, sickness, random acts of war/violence, etc. People commonly disappeared for a year or more when journeying to the Holy Land - although he took a few sidetrips, King Richard I of England was gone a good three years (being captured elongates your stay somewhat, no?).
posted by Medieval Maven at 5:51 AM on February 19, 2007

Also realize that there were plenty of small city-states that required a large toll to cross their lands. Any long journey was not to be taken lightly and a direct route may not necessarily be the best. Boat was probably the safest bet although even then you had to contend with the weather.

I'd say 6 months to a year might be an average trip.
posted by JJ86 at 6:03 AM on February 19, 2007

When William of Rubruck went from Constantinople to the court of the Mongol khan at Karakorum, it took him about ten months.
posted by Abiezer at 6:41 AM on February 19, 2007

It would depend upon your route, and which precise moment in "medieval time". Would you depart from London's vicinity during the Anglo-Saxon/Norse conflict (ca. 900-1000 AD), or when the Protestant Reformation was gaining momentum (ca. 1100-1300 AD)? Would you head into a Byzantine-run Constantinople, or its 4th Crusade or Ottoman equivalents?
Factors like these would weigh heavily upon matters like economy, political tensions, disease resiliance and availibility to reliable transport, to say the least. Your ability or willingness to bribe, barter, fight, or flee from a number of individuals without incurring mortal injury, inprisonment, or being thrust into forced labor would be key. That those offering you a means of transport would know their way reliably without being hampered by incliment weather, shoddy shipbuilding skills, or loss of pack/guide animals is another crucial facet. Precieved social status and level of fluency in languages, in addition to dialect and level of education may gain a few friends or enemies. Under favorable conditions, your journeys from the Eastern Atlantic to the Baltics would likely range from 4 to 9 months; making your way back would be another dance with fate altogether.
posted by Smart Dalek at 6:56 AM on February 19, 2007

Sorry - that should read, "Eastern Atlantic coastline to the Baltics". Travelling from Constantinople toward the general location Moscow would take well over a month.
posted by Smart Dalek at 7:01 AM on February 19, 2007

I think that 3 knots is an accurate best for viking ships when rowing, but over open water I think they could sustain about twice that with moderate wind- this site says:

It's estimated that this ship's "effective" speed in regular ocean traffic was on the order of 3 to 6 knots.

I've heard it postulated, however, that some of the faster vikingships (not necessarily the heavy merchant ships) could get up on a plane, and consistently make 12 knots, which would make Denmark to England somewhere around a 24-hour non-stop sail. Supposedly somebody built a true-to-life replica of one of the Norsk ships (that site talks about a Danish replica) and got it planing easy, but I can't find that site.
Furthermore, this isn't limited to your typical seagoing routes, since these ships could go hundreds of miles up stream, having only about a twenty-inch draught. Though they were impossible to portage, to my knowledge.

Keep in mind, those vikings got further than most people think, including N. America, Constantinople, and beyond.
posted by conch soup at 8:43 AM on February 19, 2007

I wasn't really thinking "open water" for most of the sailing - the Vikings themselves -- adventurous. English merchants? Not so much so. Sailing is slower closer to the coast and with a load to carry. And they wouldn't be sailing at night. )I just picked Vikings because it was a stat that I could (partly) remember. )
posted by Medieval Maven at 8:49 AM on February 19, 2007

Not to snark, but when the Protestant Reformation was gaining momentum (ca. 1100-1300 AD)is about 200 years out. The Protestant Reformation was nowhere near the medieval period - did you mean something else?
posted by prentiz at 9:47 AM on February 19, 2007

Rather than speculate, I'll give an example: In 1573, the German physician and naturalist Leonhard Rauwolf traveled from Augsburg (in southern Germany) to the Levant. He and a friend left Augsburg on horseback on May 18. They arrived in Marseilles, France, 19 days later, on June 5, having averaged about 30 miles per day. He then had to wait nearly three months for a ship to Tripoli (in Syria, not in Libya). It departed Marseilles on September 2 and arrived, after encountering calms and contrary winds, in Tripoli on September 30. He then tarried until November 9, when he left for Aleppo, a journey that normally took a week. (Source: Karl Dannenfeldt, Leonhard Rauwolf: Sixteenth-century Physician, Botanist, and Traveler, 1968.)

In other words, Augsburg to Syria: about 50 days of travel. Rauwolf's trip to Marseilles went unusually fast, but the trip to Syria was somewhat slower than it often was, so it all comes out in the wash.
posted by brianogilvie at 9:56 AM on February 19, 2007

As others have noted, "medieval times" is incredibly vague. My example comes from the sixteenth century, but travel times would not have been much different in the fourteenth or fifteenth centuries, excepting political unrest or inclement weather. Earlier it depends on the trade routes. The historian Fernand Braudel has studied how far one could get in two months' travel from the end of the Middle Ages to the eighteenth century; his conclusion is that the two-month horizon expands significantly in the early modern period, but not uniformly: just like today, a distant major city could take less time to reach than a closer podunk town off the major trade routes. I don't have my copies of Braudel's works to hand right now, but I think this discussion comes up in vol. 2 or 3 of his Civilization and Capitalism, 15th-18th centuries.
posted by brianogilvie at 10:06 AM on February 19, 2007

Second Crusade 1147. King Louis of France and his wife Eleanor of Aquitaine left St. Denis, Paris on 11 June. By mid June they were in Metz and on 3 October arrived at Constantinople having travelled through Bohemia, Austria, Hungary and Bavaria covering between 10 - 20 miles a day.
posted by adamvasco at 10:13 AM on February 19, 2007

re: "Medieval times," I had a college professor at AU who told us that the Medieval period had been described as as "the interregnum between the glories of antiquity and the achievements of modernity."

Not sure if he was borrowing from someone, but it's one of my favorite quotes.
posted by charlesv at 11:20 AM on February 19, 2007

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