The Historical Time

wheel history

Who invented the wheel how ?

  • Did it evolve from the potter's wheel, an early, fundamental carry-over?
  • Did it evolve incrementally from rolling a tree trunk?

Other historians locate rather the invention in Poland through Bronocice Pot, both first ceramic and first drawing of a carriage, carbon14-dated -3500.

pot de bronocice

The oldest wood wheel and axle dated 3100 BC was found in a swamp near Lubjiana.

The oldest chariots from the Cucuteni-Tripolye culture in modern-day Ukraine and Romania, date from around 3000 BC.

Deciding what came first involves many variables such as soil acidity and lootability, which play as important a role as intrinsic creativity!

premiere rouepremier essieu

The banner of the city of Ur depicts chariots and the Sumer wheel dating from 2600 BC

chariot d'UR

The wheel and chariot evolved around 2000 in the Andronovo culture, and in India, China and Norway with the innovation of spokes, bronze metallurgy to make bearings, and horses for traction.


Chariots were pivotal in warfare. The 1271 BC Battle of Quadesh pitted Ramses II and his 5500 chariots against the Hittite coalition.

Roue de Sumer.jpg

In Asia, Yin dynasty (1600-1046 BC) chariots typically had large, multi-spoke wheels and a definite camber.

The discovery of iron smelting in 500 BC made it possible to cast effective bearings.

Yin cart.jpg


The steel rim, fixed axle appears in 1000 BC in the early Iron age, among the Celts of Britain and France in Hallstatt

In 500 BC, the Gauls used to bury their leaders (150 graves in Champagne) with their chariots, which were typically 2- wheeled and sometimes 4-wheeled, and had steering and suspension. The Vix Tomb is one example, which also housed the remains of a queen-priestess wearing a pure gold tiara.

In French char, charette, carrosse, carrosserie and in English car, carts and chariot derive from the Latin "carrum" and from the Gallic "karros".

Tacitus in 110 AD, in the Annals XIV, 35 and Jules Cesar in "The Gallic War" describe the suspension of the Celtic chariot as being more comfortable than the Roman suspension.

The BBC makes it possible to reconstiitute the Wetwang chariot.

The Romans adopted this invention and used it during the first century throughout the empire, from the Dejbjerg, Norway chariot that is preserved in peat swamps, to the chariots of Hispania, Thrace and Pannonia.

Roering reconstructed a Roman chariot equipped with 4-wheels, steering, suspension and brakes, contrary to the long-prevailing opposing view.

The chariot is suspended by the vertical extension of each axle at the end of which is a decorative, double bronze loop. A long leather strap attaches to the loops and wraps under the chariot’s body.

The Emperor Claudius (41-54) could play chess while riding in a suspended chariot. Hadrian (117-138) could play dice! Suetonius, writing on Nero (37-68), said , Never, they say, did he travel with fewer than a thousand chariots!

The terms Suspension, suspension, sospenzione, suspension, RadAufhangung are now clear.

For the Romans, roads were essential: e.g. the Via Egnatia.

Via Egnatia

Suspension and steering were lost during the Middle Ages.

char romain steering Kozar

south pointing chariot

A straight line is the shortest distance between two points. To keep from getting lost in the vast Chinese empire before the invention of the magnetic compass, the Emperor Wei Ming’s mechanical engineer, Ma Jun, (also known as Yuanzhong and Cao Rui) built a south pointing chariot in 237.

This chariot has a device with differential and bevel gears, which change the difference in rotational wheel speeds of the right and left wheel in a turn, in difference turret yaw angle, so that the Emperor’s statue always pointed south.

Ma Jun built this device to resolve the dispute surrounding the legends dating from 1115 BC and 263 BC describing such a chariot. The system was conceived at least twice.

Ma Jun masterfully defined his demonstration thus: Empty words are no match for a real test demonstrating practical results.

The invention was again forgotten and rebuilt at least twice in the 6th and 11th centuries.

This makes the 17th century dispute over the inventor of the differential rather pointless.

In the West, the mechanisms developed in Greece, for instance the Antikythera mechanism from 100 BC is an astronomical clock providing the sun and moon positions. It consists in 37 bronze gears with a differential system for subtracting the moon and sun angular velocities, thus forecasting eclipses. Based on the Archimedes works, this level of science and technology has remained unsurpassed until the Renaissance.

A recent reconstruction.

The full story and a miniature replica (right picture).

Every invention includes technology. Ball bearings are fundamental, making it possible to reduce passive resistance and bear more weight and travel more quickly than a man.

The Celts invented the first ball bearings, which were hardwood rollers placed between the chariot axle and wheel hub.

moyeu romain Roulement Dejbjerg

In 1928, near Rome, when Lake Nemi was dredged, two large ships belonging to the Emperor Caligula (40 BC) were revealed; they are unmentioned in any known texts.

The photo gives an idea of the size of the ships, which measured longer than 70 yards!

Their bearings were made of wood, bronze and copper.

Admiral Zheng He’s large fleet (1405) included the only ships larger than the 95-foot drakkars and the 80-foot Santa Maria.


The European Middle Ages were less creative. In Al-Andalus, by contrast, Greco-Roman science and technology were preserved.

Ibn Firnas

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