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Reloading of coal from a freight wagon ( rail car ) to a horse-drawn wagon , Białystok ( PL ) 1991
Horse trucks with hoods, covered wagons
One horse cart
Trailer with turntable steering

A wagon is usually a four-wheeled vehicle that has two lanes and multiple axles. A carriage is a sprung wagon , i.e. a sprung , covered wagon pulled by draft animals . In contrast, the term cart (s) describes a single-axle vehicle with up to three wheels.


The connection of the wheel axles or the chassis with the fixed parts of the car, the loading area or the car body can be designed in different ways.

If wheels and axles are rigidly connected, one speaks of a wheelset . In this construction, the axis can also be referred to as a shaft .

If the axle does not rotate, the inner ring of the wheel that sits on it is called the hub . If the axle, or parts of it, can be moved around a vertical pivot point, which makes cornering easier, we speak of steering . In the early days of wagon construction, the wheels were prevented from sliding off the axles by axle nails that were driven through the axle. In the steered wagons, the unit of drawbar and front axle ( turntable ) was rotatably connected to the rest of the wagon by a metal so-called friction nail.

Wagons pulled by draft animals are called wagons . The oldest draft animal for wheeled vehicles was the cattle ( cow or ox ), the horse later became the strongest and fastest, and the most agile is the mule . As draft animals are z. B. also donkey and camel can be used.

For the locally limited transport of live cattle over short distances, there is the so-called Gängelwagen, a frame construction on wheels and with a gate, usually at the rear end. The Gängelwagen (with the same word origin as the Gängelband) can be pulled by machines or animals and is used for the controlled transport of herd cattle or difficult-to-handle individual animals such as a heavy bull, which with a weight of one ton makes loading requirements that overwhelm an average farm . The animals are led into the bottomless walker wagons or driven like in a pasture gate and then have to run along when the wagon is moved, but cannot break out or stop. Immanuel Kant described the walking cart on September 30, 1784 in his essay What is Enlightenment? in an example about domestic cattle, “(...) afterwards show them the danger that threatens them if they try to walk alone. (...) After they first made their domestic animals stupid and carefully prevented these quiet creatures from taking a step beyond the walking cart in which they locked them up, they later show them the danger that threatens them if they try to go alone. "

Moving of people simple cars are a handcart or manual referred or wheelbarrows. Carts, handcarts and trailers are steered using one or two drawbars . There was or is a harness for draft animals .

When it comes to motor drive, a distinction is made between motorized wagons , which also offer space for the transport of passengers and material, motor vehicles = automobiles (cars) in road traffic , railcars in rail traffic , and tractors , on or in which essentially only the machine, driver and fuel have space , i.e. tractors and locomotives in rail transport .

Pedal-driven vehicles are not referred to as wagons even if they have multiple lanes. If they differ greatly from the appearance of a bicycle , they are named with the English abbreviation HPV (human powered vehicle).

Mail wagons were generously referred to as stagecoaches even in the “stagecoach era” even when the suspension was missing.


A jug from Bronocice, 3,550 BC. Chr.


In the history of transport , the forerunners of the car were wheelless transport devices such as sledges and loops .

According to the current state of research from 2017, the invention of the wheel and wagon (in the oldest form of the ox cart with disc wheels) in Northern Europe in the area of ​​the funnel cup culture must have been between 3450 and 3300 BC. Have been made. The two-wheeled cart is assigned to the northern group, while the four-wheeled cart is assigned to the eastern group. Soon afterwards, the spherical amphora culture emerged in the Eastern Group , which maintained a trade route to the Cernavodă III culture . Both forms were created almost simultaneously, with the wheels turning on the axles that were firmly attached to the car. A slightly different construction of a wheelset with a rotating shaft was made in the area of ​​the Alps. This model was evidently a specialization used regionally. This was preceded by clay models that are a bit older, which can be explained by the fact that the idea as a clay model was already there, but its implementation in large but made problems. Soon after this problem was solved, the wagon spread to different parts of Europe, with the construction of the wheels from full wheel to two-part wheel to wheel made of three parts being refined in Central Europe, making the range of the wagon a universal means of transport. The economic strength of different cultures seems to be based largely on the use of wagons. From the funnel beaker culture to the Baden-Boleraz culture and the Cernavodă culture, which was in contact with it, the wagon soon made its way to the Black Sea region, where wheel construction was further developed and finally reached Mesopotamia in this form. It all happened in less than 200 years. With the help of the wheels, it can be shown almost as an example how each culture contributed to further development with its knowledge, which can certainly also be transferred to the rarely preserved car body. Parts of wheels and carts were used very early, including a.

  • in the Hungarian Pusta east of the Alps in the Baden-Boleraz culture
  • in the steppe region of western Ukraine which are probably correctly assigned to the Cernavodă culture
  • in the Caucasus region (chariot graves with four-wheeled carts) of the Maikop culture
  • in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq ).

All real-life finds date from around 3300 to 2800 BC. BC, although the 2-wheel model was preferred over the 4-wheel model, which is perhaps economically justified (less material). The oldest datable pictorial representation was found on a clay jar in Bronocice ( southern Poland ). This jug from the area of ​​the funnel beaker culture shows influences of the Boleraz stage of Baden culture, is dated to approx. 3200 to 3400 BC. Dated and shows two four-wheeled carriages. Several clay wagon models from the Baden culture (3500 to 2800 BC) were found in ( Buda-Kalász ). The greatest innovation was certainly the use of the horse as a draft animal, but this made considerable demands on the stability and weight of the wagons, which were now exposed to higher speeds. So it was not enough to harness horses instead of cattle. Because of the rapid spread from a historical point of view, there was a long, emotional debate about the area of ​​origin, which initiated an intensive investigation of all finds within the framework of the Excellence Cluster of the German Archaeological Institute .

Initially only cattle were used as draft animals in Europe, Africa (Egypt) and Asia, and oxen in Europe . Donkeys were also used in Mesopotamia . The use as a ritual wagon is firmly established in European culture of the 3rd – 1st centuries. Millennium BC Anchored. The use for troop transport as well as during war apparently originated in the Orient.

Car models

Covered car, original model, 2,000 BC Chr.
Reconstruction of an Iron Age chariot in Odense
Reconstruction of an early spring-loaded and steerable (front axle suspension with leather straps slides on rods) Roman coach in Cologne
Not much has changed: horse-drawn wagons with iron tires in Bulgaria in 1988.

The from area excavations of settlements of the 3rd millennium BC Small finds submitted to BC contain a large number of car models or their parts. The models show a wide range of variation and only a small part comes from temple complexes. Usually they were found in the apartment buildings; on Tell Halawa in about every second house. Their use of the car models was of a private nature. N. Cholidis (1992) found something similar for terracotta models of furniture. The symbolic inclusion of the furniture in private households suggests an expansion of religious cults into private life. The same can be assumed for the car models.

Written sources support the sacred meaning of the chariot in the ancient Orient. Numerous mentions of “chariots of the gods” have been handed down in text form. In some cases, the wagons themselves received divine veneration (Salonen 1951, pp. 66–76). It is uncertain whether the use of the car in the ancient Orient was limited to sacred or manorial use. Use as a means of transport is doubted because of the natural conditions. The military use of combat vehicles - going beyond the stately representation of status - is also being questioned. A complete team model (draft animals, yoke and wagon) made of copper, from the 2nd half of the 3rd millennium from the Alacahüyük culture of Anatolia, deserves special mention. See also ox figure from Dieburg .

Terracotta models of covered wagons, which primarily come from the central Euphrates region of Syria, give an indication of the profane use of wagons. A model car from Tall Bi'a has a representation of two four-legged friends on the tarpaulin. Moorey sees the covered wagons more like the mobile homes of nomadic herders of the steppe. Accordingly, with this type of wagon, there is a form of use that is known from the Eurasian steppes. The covered wagon has not found its way into the official art of the ancient Orient, so that for this reason and because of its regional distribution apart from irrigation cultures, it stands out from other wagon uses. An overview of the sources shows that the wagon was primarily important in the sacred-ritual and representative-elitist areas (which can also be the same) in the ancient Orient, whereas the wagons seem to have played a minor role in everyday life apart from cultic practice. According to Herzfeld (1934, p. 202), the Near East Orient was never a wagon country. This also explains the historically unique fact that the camel later became established as a means of transport. See also the chariot graves of the Yamnaja culture .

Representations such as the sun chariot from Trundholm in Denmark and the cult chariot from Peckatel from Mecklenburg are known from the Nordic Bronze Age , which also allow conclusions to be drawn about a ritual use and meaning.

Early improvements

Spoked wheels have appeared since around 2000 BC. BC, again almost simultaneously in Mesopotamia and Central Europe. An interim solution common in Central Europe was the grooving of the wheel disks. Spoked wheels reduced the rotating mass even more. Uniaxiality meant maneuverability with a simple construction. One example are the mostly single-axle chariots of the ancient civilizations.

Because of their lighter construction, spoked wheels could also have larger diameters. This led to better cross-country mobility.

For a long time there seems to have been cars with both rigid and steerable front axles. A document dating from around 3000 BC indicates the approximate time when steering was invented. Chr. Found in the middle transversely pierced carriage axis. An indication of the increased use of steered wagons is provided by the width of plank paths, which were built narrower at some point during the Bronze Age . In the Bronze and Iron Ages , a steerable front axle could be reasonably securely connected to the car with a metal friction nail. Clues arise from Celtic chariot graves (reconstructions, Boé chariot grave). Even so, many four-wheeled cars in Roman times did not have a steerable front axle. As good as forgotten in the Middle Ages, turntable steering became generally accepted from the 13th century.

The Celts were the leaders in the further development of the chariot in ancient Europe . In addition to technology and types, the Romans also adopted many terms from them.

The Celts built light, sprung single-axle vehicles as early as the 2nd century BC. BC. The Romans had covered traveling wagons with spring-mounted car bodies. In the 15th century a similar suspension was invented in Hungary. The comfortably sprung wagons quickly spread throughout Europe under the name of coaches . It was only after the invention of the steel leaf spring that it was possible to spring really heavy cars.

Modern times

Closed car bodies already existed in the 16th century. For construction reasons and because of the poor roads, however, they were a weight problem for a long time. It was not until the end of the 18th century that the closed mail car appeared, offering some of the passengers good protection from the weather.

There were paved country roads (see below) (again, see Roman times) from the middle of the 17th century, but it wasn't until the beginning of the 19th century that they became an increasingly dense network. Before that, the narrow iron-tyred wagon wheels caused deep wagon tracks due to wear and tear. That is why the track width of the wagons was standardized in many countries .

The kingpin steering , which is common today in motor vehicles , was invented by a wheelwright (wagon builder) as early as 1817 . Around the same time it was possible to improve the road holding and the ratio of weight and stability by cambering the wheel and spokes .

N. Cugnot's steam car

The harness with which the draft animals pulled the wagon was of great importance for the efficiency of wagons . For a long time there was only the yoke for heavy wagons , only suitable for cattle. In the 9th century which was collar tableware invented that substantially improved the traction of horses and other perissodactyls.

Up until the 19th century, particularly heavily loaded wagons were pulled by oxen (speed around two kilometers per hour ) and equipped with double wheels, comparable to the twin tires of today's trucks. For horse-drawn teams, additional harness horses were used for steep inclines.

The first engine-driven car was the 1769 steam car of Nicholas Cugnot , so more than a century before the first automobiles with gasoline engines 1885/86.

Cars and ways

The quality of the paths was very important for the effectiveness of the draft animals . In ancient times, the Greeks built a few stone railways and the Romans opened up their entire empire through a well-developed road network . The horse busses of the 19th century could only be pulled on appropriately developed roads. The horse traction at the beginning of railway history is also significant: although the railway achieved its worldwide importance with the steam locomotive , the first iron rails were laid for horse trams . This applies to the first coal and other mine railways in Great Britain , to the first long-distance railway on the European continent in 1827 along the Goldener Steig from Linz to Budweis (České Budějovice), and to the first trams (New York 1832, Germany from 1866).

Notes on the data situation

Historians and archaeologists can only fall back on movable objects if they have either been carefully preserved or if they are better preserved by being covered by soil or water. Therefore, the distribution of the finds does not allow any well-founded conclusions to be drawn about production or use in everyday life.

Many prehistoric and early historical wagon finds are grave finds . Such chariot graves , in which a chariot was used like a coffin, were common from the North Caucasus to the British Isles. Quite a few of these carriages were custom-made for funerals and differed significantly from those used in everyday life at that time.

Wagons were found in wetlands such as north German moors or the Upper Swabian Federsee, often in connection with billet dams . They were simply well preserved there.

The wide range of times given for the appearance of the steered front axle can probably not be narrowed down due to different references in the literature.

The Dejbjerg wagon in the Ringkøbing-Skjern Museum represents 2000 or 2500 year old wagons found in Jutland. The information about the period of its origin ranges from the Stone Age to the Bronze Age to the Iron Age, although all metal parts on the wagons are made of bronze.

Use of language

A special feature is the plural of wagons, which in some regions is called “the wagons”. This form was still predominant in Upper German usage in the 19th and early 20th centuries, but the leading variant of the plural formation has now changed to “die Wagen”.

See also


  • Mamoun Fansa, S. Burmeister (ed.): Wheel and car: the origin of an innovation . Mainz am Rhein 2004, ISBN 3-8053-3322-6 .
  • JE Walkowitz: Logistics in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic . In: Varia neolithica IV . 2006, ISBN 3-937517-43-X .
  • Helmut Schlichtherle : Prehistoric settlements, boardwalks and fishing facilities: advances in archaeological research on the Federsee . In: Nachrichtenblatt - Advances in archaeological research on the Federsee . ( PDF; 1.6 MB ( Memento from February 21, 2007 in the Internet Archive )).

Web links

Wiktionary: Wagen  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Content rendering of the book "What is Enlightenment" by Immanuel Kant
  2. ^ Dictionary of the German Language, organized and edited by Joachim Heinrich Campe, Second Part F to K, Braunschweig 1808
  3. Florian Klimscha: Transforming Technical Know-how in Time and Space. Using the Digital Atlas of Innovations to Understand the Innovation Process of Animal Traction and the Wheel. (PDF; 30MB). In: Journal for Ancient Studies. Volume 6, 2017, pp. 16–63.
  4. Wasa z Broncic (Polish) (The vessel found is more like a jug, and according to the lexicon, “vase” is called “wazon”)
  5. Neufang & Pruss 1994; Oates 2001.
  6. ^ Neufang & Pruss 1994, p. 160.
  7. see also: Jürgen E. Walkowitz: Logistics in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic. In: Varia Neolithica. IV, 2006, ISBN 3-937517-43-X , pp. 123-151.
  8.  ( Page no longer available , search in web archives ) Ockenhausener Bohlenweg, Wiesmoor@1@ 2Template: Toter Link / wiesmoor-info.server-hosts.com
  9. Inquiries from Hans Lässig, reconstructor of prehistoric wagons and boardwalks: Proof of axles with a central transverse bore, which can only have been introduced as a “predetermined breaking point” for a valid reason, for the friction nail
  10. Moor and peat in the folk culture of the Styrian Ennstal. P. 62, 63, 70, 73. ( PDF; 3.0 MB )
  11. Reconstruction of a Roman touring car and a car from the Hallstatt culture. ( Memento from July 14, 2009 in the Internet Archive )
  12. Martin Schönfelder: The late Celtic chariot grave of Boé. ( Memento of February 22, 2014 in the Internet Archive ) (PDF; 6.2 MB). With discussion about Dejbjerg wagons
  13. ^ Raimund Karl: Considerations on traffic in the Iron Age Keltiké. ( Memento of February 7, 2009 in the Internet Archive ) Dissertation. (PDF; 5.5 MB)
  14. History of the car and the wheelwright trade ( Memento of December 10, 2004 in the Internet Archive )
  15. Prince's grave in Waldalgesheim
  16. ^ "Third round - plural of wagons" , Atlas on German everyday language (AdA), Phil.-Hist. Faculty, University of Augsburg, June 19, 2006