While the wheel first came into existence thousands of years ago in ancient Mesopotamia, travel within the southwestern Asian region during that time period often involved a lot more walking than anything else. In terms of transportation for human beings, wheels definitely weren't an overnight success.

Introduction of the Wheel

The planet's oldest confirmed wheel is thought to have been created in Mesopotamia around 3,500 B.C. Wheels were first invented as a means of improving the efficiency of wooden sleds that were equipped with runners. These sleds were designed to transport heavy loads like rocks, rather than people. The runners weren't too effective for pushing things around. When the sleds were piled high with heavy items, moving them became next to impossible, which is where the wheel came in.

Travel by Walking

Walking was a common mode of travel in ancient Mesopotamia and even for some time after the advent of the wheel. If people didn't walk, they often traveled on oxen. Although oxen weren't as speedy as horses, they have lower water demands and increased stamina. Wheeled carts for transportation weren't an immediate hit for several reasons, one of which involved the absence of roads. With the lack of roads, being trapped in the mud was practically inevitable for travelers using wheeled carts. Rugged, bumpy terrain in general made traveling around in these carts unappealing and frustrating to many Mesopotamians.

Smooth Sailing

Apart from the landscapes, the presence of rivers also discouraged Mesopotamians from using wheeled carts to get around. Urban centers in ancient Mesopotamia typically were situated on the Euphrates and Tigris rivers. This easy access to rivers made traveling on boats a more realistic, practical and comfortable option. Travel on rivers often was fast and easy -- the polar opposite of the sluggish pace of moving around in a bumpy wheeled cart. While river travel was dependable, travel in wheeled carts was not. Traveling in boats did have its drawbacks, however. The boats were only capable of moving southward, as they traveled along with the currents in the Tigris and Euphrates, which flowed from north to south.

Travel on Chariots

The wheel didn't leave much of an impression on Mesopotamians until roughly 3,000 B.C. The chariot first came into existence during this time period. Chariots were basically carts with two wheels drawn by horses. Chariots went over very well in the region, and soon gained international attention, moving on to other regions such as Europe and China.