“Were the wheels on carts solid or did they have spokes during the Middle Ages?” Many guests have asked this question on tour because we see both types of wheels in use at the Ozark Medieval Fortress. The answer is: They used both. The wheel itself is an ancient invention. It was the Romans, however, with the coming of the developed Iron Age, who made excellent wheels with wooden spokes and an iron “tire” ring. This iron ring meant that the wheels were stronger and lasted longer. Because the ring also helped hold the wheel together, they were able to increase the length of the spokes and thus stabilized the ride. Significantly, the Romans at the same time also developed the iron hub and axle sleeve so their wheels were superior because the wheels were tighter with less wobble. Their wheels were so good that the basic design did not change until Henry Ford put rubber on them for the Model T automobile. The high-wheeled Medieval cart that guests see at the Ozark Medieval Fortress came from France, but could easily look to an American like it came right out of the Old West.
During the Dark Ages (first half of the Medieval), the use of Roman technology lapsed and many wheels were made solid rather than with spokes. At that time, roads were primitive and the solid wheels held up better on the rough terrain. They were also easier to make. At the Ozark Medieval Fortress, the carpenters have put early Medieval solid wheels on the low rock hauling cart. This gives guests the opportunity to observe both types of wheels in action and saves wear on the high-wheeled cart.
Pictured here is a solid-wheeled cart in the style of the Dark Ages that I made fashioned after a cart found with the Oseberg Viking Ship discovered in Norway and said to be from the year 800. It makes for a rough ride, but never a flat tire!