SV: wheeled vehicles

Steve Farmer saf at SAFARMER.COM
Wed Apr 11 16:02:21 UTC 2001

Rajesh Kochhar writes:

> In the Rgvedic context it will probably be more relevant to talk of
> wheeled vehicles rather than war chariots, more specifically of  vehicles
> with spoked wheels in contrast to solid wheels. Spoked wheels make the
> vehicle lighter and faster and therefore more versatile.

Lars Martin Fosse responds:

> This does not make sense. A "war chariot" is a vehicle developed for a
> specific purpose, and such contraptions are well known from later periods.
> If you read Xenophon's famous Anabasis, he has a vivid description of
> Persian chariots, some of them mean bastards with rotating knives attached
> to the wheel axles.

I don't think that RK would disagree, Lars. I think his main
point is simply that the spoked wheel -- first seen in central
Asia at the tail end of the 3rd millennium -- was the enabling
technology that allowed many types of fast vehicles (including
the specialized war chariots that you mention) to evolve. What he
says a little later on is that the kind of vehicles that evolved
depended on the situation:

> What you do with your vehicles depends on who and what you are up against. Against
> pedestrians even a clumsy vehicle will serve as a war vehicle; against
> enemies/targets of similar technological status, you would need quality and
> innovation.

ADENDUM on pit earlier discussion of the ratha-vaahana, or
'chariot carrier,' noted in RV 6.75 and other Vedic sources: We
know from studies of super lightweight chariots seen elsewhere in
Eurasia (e.g., from Shang dynasty graves, c. 11th century BCE)
that light-weight spoked wheels tended to become deformed simply
from being parked, let alone from moving on uneven ground. See
the discussion here in Robert Bagley, "Shang Archaeology," _Camb.
Hist. of Ancient China 2000_, 204-5. The result is that the
wheels had to be removed except in the brief periods in which the
vehicles were in use; alternately, special parking racks could be
used to keep the weight off of the wheels. This would suggest
again that super-light war chariots, or racing chariots, etc.,
would need to be carried on other wagons (the ratha-vaahana) to
where they were used.

But we don't have to imagine that *all* war chariots were this
delicate. The evidence, as suggested by Lars, is that they came
in many varieties, from robust and heavy-duty models to the
highly stylized war chariot used for ritual purposes. Certainly
many types can already be seen in the RV. What made all this
possible, as suggested by Rajesh Kochhar in his post, is the
development of the enabling technology -- the spoked wheel. And
*that* we know, evolved in Central Asia, not long before 2000
BCE, and only made it to S. Asia many hundreds of years later.

Steve Farmer

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