galastel wrote in little_details

Wheelchairs in antiquity

What mobility aids would be available to a person with little or no use of their legs, middle-east region, circa 500 CE?

My setting is based on Sasanian Persia; fantasy setting, so I have some flexibility. (So if there's record of something being available in earlier Rome or in Egypt or in India, for instance, I can assume the idea travelled.) Character is upper class, loss of mobility due to Polio.

Tried looking for "disability in antiquity", "disability in Persia", "disability in Mesopotamia" — found attitudes, e.g. the Mesopotamian god Enki designating those who can't walk to work as silversmiths. Did not find mobility aids. Tried looking for "mobility aids in antiquity" found three-wheeled walkers dating to ancient Egypt and Rome (, but wheelchairs dating back only to the Renaissance, Germany.

Further complicating matters, one element: while sticking wheels on a chair is not such an outlandish idea that it could not have appeared before the Renaissance, seating in Sasanian Persia was, to the best of my knowledge, on divans, cross-legged.

In light of this, a Persian nobleman or noblewoman with little or no use of his/her legs — what could they have available to them, in terms of moving around?


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This might give some insight: "Much depended on mobility. There were no wheelchairs, so people used crutches, staffs, or canes. Others had to crawl about on their sound leg, supporting themselves with a hand on the ground. Donkeys, carts or litters could assist those who were unable to walk, provided they had the means to finance them. Prosthetic devices were individually crafted. Hegesistratus was the diviner of the Persian general Mardonius. When he was thrown into jail by the Spartans, he cut off his foot in order to escape and then fashioned a prosthetic foot out of wood. "

And, apologies - while those links were mostly for the common or poor individuals, someone who was wealthy/from a wealthy family honestly would probably be carried about in a litter chair or palanquin, and otherwise probably not be very mobile at all (servants waiting on them, etc.)
hah, that's totally what i would use.

but so, not Persian, but there's a Chinese wuxia drama where a character can't walk and is in a wheeled chair. I think as long as the invention of the wheel is there, there's no reason it couldn't be on a chair.
Yes, but wheels are vastly overrated. Without reliable surfaces, they may be more trouble than they are worth. Many merchants used pack animals instead of wagons because the wheels weren't worth it.

Mud. Slopes. Plant growth. Etc.

Did the wuxia drama have the character use the chair outside? Inside would have its uses, to be sure.
If the character is poor, they're out of luck as they'd have to depend on themselves. The wealthy would be carried by servants, eunuchs if it was a woman, or in a palanquin.

I wouldn't put much stock in the Chinese wuxia you mentioned. A lot of recent wuxia has been adapted for modern audiences, even the clothing is sometimes not period accurate.
So although my credentials are rusty by now, I am a scholar of late antiquity (later Roman Empire/early Christian).

This gentleman is an amazing historian of the Sasanian Empire, and although I don't recommend contacting him with questions during this time, checking out his publications and looking for other articles that cite his work could find you a wealth of sources.

Disability in Antiquity contains an article on disability in pre-Muslim Persia. It looks like it goes all the way back to the Achaemenids, but could help you with Zoroastrian attitudes toward disabling conditions.

It might be worth seeing if you can get access to this article on the LIVED EXPERIENCE of being disabled in Roman Egypt, sadly it's not free online.

There's also fascinating stuff in this article, available as a PDF; I saw a reference to a beggar boy born with deformities of the legs who was dragged around in a cart. Christian Laes wrote this article and edited the volume on Google Books above; he seems to study disability in Late Antiquity and it might be worth searching for more of his work.

I'm sorry I can't do more than offer research leads, as this is not a question I ever took a deep dive into. I will say, though, that everyone saying that disabled people in antiquity used crutches, stretchers, carts, or dragged themselves on whatever limbs they could, are all correct. Even a push-chair (not powered by the sitter) might be appropriate. This short piece on the history of the wheelchair says that wheeled chairs were appearing in Chinese art by the 6th century CE, and Persia was on the Silk Road, so . . .