What's another word for traffic in a rural preindustrial or medieval type environment?

Traffic just feels so modern to me, cars and trucks, and doesn't seem to fit in a time and place where there are no automobiles.

What would a better word to describe the traffic of horses and wagons, or something along those lines?

  • If you mean traffic in the sense of vehicles competing for space on the roads, there wasn't much in the way of roads in rural preindustrial or medieval environments. There were some well-worn paths but generally, if there was another vehicle "in the way", you just aimed in a slightly different direction, not that there were that many vehicles going from the same place, to the same place, or vice versa, at the same time. If you mean traffic in the generic sense of the overall movement of vehicles, I'm not sure there was enough that someone would have recognized the need for a word.
    – fixer1234
    Feb 27, 2017 at 5:57
  • Guess I'm thinking more in the generic sense, as oppose to competition. A single horse or wagon could be referred to as traffic, but feels like overkill.
    – GRW
    Feb 27, 2017 at 6:03
  • Maybe the road was full... google.com/…
    – Jim
    Feb 27, 2017 at 6:07
  • @Clare, I also though of preindustrial cities, but the question is specific about rural.
    – fixer1234
    Feb 27, 2017 at 6:07
  • Do you want a word we could use today to talk about movement of people and vehicles in thoses days (say in a History essay) or a word that people would use in those days (say for a period novel)? Same question for you "road" question.
    – Jacinto
    Feb 27, 2017 at 8:05

1 Answer 1


The oldest meaning of traffic (trade, commerce, business) has been with us since the 15th century, but it has only signified "people and vehicles coming and going" since the 1820s. Thus the OP would be quite correct to assume a person from the medieval ages would not have used the word "traffic" to suggest a flow of vehicles and people. With the guidance of etymonline, may I suggest the following alternatives:

  • The streets were busy

Old English bisig "careful, anxious," later "continually employed or occupied,"

  • The lanes bustled
  • The bustle of the city

"be active," 1570s (bustling "noisy or excited activity" is from early 15c.),

  • The way was crowded

crowded Old English crudan "to press, crush."

Dictionary.com dates crowded between 1605-1615

Way is an archaic term for road, derived from Old English weg (ca. 500-1100). In fact, portweg meant "the way to town" or "public road"

  • Really like 'bustle', gives the impression of activity without the modern feel I get from 'traffic'.
    – GRW
    Mar 2, 2017 at 20:56
  • @GRW thank you for accepting the answer, and I'm delighted you like the suggestion bustle.
    – Mari-Lou A
    Mar 2, 2017 at 20:59

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.