A decree has been issued by King User VMDCCLX in the 12th century CE to control traffic within the kingdom, a significant portion will be pour into upsizing the military. Despite it's unpopularity the people have no way to tell if they exceeded say 10 furlongs per King's issued candles, so it becomes kind of a road tax where everybody simply pay up to avoid falling to the short end of the King temperament. I am wondering how can we improve on the speed monitoring system so that both the King as well as his people are satisfied?

P.S: King will become happy when his military strength grows and as for the people, they are content to pay fine as long as they feel that justice is fairly served.

  • $\begingroup$ For a real historical example, see Peter the Great's tax on beards. (But realistically speaking, they had lots of tax ideas much easier to enforce and collect; for real examples, what about a tax on windows? On chimneys? Or on beds, as they have in the UK right now?) $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jan 27, 2021 at 7:41
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    $\begingroup$ Why tax people going too fast on the public roads, when you can simply tax people using the public roads in the first place? It's loads easier and there's much less arguing involved. $\endgroup$
    – Cadence
    Jan 27, 2021 at 14:21
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    $\begingroup$ This doesn't make any sense. A massive cart loaded with rocks going very very slow is both a problem and wrecking the road more than peasants. It will pay no tax? An army marching slowly with horses and carts will pay no tax? And what is the relationship to "top speed" (i.e., a "speed limit") to the supposed purpose ("control traffic within the kingdom")? Speed is not traffic. Taxing travel faster than X won't "control traffic". $\endgroup$
    – Paco Hope
    Jan 27, 2021 at 15:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Cadence: no there is no tax for going too fast only a fine and also the benevolent king don't exactly tax everything under the sun as there are already road tolls stationed at strategic locations ;D $\endgroup$
    – user6760
    Jan 27, 2021 at 16:07
  • $\begingroup$ Speeding is pretty much impossible when you are talking about animals pulling carts. Plus the king wants some people to travel fast, his own messengers for instance. this is not like cars where you can go too fast for human reaction times. there are much easier things to tax/fine like dumping your waste in the street or wearing clothes above your station. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jan 27, 2021 at 16:50

5 Answers 5


Beast of burden and peasant have way less modes in their moving scale then modern engines.

Peasants either walk or run.

Beasts of burden can at most walk, trot or gallop.

The king doesn't set a limit on the speed, he does set a limit on the modes. If your horse is galloping, you get fined. If you are running, you get fined.

In this way a single appointed person can monitor many subjects at the same time, keeping operational costs low and increasing the profit.

And if you think this is arbitrary, what is so dangerous in 51 km/h that is not in 50 km/h?

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    $\begingroup$ And that is why to this day, in the modern Olympics, the race walking event is dominated by people from the region of this former kingdom. $\endgroup$
    – Glen Yates
    Jan 27, 2021 at 17:46

Fines have been in use ever since the middle ages at least:

The court assembly, the thing, used the law and heard witnesses to rule whether the accused was guilty or not. There were usually two types of punishment: outlawing and fines. The most common means of justice were, however, fines; the amount varied, depending on the severity of the offense. This system was extremely intricate and the fines themselves, singularly a "mulct", were also varied according to the social status of the accused and/or the victim. Disputes of innocence were often solved by trial. These trials consisted of different tests for men and women. However, as long as the courts were not made aware of the crime, it could go unpunished or was settled outside of legal bounds by payment. There was no written code of law until after the Viking Age, but the code of fines, duels, and disavowing criminals was the standard across the Scandinavian world.

And if the king's subjects ever wish to object to a fine, there is always trial by combat. This is a mechanism for settling disputes that is enshrined in the laws of the United Kingdom to this day:

In later years, attempts have been made to abolish trial by combat

(Notice that the article is from 2019)

Since usually peasants are not as well fed nor as trained in combat as knights and champions of the realm, this meets the requirement that mostly everyone is satisfied and won't dispute the fines given.

Alternatively, tke a page from the Discworld. Count infractions in a given year with the methods in the other answers, then the next year collect that much amount in taxes, to be paid by the whole population. Also check how much jail time should be served by not paying taxes from last year and have special mly appointed representatives from the guild of thieves locked up for the corresponsing time. The thieves can then legally steal people for that amount during the fiscal year (they should issue receipts upon every theft).


There are lots of ways to do this:

  • Every peasant must start singing "ode to how great king user is" when they pass the city walls. If they're still singing when the reach the town square, ticket. If they dont sing. Ticket. If they sing too slow or change the lyrics, pillory.
  • The king gets a tax from the sale of cigarettes. Every peasant must light a new cigarette when passing the city walls. If the cigarette has burnt out by the time you reach the town square - ticket. If you cheat and light a second one, your still paying the king.
  • Put evenly spaced bumps on the road, such that the vibrations of the cart are proportional to the speed. Now the guard can issue tickets based on sound.
  • Or related, put the bumps a bit further away and you'll get a rythym. If it beat is too fast for the kings favourite dancer to dance too, ticket.
  • where the road goes downhill, maintain a gutter near the road with a calibrated number of obstacles in it. Any guard can pour water into the gutter as a cart passes. If the cart reaches the bottom of the hill before the water. Ticket.
  • hourglasses / egg timers are a thing, so are painted lines on the road. If the cart crosses a second line on the road before a 5 minute hourglass expires, ticket.
  • Pour a bucket of water on the horse as they leave town A. If they're still wet when they arrive at town B, ticket.
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    $\begingroup$ In colonial Brazil, people would spit on the ground as a timer. People had until the spit dried up to do stuff. That might be used too - spit on the ground when starting entering town, and the spit should have dried by the time you cross the gates. $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2021 at 15:12
  • $\begingroup$ The "bucket 'o water" has problems, like when it's been dry for months, the water won't ever reach the bottom of the hill due to absorption of the soil. And if it's raining, the horse will never dry and the horse will sweat if it's going fast, so it won't dry then, either. It also doesn't work if the next town is many day's travel. And if it's raining, the gutter will be full and you can't tell the bucket's water from the runoff. And the sound options assume only a single cart at a time, instead of dozens. And the bumps don't work for pedestrians or animal riders. $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2021 at 16:06
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    $\begingroup$ The singing would just end up as a cacophony, so you'd never be able to pick anyone out for their singing or lack thereof, if they lip sync. You also have the problem of visitors not knowing the song, especially dignitaries you don't want to PO with a fine. You'd also have better luck with incense than cigarettes. That's harder to change the duration of burning and I think that's been taxed for ages. It would also help cover up the smell of the manure and unwashed bodies, which is generally what it was used for anyway. $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2021 at 16:11
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    $\begingroup$ @computercarguy something tells me the king is totally fine with a few extra tickets being handed out, despite it being "unfair". Matter of fact theres probably another ticket for claiming a ticket is unfairly issued. $\endgroup$
    – Ash
    Jan 27, 2021 at 16:18
  • $\begingroup$ @Ash, what I'm saying is that the inconsistency of the methods you describe would cause more problems and be less accurate than you think. And medieval times were noisy as it was, so adding to the noise isn't likely going to be wanted by anyone, not that the methods you describe would be able to be heard over some of the normal noise. This was often trades/barters which would have to be even louder to work and likely have a petition by merchants to reduce the noise of the bumps so they could do their work and gain the king taxes through sales. These taxes would make more money than the fines. $\endgroup$ Jan 27, 2021 at 16:31

At checkpoints, a guard lights a standardized candle and puts it in a tamper-proof holder and seals the lid with a wax seal. Illegal possession of the seal and of similar holders is a serious offence, obviously.

At further checkpoints, the candle is inspected and if it isn't exhausted, a fine is levied. A new sealed candle is provided for the next stretch of road.

However, I think we need to step back a bit. Foot traffic is unlikely to have enough of a spread of speeds to be an issue, unless there are runner-messengers whom you wish to discourage (which you'd have only if horses weren't readily available). Heavy drayage is also likely to be pretty much uniform in speed. The faster traffic will be light carriages pulled at a trot, and fastest will be riders galloping, like the pony express.

So if the goal is to raise money while reducing speeds, a tax on the faster modes would be more apt: one level for light carriages and a higher level for riders. A permit would be issued, which would need to be displayed.

Or, a law fining people for running their horses or themselves in modes faster than a walk (which can be well-defined in both cases), enforced by observers along the way. I believe historically some towns had bylaws against galloping within certain areas.

It's really only with the advent of motor-cars did we get the capability of moving at speeds twice or three times what we want to allow.

  • $\begingroup$ In the Middle Ages, candles - even the relatively cheap tallow ones - were expensive and used limited resources. It would be somewhat extravagant to routinely have travelers burn a candle (needlessly, in the daylight or on moonlit nights) just to potentially fine them. If you provided the candles for free, you likely wouldn't break even with fines. If you charged everyone for the candle, you might as well just not give them the candle and use the erstwhile "candle charge" as the revenue source. $\endgroup$
    – R.M.
    Jan 27, 2021 at 22:56
  • $\begingroup$ Did not know that about candles! How about a one-way hourglass which somehow cannot be reset except by the guards? $\endgroup$
    – CCTO
    Jan 28, 2021 at 23:41

Station two guard stations 1 mile (or equivalent distance) apart. Each station has an aerie of homing pigeons trained to roost in the other guard station. (They swap cages of birds every so often when they run out.) Each guard also has a clock, could be a pocket watch or just a regular clock, powered by springs - only caveat is it must be portable. They make sure to wind and synchronize their clocks at least daily as part of the pigeon-exchange. (There may be one set of guards performing the exchanges while another shift remains at their posts.) If you have more than 2 checkpoints, each one (except the first and last) can have 2 aeries with birds trained on the next and previous stations.

When a traveler reaches Station A, the guard there writes their name and the time on his clock onto a strip of paper, tears off a stub to hand to the traveler, then ties the other piece to one of the pigeons, who then flies to Station B. The guard at Station B then puts that paper into an inbox. When the traveler reaches Station B, the guard there checks his inbox for the paper with that traveler's name (and makes sure the tear matches the traveler's stub - paper tears in an irregular fashion, so will be hard to forge a matching tear) and compares the time on it to his own clock. If not enough time has passed, or there is not a paper with the traveler's name on it (because they somehow beat the pigeon) the traveler is fined for speeding, or they may choose to wait at the station in case the bird was just lazy - the timestamp on the paper may exonerate them if the bird arrives late. The reverse happens when a traveler is going the other direction and reaches Station B first.

The only downside of this is the possibility that some ill fate may befall the pigeons in transit. If an archer shoots one down, this would be a serious criminal offense. Natural predators might be a problem, but you'd probably have hunters whose duty it was to track them down if too many birds started to go missing.


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