How Important was the Horse (chapter 25)
I always wanted to be a knight in shining armor - in fact my horse’s name is Knight. I guess I never grew up! I loved reading about the Greeks and Egyptians or stories of chivalry during the Middle Ages. I have always heard that the horse was important to the development of western civilization. With a little research, I started to realize that horses were far more interesting than my pet led me to believe.
In the article “The Origin of Horseback Riding” (Scientific American, December 1991) David Anthony states that the head of a six to eight year old stallion was found in the hamlet of Dereivka dating back to 4000 BC. This horse’s head was preserved in a Copper Age grave, as a ritual offering by the people of the Sredni Stog culture of the Ukrainian. Wear on the anterior premolars causing a beveling of the leading edge of the tooth commonly seen in the mouth of a horse ridden with a bit seems to prove that this horse was used as a ridden mount. He couldn’t be a cart horse because the wheel wouldn’t be around for another 500 years. The antler cheek pieces of a bit were also found in the Sredni Stog settlement in Aleksandriia from the same time period. The most compelling evidence is that their language and culture spread very suddenly from this area too quickly for people on foot. Parts of this language are found in common with Sanskrit, Homeric Greek and Latin as well as the modern languages of English, French, Russian, Persian and Hindi among many others. Horseback riding may be the mechanism for the dispersal of this language through war and trade. By riding the horse people travel much farther distances and attain power. When people attain power their language is learned whether through force of conquest or trade and that language spreads in all directions of influence. Because the Indo-European languages have a common historical background and trace back to the same people whom were the first riders of domesticated horses it seems probable that the horse was the tool that helped to start the spread of our own culture.
Nowhere would learning to ride be
more useful than the steppe environmental regions of the East. This desolate
grass land stretches 3,000 miles from the mouth of the
The Egyptian and Persian Empires
By 1,300 BC the Egyptians replaced the primitive horn bits with the introduction of metal bits. This innovation made the bits stronger so they wouldn’t wear out or break during battle. The communication of cues through the bit to the horse became more consistent as the design of the bit became more reliable. In conjunction with this stronger bit, the draw rein and the martingale were created to assist in collecting the horse’s head allowing the charioteer to control the horse’s speed and direction with more accuracy. These inventions greatly aided the Egyptian civilization as it continued to dominate the world as the first major empire in history and in the process made the horse a very important animal.
To defeat the
Egyptian empire it was necessary to have a new concept of battle. The horseman
of Cyrus the Great of the
Greek and Roman Empires
In 430 BC, an Athenian, Xenophon,
wrote the first surviving books on horsemanship “Hippike,” and tactics, “Hipparchikos.”
He was a member of the Equestrian class in which horsemen provided their own
horses and equipment. He fought in the Peloponnesian wars and later joined a
Greek army to assist the Prince of
During this campaign Xenophon observed
a weakness in the Persian cavalry. The Persian cavalry was controlled solely by
the King. He carried this knowledge back to
Alexander went on to conquer the world by 323 BC using this same strategy which was to separate his cavalry into independent groups of which each commander had a concept of the overall battle plan. As the battle changed each commander could make independent adjustments to achieve the overall goal. By changing the way the horse and riders were used tactically Alexander created a better tool and founded the Greek Empire.
By 200 BC two new ideas were
introduced into Roman Warfare; the horse shoe, created by the Greeks and the
saddle, developed by the Sarmatians. As the
With the use of these two new inventions the Roman cavalry was able to travel by horse three times the distance of their foes in the same amount of time. With this speed the Romans went on to conquer the world – again using the horse as a better tool.
The Hun and Holy Roman Empires
By 375 AD, the Roman Empire began
to fade and Attila the Hun’s invasion threatened
After the Hun
Modern History in the West
In more recent history the horse
was used very effectively to expand the borders of three empires. The Spanish
used the horse to conquer
These modern “empires” would be the last to rise on the backs of horses. The Industrial Revolution arrived. The invention of the machine gun and its later use during WWI ended the use of the horse in war. The Industrial Revolution not only developed the machine gun but also the automobile which led to the tractor. By 1920 the horse was obsolete; replaced for transportation by the car and replaced in the work force by the tractor. Without a purpose the horse began to disappear from large segments of society.
No horses fought
in WWII but something very special happened to the horse. While fighting in
This story helped glorify the horse and captured the hearts of horse lovers and non-horse lovers throughout the world. Many of our soldiers returned home with a newfound affection for the horse leading to the beginnings of the hobby horse industry. Blessed with a good economy the industry has developed into what we enjoy today. There are now more horses per capita in the world than when we used them out of necessity for war, travel and labor.
How important is the horse? Are we the civilization that we are because of the horse? Where would we be if a man hadn’t put a piece of bone in a horse’s mouth? What would have happened 6,000 years ago if no one had thought to bring a horse into their village? What would we be like if a horse was looked upon like a deer or we ate it like we eat beef? I love my pet horse, Knight and I thank all his ancestors for the life I now enjoy as a horseman.