Symbolic Horse Education Resources

Early Horse Peoples

Map showing the geographical location of eraly societies using horses.


An ancient race who came to prominence with the rise of Islam.  They have bred closely guarded pure strains of hot blooded desert horses for centuries – it is said an Arab can recite the pedigree of his favourite horses going back to 600 A.D.  The best horses were never sold and never left Arabia.  Allah is said to have created the horse out of the south wind, and some Arabian horse bear the Prophet’s thumb mark on their neck, where Mohammed was supposed to have touched them.


The Assyrian empire lased from around 1,000BC to about 612BC when the Meads and the Persians conquered it.  Its homelands were in the deserts of Mesopotamia (present day Iraq and Iran), on higher ground above the fertile plains that lay claim to be the ‘cradle of civilisation’.  At its peak, the Assyrian empire included Egypt, and this success of the Assyrians was in no part due to their prowess as horsemen – in later centuries, Assyrians formed foreign cavalry units within the Roman army.


Member of the eastern European group of tribes, originating from Indo-Aryan stock.


Inhabitants of Northern Europe who initially subjugated the Teutonic tribes, who rose up and drove them westward in 300BC.  Not so much an empire but a loose association of tribes, who could have been much more successful militarily had they organised themselves and been more coherent as a group.  They were skilled metalworkers, responsible for the dissemination of early Iron Age culture.  The Celts had a caste-based society in which the horse played a prominent role, and gave them some of their early conquests.  They are credited with the invention of the horseshoe, and the goddess Epona protected horses and their keepers.  The Celts became incorporated into cultures which overtook their homelands (e.g. Roman), and the last stronghold of the Celts was Britain, from whence they were driven by the Anglo-Saxons.


The Egyptians had no horses until their invasion by the Hyksos, but certainly were using chariots in the hunt by the time of Tutankhamun (1350BC).  Scenes from a chariot based ostrich hunt in the desert are recorded on a gold fan base found in his tomb, and the fan itself is made from the feathers of the very ostrich the boy king killed.


The ancestors of modern day Finns, they originated from Asiatic homelands.


The Greeks are generally not considered to have made effective military use of the horse, although horses did form part of Alexander’s army which crossed the Alps.  However, that is not to say that they did not ride – horses and dogs were the only animals considered noble by the Greeks.  There are no records of the Greeks riding purely for pleasure as is the case in modern times.  Xenophon wrote a treatise on horsemanship (primarily with a military bias) which is still in print today.


The Hebrews were not a horse owning nation.  An analysis of the Bible (a history of the Hebrew people) reveals that most of the horses mentioned actually belonged to the Hebrews’ enemies, and that the Hebrews themselves owned asses.  Mosaic law considered horseflesh unclean (by definition, though not directly named), and this may play an important part in the present day aversion to the consumption of horsemeat in much of the western world.


Attila – need more be said?


The Hyksos were the ‘Shepherd Kings’ of the Bible.  They successfully developed chariot warfare and successfully over-ran the Egyptian empire in 1500 BC.  Their horses and chariots have been likened to the scud missiles of their day – invincible against an army who had neither the same weaponry, nor a suitable defence.  The Hyksos became incorporated into the Egyptian culture, so did not signal an end to Egypt’s power, with the age of the Pharaohs yet to come.


Name given to the Greeks for the region the Romans called Hispania – Spain and Portugal.  Iberia was the easternmost point of the Celtic empire (if it could be called such).  The Greek historian Strabo described an annual Celtic round up of horses in 50BC, and remnants of the same ritual still survive in modern Spain.


The generic originals of all European and Indian races and languages, the Proto-Indo-Europeans (PIE) were early (and good) horsemen.  It may be argued that it was the effective use of the horse that allowed military and cultural supremacy, and thus made us what we are today.  A reconstructed PIE story tells of a horse and a sheep meeting on the road.  The sheep said to the horse: “Brother, it grieves me to see a proud and noble horse doing the work to carry a man who is too lazy to walk”.  The horse said nothing.  Some months later, the horse again passed the sheep (who had been shorn) and said: “Brother sheep, it saddens me to see a sheep shivering by the road, while my master is warm wearing his coat!”  At which the sheep fled to the hills.  A case of those who live in glass houses….. and it also shows that very early on in our history, we were aware of our exploitation of natural resources (but still have not learned to do anything about it today?)


The region between the rivers Tigris and Euphrates, the cradle of civilisation.  Mesopotamia was where the first domestication of plants is hypothesised to have occurred, and civilisation began.  It is now in modern day Iraq (or what is left of it).


Kukkuli was the horse master to a Mittanean ruler, and wrote the earliest surviving treatise on training horses in cuneiform script on clay tablets (circa 1650BC).  Interestingly enough, his regime is very similar to modern interval training methods, and included feeding of concentrates, swimming, massage (described somewhat confusingly as ‘anointing with butter’) and washing down (probably needed after the butter massage in a hot climate!).


Mounted horseman from the Asiatic steppes.  The Chinese had to build the Great Wall to keep them out, which must say something about their superiority as horseman.


Numidia was a Roman province in North Africa.  It provided cavalry first for the Carthaginian empire, and then for the Romans, presumably mounted on hot-blooded horses of the Barb (Barbary coast) type.


An independent empire from 200BC, the Parthians were incredibly effective horseman, who later provided mercenary cavalry for the Roman army.  They developed the ‘Parthian shot’, a very effective tactic in which they led the enemy to believe they were on the run, and as the enemy charged after then, they turned on their horses and fired a hail of arrows behind them, inflicting heavy casualty by surprise and decimating their foe.


Asian peoples from Persia, includes Mesopotamia.  The originators of civilisation.


The Romans are not generally considered good cavalrymen, and most cavalry soldiers were recruited or conscripted mercenaries (e.g. Celts, Parthians, Assyrians and Numidians).  The Romans had many types of horses and many uses for them, from equus (cavalry officers charger) to clitellarius (pack horse).  Horses, together with a network of posting stations and good roads, allowed relatively rapid communication (essential to hold an empire together).  In Roman times it was possible to get a message from Rome to London in 13 days, a record only beaten more than 1500 years later with the establishment of a European rail network. 


The Saxons had few horses; hence they were reserved for those of status (leaders).  This was useful in warfare – if your army lost, you could escape to fight another day, if it won, you rode in victorious on horseback and finished off the fleeing enemy foot soldiers.


A horse based nomadic culture found in the area North of the Black Sea at its peak around 700BC.  The early Scythians are credited with the invention of trousers as a practical garment which made riding astride more comfortable – prior to this men had worn skirts or kilt type garments.


Member of the eastern European group of tribes, originating from Indo-Aryan stock.


Originally part of the Balkan Peninsula.


Thought of more as ravaging seafarers, plunderers and destroyers, history has not been kind to the Vikings, who preferred to call themselves Norse (Northmen).  They were also farmers, settlers, metalworkers and travellers.  Horses were part of their culture and mythology, and they are credited with the introduction of the stirrup into Northern Europe. 

Sic transit gloria mundi……….

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