Though according to the more trustworthy of our naturalists hoofed
animals do not occur until the Tertiary Period in the history of
mammals, there can be no doubt that from an epoch almost “so far back
that the memory of man runneth not to the contrary,” in the literal
meaning of that legal phrase, the horse has played a prominent part in
the development of the human race.

Reference is made incidentally to “the horses of Abraham” by the
author of a historical novel published recently; but then even the
most pains-taking of writers of fiction is apt to err in minute
points, and can one blame him when the lands over which he travels,
and the subjects of which he treats, are so numerous and vary so
widely? For we know from Genesis—also from certain other later sources
that may be depended upon for accuracy—that though the prophet had
creatures of divers kinds bestowed upon him, yet the horse probably is
one of the few animals he did not receive.

Many of the important and famous victories won by Rameses—Sesostris
as the Greeks termed him—and by other monarchs of the eighteenth and
nineteenth dynasties, most likely would have proved crushing defeats
but for the assistance they obtained from horses. As it happened,
however, Rameses—whom recent writers declare to have been a very
barefaced “boomster”—succeeded with the help of his horses in marching
triumphant through many of the outlying territories in Africa as well
as in Asia.

* * * * *

We have it on the authority of Professor Flinders Petrie and other
distinguished historians that Aahmes I.—a king of the seventeenth
dynasty who drove out the Hyksos—reigned from 1587 to 1562 B.C.,
and chariots do not appear to have been used in Egypt prior to his

Indeed, as Professor Owen himself has pointed out, horses are not
found represented on any of the monuments of the very early Egyptians,
so that apparently the Egyptians of the eighteenth dynasty, whose
monuments probably are the first to show horses and chariots,
must have been the first to turn their attention seriously to the
employment of horses for useful purposes.

And yet from further statements made in Genesis it seems certain that
a native Egyptian king who flourished somewhere about the time of
Jacob—that is to say between 1800 and 1700 B.C.—owned many horses and
chariots. The Egyptians apparently did not mount horses until a very
late period in their history, and even the chariots they constructed
were, until many years had passed, used only in time of war. The lower
classes, if one may call them so, used only the ass, a beast that must
have been popular amongst the Egyptians for centuries before horses
were even heard of in Egypt.

From Genesis we gather too that Pharaoh made Joseph drive in his
second chariot; but the Egyptians who bought corn from Joseph and gave
horses in exchange for it belonged probably to the well-to-do class
that in time of war was compelled to provide the king with almost as
many horses and chariots as he needed, or at any rate as many as he
asked for.

In the records of Babylonia it is stated that horses were first
employed in the great city about the year 1500 B.C. The Libyans,
however, must have broken horses to harness some centuries before
this, and indeed learnt to ride them with some skill, for it is proved
beyond all doubt that the women of Libya rode horses astride at any
rate so far back as the seventeenth century B.C., and that in addition
to this horses were at about that time being driven in pairs by the
Libyans, to whom even the four-horse chariot cannot have been quite

It has not been proved, from what I have been able to ascertain,
that in Neolithic times horses were already tamed, but some remains
of horses discovered at Walthamstow, in Essex, are said to date back
approximately to that period and to indicate for that reason that
horses were domesticated in the Neolithic Age.

Evidence does exist, however, that in the Neolithic and Bronze Ages
horses of a type that closely resembled that of the horses of the
Palæolithic Age were to be found in several parts of Europe. The
Trojans, as most of us know, bred horses very largely indeed, so much
so that we read of King Erichthonius, who in the thirteenth century
B.C. was in his heyday, that he became “richest of mortal men” and the
possessor of “three thousand mares which pastured along the marsh
meadow, rejoicing in their tender foals,” a statement that indirectly
recalls the fine lines in Longfellow’s “The Minnisink”:

“They buried the dark chief—they freed
Beside the grave his battle steed;
And swift an arrow cleaves its way
To his stern heart! One piercing neigh
Arose,—and on the dead man’s plain
The rider grasps his steed again.”

Erichthonius, according to Virgil, was the first to handle a
four-in-hand, for in the third book of his “Georgics” we are told how

“Bold Erichthonius first four coursers yok’d
And urg’d the chariot as the axle smok’d.”

Rather a risky proceeding and one from which we may conclude that bold
Erichthonius would have flouted the axiom promulgated recently by the
more prudent members of a well-known coaching club that “no team ought
to be driven faster than ten miles an hour, upon an average”!

* * * * *

Though allusions to the horse are made repeatedly in the Bible, they
give us little or no insight as to the horse’s influence upon the
nations and their development. The notorious steed of Job that when
among the trumpets exclaimed “Ha! Ha!” and then winded the battle
afar off and fretted itself unduly upon hearing “the thunder of the
captains and the shouting” has been described by several writers, but
no two descriptions appear to tally.

Solomon, according to the “Book of Kings,” must have owned quite a
large stud, for we read that he had horses brought out of Egypt, and
that a chariot came up and went out for six hundred shekels of silver,
a horse for a hundred and fifty, “and so for all the kings of the
Hittites, and for the kings of Syria, did he bring them out.” The
Hittites, whom Professor Jensen assures us were Indo-Europeans, are
also shown to have had horses when they made their way into Northern
Palestine, probably at some period prior to 1400 B.C., but trustworthy
information about the horses and how the Hittites treated them is not

As for the horses in the Mycenean Period—the Bronze Age of Greece—the
monuments of that epoch bear testimony to the esteem in which they
were held. The indigenous people of Greece were presumably the
Pelasgians, and these monuments remain to bear testimony that such a
people once existed.

In a like manner do the gravestones of the Acropolis of Mycenæ bear
indisputable evidence, for upon three of them at least are to be
seen sculptured in low relief a chariot, a pair of horses, and a
driver, the date of this particular sculpture being approximately the
fourteenth century B.C.

* * * * *

It seems practically beyond dispute that before the year 1000 B.C. no
people rode on horseback except the Libyans, though chariots must have
been used quite 2000 years before that. Yet by the time Homer wrote
his poems horsemanship was becoming common amongst a section of the

Indeed by that time feats of skill on horseback upon a par with the
antics we see performed to-day in circuses were at least known, and
probably they were often watched and greatly liked. Listen, for
instance, to the following Homeric simile—the translation is almost

“As when a man that well knows how to ride harnesses up four chosen
horses, and springing from the ground dashes to the great city along
the public highway, and crowds of men and women look on in wonder,
while he with all confidence, as his steeds fly on, keeps leaping from
one to another.”

There are two references at least in Homer to “four male horses yoked
together,” but the practice of driving four-in-hand certainly was not
common in the eighth century B.C., or probably until long after. The
above reference, however, to feats of skill performed on horseback,
recalls to mind a story, probably more or less true, that has to do
with the luxurious people of Sybaris, in Southern Italy.

In the early centuries before Christ, so it is related, this people
trained all its horses to dance to the sound of music, to the music of
flutes in particular. The inhabitants of Croton having heard of this,
and being sworn enemies of the Sybarites, determined to take advantage
of the information and attempt to conquer their foe with the aid of

For this reason they provided all the musicians in their own army with
flutes in place of trumpets and the other instruments they had been
in the habit of using, and then without delay declared war upon the

The latter, to do them justice, responded at once, in spite of the
condition of lethargy to which the life of luxury they had been
leading was supposed to have reduced them. No sooner did they approach
the Crotonian lines, however, than “a great part of the army,” as we
are told, “set up a merry tune,” which had the effect of stampeding
the Sybarites’ horses, for “they instantly threw off their riders and
began to skip and dance.”

As a natural consequence the Sybarite army was taken at a disadvantage
and quickly routed with great slaughter, “very many horses being
killed during the engagement, to their owners’ dismay and grief.”

* * * * *

This strange story may be in a measure exaggerated, but probably it
is based on truth, in which case it proves that the Greeks of Magna
Græcia at any rate made use of cavalry before the rest had attempted
to do so. Also we know that in the year 510 B.C. the Crotonians
destroyed Sybaris entirely.

The Assyrians too, at about this period, evidently had well-appointed
cavalry, for Ezekiel speaks of their being “clothed in blue, captains
and rulers, all of them desirable young men, horsemen riding upon
horses,” and goes on to give particulars which, in so far as they
relate to the mode of life in vogue with these desirable young men,
are calculated to shock the susceptibilities of prudish persons, and
to amuse others.

In the light of the Higher Criticism Homer’s “Iliad” is believed to
have been written by various hands, and incidentally the Criticism
throws useful light upon the horse in his relation to the history
of the nations known to have flourished in the very early centuries
before Christ.

One need not here describe such steeds as Agamemnon’s mare, swift
Æthe, that was given to him by his vassal, Echepolus of Sicylon, and
subsequently driven in the chariot race by Menelaus; or Phallas, the
horse of Heraclios; or the horses of the Pylian breed of which Homer
speaks at length; or Galathe, Ethon, Podarge or any of the other
steeds of which Priam’s eldest son, “magnanimous and noble Hector,”
was so justly proud. Also the horses of mythology do not possess great
interest for the majority of modern readers other than classical

That Homer himself, however, had sound knowledge of the qualifications
which go to make up what in latter-day English we probably should term
a “finished charioteer” is shown by the following rather well-known
lines that here are translated almost literally:—

“But he who in his chariot and his steeds
Trusts only, wanders here and there
Unsteady, while his coursers loosely rein’d
Roam wide the field; not so the charioteer
Of sound intelligence; he, though he drive
Inferior steeds, looks ever to the goal
While close he clips, not ignorant to check
His coursers at the first, but with tight rein
Ruling his own, and watching those before.”

Menesthus, emphatically one of the finest of the many fine riders
spoken of in the “Iliad,” or, as Homer himself describes him,
“foremost in equestrian fame,” is typical of the horsemen of that

In the “Iliad” too we find what I believe I am right in stating to be
the first direct historical allusion to wagering on horse races. But
the medium current on racecourses in those days was not coin. The odds
apparently were laid in “kitchen utensils”—as a lad with whom I was at
school once construed the line, to his subsequent discomfiture—namely,
cauldrons and tripods.

Such, at least, we are led to infer from the paragraph in the
twenty-third book of the “Iliad,” which, according to William Cowper’s
blank verse translation, edited by Robert Southey, runs somewhat as

“Come now—a tripod let us wager each,
Or cauldron, and let Agamemnon judge
Whose horses lead, that, losing, thou mayst learn.”

Or more euphoniously, as Lord Derby has it:

“Wilt thou a cauldron or a tripod stake
And Agamemnon, Atreus’ son, appoint the umpire
To decide whose steeds are first?”

The cauldrons and tripods referred to were of course of great value,
and, as trophies, highly prized by competitors in the races and other
competitions calling for a display of skill and daring.

There is another allusion in the “Iliad” to the presentation of a
tripod as a great reward for valour. It occurs in the eighth book, and
the passage goes more or less like this:

“Let but the Thunderer and Minerva grant
The pillage of fair Ilium to the Greeks,
And I will give to thy victorious hand,
After my own, the noblest recompense,
A tripod or a chariot with its steeds,
Or some fair captive to partake thy bed.”

I recollect how at school this passage, with several others, used
to be rigorously excluded when Homer was being construed, with the
result that Kelly’s famous “Keys to the Classics” used afterwards to
be produced surreptitiously, and the “censored” lines turned carefully
into English.

* * * * *

From what Homer tells us elsewhere, and from additional sources, we
may conclude that of all the races that bred horses and took just
pride in them in the early centuries before Christ the Thracians were
probably the most renowned.

The brilliant horsemanship of “noble Patroclus of equestrian fame,”
the amiable and staunch friend of Achilles, must not be passed
unmentioned; nor the deeds of prowess that are attributed to
Euphorbus, “famous for equestrian skill, for spearmanship, and in the
rapid race past all of equal age”; nor yet the deeds of Hyperenor
whose skill in handling horses may be likened to the skill of Rarey in
our own time.

The following lines from the “Iliad” are of interest here because
they serve to indicate to some extent the style of harness and useless
trappings that must have been in vogue amongst the wealthy in Homer’s

“So Hera, the goddess queen, daughter of great Cronos, went her way
to harness the gold-frontleted steeds; and Hebe quickly put to the
car the curved wheels of bronze, eight spoked, upon their axletree of


“Golden is their felloe, imperishable, and tires of bronze are fitted
thereover, a marvel to look upon; and the naves are of silver, to turn
about on either side. And the body of the car is plaited tight with
gold and silver straps, and two rails run round about it.

“And a silver pole stood out therefrom; upon the end she bound the
fair golden yoke, and set thereon the fair breast-straps of gold, and
Hera led beneath the yoke the horses, fleet of foot, and hungered for
strife and the battle-cry.”

It has been argued that about the time of Homer gold and silver were
deemed to be comparatively of small value, and that therefore the
trappings described were not so costly as one naturally would conclude
they must have been.

Upon this point opinions are about equally divided.

Professor Ridgeway tells us that by comparing the foregoing
description with actual specimens of chariots and horse trappings
that have been found in Egypt we can form an accurate impression
of the appearance that was presented by the original old chariots,
and form also an idea of the way they were put together, while the
plaiting with straps of gold and silver recalls at once the floor of
the Egyptian chariot with its plaited leather meshwork—probably the
forerunner of leather springs.

* * * * *

Though Odysseus and Diomede are known to have mounted their Thracian
horses, we have it on irrefutable evidence that at this period
chariots were still generally used, so that most likely horses were
ridden but seldom.

Indeed the Homeric poems provide us with probably as much authentic
information as to the methods of managing and breeding horses that
were in vogue in Greece, in Thrace, and in Asia Minor in the very
early years before Christ, as any half-dozen other volumes put
together that purport to deal with the ways and customs of a period of
which, when all is said, little enough is known.

Naturally the Thracians had in those days some of the best horses
that could be procured, while those they drove in their war chariots
are said to have been quite unrivalled. That they possessed very
many chariots is proved by Homer’s realistic account of the slaying
of Rhesus, the Thracian king, with a dozen or so of his bravest
followers, and the episode in connection with that incident.

Indeed when Odysseus and Diomede had captured Dolon, the Trojan
spy, the latter at once declared that there were “also Thracians,
new-comers, at the furthest point apart from the rest, and amongst
them their king, Rhesus, son of Eioneus,” adding that his were “the
fairest horses that ever I beheld, and the greatest, whiter than snow,
and for speed like the winds. His chariot too is fashioned well with
gold and silver, and golden is his armour that he brought with him,
marvellous, a wonder to behold.”

Apparently most of the horses bred by the Acheans at about this time
were either dun-coloured or dapple. _Xanthos_ signifies Dun, and
_balios_ dapple; but then we have to remember that _xanthos_ was used
frequently to denote also the colour of gold.

Achilles’ steeds were mostly dapple-dun, and they had more or less
heavy manes. They belonged most likely to the breed so popular among
the Sigynnæ of central Europe about the fifth century B.C. Certainly
Homer makes it plain that in the early Iron Age horses were bred in
many parts of Greece; that, though driving was a common practice,
riding was indulged in but rarely; that cavalry in battle was quite
unknown; and lastly that though the heroes, as they were called,
fought mainly in chariots, the great body of the army consisted of
well-trained infantry.

As time went on horsemanship apparently came to be appreciated more
and more, for we read that about the year 648 B.C.—the thirty-third
Olympiad—“a race for full-grown riding horses” was inaugurated in
addition to the chariot races, and there appear to have been plenty
of entries. Then though the war chariot had disappeared almost
completely, before the outbreak of the Persian Wars, its place was not
taken by well-appointed and well-equipped cavalry until some years

* * * * *

Though little attention need be paid to the Greek legend that Pegasus
was the first horse ever ridden—a legend not mentioned in Homer—it
nevertheless is interesting to know that this historic animal was
supposed to have been foaled in the Bronze Age, and in Libya. That
naturally would have been prior to the arrival of the fair-haired
Acheans from Central Europe, so one need not be astonished, as several
writers obviously are, at finding that when these large-limbed Acheans
first appeared the Greeks already knew how to ride.

At the same time they seldom did ride their dun-coloured little cobs,
preferring, apparently, to drive them in pairs in chariots. That the
Libyans were finished horsemen centuries before the Greeks learnt how
to ride has already been mentioned; though whether or no the Greeks
were first taught horsemanship by the Libyans is a question still
debated by students of ancient history.

* * * * *

In the north-west of Asia Minor the Libyans had dark bay horses with a
white star upon the forehead about the year 1000 B.C., and a hundred
or so years later horses of this breed were largely imported into
various parts of Asia Minor.

Indeed some of the more enthusiastic of the modern historians who have
studied closely the descent of horses from generation to generation
persist in maintaining that even in Great Britain and Ireland modern
horses with this white star upon the forehead have in their veins some
Libyan blood! How this can well be when we know almost without doubt
that until towards the close of the Bronze or the beginning of the
Iron Age the horse was hardly made use of at all by the inhabitants
of these islands, I leave it to more learned men to decide among

It is remarkable that whereas from very early times horses of
Asiatic-European breeds have proved more or less unmanageable except
when bitted, the horses of Libya are known to have been controlled
quite easily by nosebands only. Some of the nosebands, or rather
halters, used in early times were made of plaited straw, and to-day
halters of almost similar make and pattern are still employed in
certain of the more remote parts of Ireland.

The bits found most suitable for Asiatic-European horses were made
first of all of horn, then chiefly of bone, later of copper, and
finally of bronze and iron. Homer, in his “Iliad,” alludes to bits of
bronze placed between the horse’s jaws, and this probably is one of
the first instances of literary evidence we have that a thousand years
before Christ’s birth horses were controlled by bits.

Of course Xenophon has much to say upon the question of bits and
bitting, and his capital treatise on horsemanship throws valuable
light also upon the horse in its relation to the history of that
epoch, as we shall see. Upon one point in particular in this
connection Xenophon lays great stress. He maintains it to be
imperative that every horseman shall possess two bits for his horse or
horses, one with links of moderate size, and one with sharp and heavy
links, bidding us at the same time remember that “whatever sorts of
bits be used, they should be flexible, for where a horse seizes a
rigid bit he has the whole of it fast between his teeth … but the
other sort is similar to a chain, for whatever part of it be taken
hold of, that part alone remains unbent—the rest hangs.”

So that apparently bits single- and double-jointed, and therefore
flexible, were used in the early Iron Age by the people of
North-Western Europe.

CENTURY, B.C. _From a Greek vase in the British Museum_]

* * * * *

By the beginning of the fourth century B.C. many, though not all, of
the Greek and the Macedonian mounted soldiers had come to consider
some sort of covering for the horse’s back to be necessary to their
equipment; and so long previously as the eighth century B.C. horse
cloths had been adopted by the Assyrians, a people sufficiently wise
to realise from the first that a horse with something on his back is
more comfortable to sit upon than one without.

These early races probably would have employed cavalry several
centuries sooner than they eventually did, but for the difficulty they
experienced in arming themselves to their complete satisfaction when
mounted. Such peoples, for instance, as the Egyptians, the Assyrians,
and the Greeks of the Mycenean or Bronze Age, habitually protected
themselves with the aid of large and oblong shields when they fought
on foot, but on horseback these shields proved cumbersome. Possibly
that was the reason that when the Normans and other Teutonic races
began to fight on horseback they so soon discarded their round and
clumsy shields in favour of a shield broad at the top and tapering
downward, the shape of shield we see on the Bayeux tapestry.

With regard to the war chariots in use before this time, we may be
quite sure that even the very first employed had not wheels cut from
solid blocks as some are represented as having, though possibly the
most primitive of the agricultural chariots were so constructed.

For the rest, the early chariots of the Egyptians of the eighteenth
dynasty, and in use in India under the Vedic Aryans, and amongst the
Hittites, the Assyrians, the Persians, the Libyans, the Mycenean
Greeks, the Homeric Acheans, the Gauls of Northern Italy and in Gaul
itself; also among the ancient Britons and the early Irish, had wheels
with a hub, a felloe, and spokes, the latter from four to twelve in

And inasmuch as this information bears indirectly upon the horse in
his relation to early historical records, it is not out of place here.

To return again to the question of harness, we have it on the
authority of Herodotus that “the Greeks learned from the Libyans to
yoke four horses to a chariot,” and we know already that before the
time of Herodotus, who wrote in the fifth century B.C., the Greeks had
found Libyans riding astride horses and driving sometimes two-horse
and occasionally four-horse chariots. At that time—about 632 B.C.—the
Greeks were planting Cyrene.

White horses were in ancient days at all times largely in demand
among the people of the various nations; and while Pindar alludes
incidentally to white horses being ridden by the Thessalians in his
time, Sophocles, writing half-a-century or so later, describes a
Thessalian chariot that was drawn by white horses.

One of the regions in which white horses were bred, probably in great
numbers, was the banks of the Caspian where the River Bug flows from
it, for Herodotus states clearly that “around a great lake from which
the River Hypanis (called now the Bug) issued, there grazed wild
white horses.” Those particular animals possibly may have been in
reality only tarpans in their winter coats, and not actually horses.
The point has been argued more than once, but has never been quite
settled. A white horse famous towards the close of the fifth or early
in the fourth century was Kantake, of the notorious Prince Gautama,
but nothing need be said about it here, trustworthy records being

The great cities of Magna Græcia—Sybaris, Tarentum, Croton, and so
on—obviously had formidable cavalry in the sixth century B.C.; Sicily
and Southern Italy being almost equally renowned for the riding horses
obtainable there. The statagem to which the Crotonians had recourse in
510 B.C. to bring about the fall of Sybaris has been described, and it
is said that for some years prior to the destruction of the city some
five or six thousand of the inhabitants were in the habit of riding in
procession on horseback upon the occasions of the great festivals held

As we gradually approach the time of Christ we find increasing
interest being taken in horses by the kings and great chiefs of
different countries, for the value of cavalry in war was now quickly
becoming manifest.

In the early days of the Homeric or Iron Age the Celts of Noricum and
the Danube, though still retaining chariots, had begun to ride on
horseback, and by the third century B.C. these Celtic tribes already
possessed well-trained and very formidable cavalry. As a natural
result the demand for still better horses grew steadily, and soon it
became common to import horses into the Upper Balkan, and countries
beyond the Alps, from the Mediterranean area.

Perhaps the best description of a chariot race at Delphi is to be
found in the _Electra_ of Sophocles—Sophocles flourished in the third
century B.C. At about the same period Herodotus tells us that the
Sigynnæ, the only tribe north of the Danube that he mentions by name,
had “horses with shaggy hair five fingers long all over their bodies.”
These horses were “small and flat-nosed and incapable of carrying men,
but when yoked under a chariot were very swift.”

Consequently the natives drove them largely in chariots.

Though Herodotus does not allude to the colour of these small,
flat-nosed horses, there is reason to believe that dun was the colour
most prevalent at about this time. With regard to the horses of
Northern Britain Dio Cassius says that two of the chief tribes—namely,
the Caledonians and the Mæatæ—“went to war in chariots, as their
horses were small and fleet,” while when the Gauls passed into Italy,
towards the beginning of the fourth century B.C., they drove chariots
but did not ride, in which respect they resembled the Sigynnæ north of
the Danube.

Thucydides, writing at the end of the third century B.C., speaks with
interest on the subject of horses’ hoofs, pointing out that the reason
so many of the cavalry horses of the Athenians went lame towards the
close of the Peloponnesian War was not that they had been wounded,
as some historians have averred, but owing simply to their not being
shod. This was after the Spartans had occupied Decelea and suffered
their heavy loss.

Alcibiades, in the third century B.C., had many horses, and in the
sixth book of “Thucydides” he tells us in his speech that he sent into
the lists no less than seven chariots, adding that “no other man ever
did the like”; and later he goes on to mention that he won the first,
second and fourth prizes.

Apparently Alcibiades knew his world, and if so it would seem that his
world was not unlike the world we know to-day, for in another passage
he sententiously yet philosophically tells us that we “must not expect
to be recognised by our acquaintance when we are down in the world;
and on the same principle why should anyone complain when treated with
disdain by the more fortunate?”

This particular sentence is according to the translation of
“Thucydides” by the late Professor Jowett, who leaves us to infer what
we please concerning the sociological views held by Alcibiades.

Among the first to employ war chariots with scythes intended to mow
down the enemy were the Persians, if historical records are to be
trusted, and we read that the chariots they used in the battle of
Cunaxa, in 401 B.C., were provided with sharp blades, while in after
years the people of Syria had war chariots with spears as well as

Thus in the bloody battle fought between Eumenes of Pergamus, and
Antiochus of Syria, to mention but a single instance, Antiochus had
four-horse chariots with scythes and spears in his front line of
battle, whereupon Eumenes purposely “created terror” amongst these
horses, with the result that they turned suddenly and dashed back into
the lines of Antiochus, spreading devastation and death on all sides
in their own ranks.

Certain it is that upon that occasion many horses were cut to pieces
by the scythes, but for a full and graphic description of what
happened I must refer the reader to the thirty-seventh chapter of the
immortal “Livy.”

* * * * *

The esteem in which horses, especially war horses, were held in the
centuries that immediately preceded the coming of Christ may to some
extent be gathered from the prominence accorded to them when coins to
be used as the circulating medium began to come into general vogue.
Thus on the first of the Carthaginian coins—they were struck in the
third century B.C.—we find represented a horse upon one side, a
palm-tree upon the other, while on the coins of the important Sicilian
settlement, Panormus, a horse is shown.

I have tried to disentangle from a mass of only semi-trustworthy
records the true origin of the well-known saying: “He has Seius’ horse
in his stable.” So far as one can ascertain, it is traceable to the
fates of the various ill-starred owners of the horses of Gnæus Seius,
from Seius down to Anthony. Plutarch says that the famous Philip II.
loved to commemorate his Olympian victories by stamping the figure of
a steed upon some of his coins, and certainly he was devoted both to
horses and horse racing. We read too that between 359 and 336 B.C. he
entered both chariots and riding horses for the Olympian competitions.


_1, 3. Agrigentum. 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, 9. Syracuse. 8. Asia Minor and
Greece. Philip of Macedon. 10. Hellenestic period. Hiero of Sicily_]

Similarly a proportion of the Sicilian coinage bore the impression
of a horse, and many of the great chariot races are commemorated on
coins. Several of the Agrigentine coins, for instance, show a quadriga
driven by winged Nike, in commemoration probably of the victory of
Exænetus, while some of the coinage of Syracuse dating back so far
as 500 B.C., and even earlier, represents a four-horse chariot upon
the face of the tetradrachms, and, on the didrachms, a man riding
one horse and leading another. Some of the drachms show merely a man

Indeed we are told that Gela not only prided herself on her victories
won on the race track, but upon what was, of course, of more
importance—her splendid cavalry. A number of her coins represent
a four-horse chariot, some a two-horse chariot, and occasionally
a wounded foe being speared to death by a horseman, galloping or
stationary. These coins probably are among the earliest of their kind
ever struck.

The most ancient of all representations of Sicilian horses,
however, which serve to prove that the Sicilians were beyond doubt
a horse-loving race, is the quadriga on one of the metopes of the
archaic temple of Silenus, believed to have been founded in 628 B.C.

While upon the subject of sculpture, casual reference must be made
to the notorious Wooden Horse of Troy, described fully in Homer and
alluded to centuries later by Virgil, the horse of which the famous
sculptor, Strongylon, made a model in bronze towards probably the
close of the fifth century.

The story of this horse hardly needs repetition, but briefly it is to
the effect that soon after Hector’s death Ulysses commanded Epeios
to construct a wooden horse of great size that ostensibly was to be
used as an offering to the gods to please them and thus ensure a safe
voyage back to Greece.

Unsuspectful of treachery, the Trojans received the great effigy and
brought it into their city; whereupon, in the dead of night, the Greek
soldiers hidden within it crept cautiously out, pounced silently upon
the Trojan guards and slew them before they could defend themselves;
then opened the gates of Troy, let in their own soldiery, and finally
set fire to the city.

Menelaus is said to have been among the Greeks concealed in the wooden

If evidence in addition to that already given be needed to prove that
the ancient Greeks held horses in high esteem, and that the Grecian
conquests were probably in a great measure due to the help afforded by
the possession of horses, notice has only to be taken of the vastness
of the space occupied by the Athenian cavalry shown on the Parthenon

Indeed at about this period probably no accomplishment was quite so
highly esteemed as horsemanship, with the result that the wealthy
classes began to pay special attention to the training their sons
received in it, while treatises were published upon the art and how
best it might be acquired.

The first horsemen of whom we have indisputably authentic records
invariably rode bareback, and, with the exception of the Libyans,
used some sort of bit. According to Xenophon—and apparently no
other historian of his time is so thoroughly to be trusted for
strict accuracy—the Greeks of the fifth century B.C. were almost as
fastidious upon the subject of bits and bittings as some hunting men
of to-day are.

Some writers upon this subject have erred. Thus the impression is
prevalent that the horses of the ancient Greeks were all much smaller
than modern horses, and the steeds shown on the Parthenon frieze are
sometimes said to afford proof that this was so. A proportion of the
horses of those early times undoubtedly were smaller than the modern
horse is, but on the other hand plenty were not. Probably the mistaken
critics base their assertion upon the fact that the men shown on the
Parthenon frieze and similar compositions, also on some of the vase
paintings of that period, apparently are as tall as, or taller than,
the horses beside which they are standing or on which they are mounted.

The reason men and horses are so represented simply is that according
to a standard rule of ancient Greek art the heads of men and animals,
and of all other figures shown on such compositions, must be as nearly
as possible upon a level, even though some of the figures may be
standing, some seated, some on horseback, some in chariots.

This rule, known as “Isokelismos,” is of course in direct opposition
to the rule of nature, yet as it existed it had to be observed, and
therefore no attempt should ever be made to compare the height of men
or beasts shown in such representations as the Parthenon frieze merely
by the appearance and the proportions they present. By observing how
far below the horses’ bellies the feet of the mounted men hang, an
approximate idea of the height of the men by comparison with that of
some of their horses may be arrived at.

* * * * *

Herodotus is of opinion that about the year 480 B.C. finer horses were
owned by the Nisæan than by any other people of Asia, and he mentions
that white horses were so highly valued by the Persians of about that
period—who are known to have used many white horses for sacrificial
purposes—that “some three hundred and sixty horses, or about one for
every day in the year, and five hundred talents of silver,” was the
tribute sent by the Sicilians. This statement leads to the conclusion
that white horses must have been exceptionally plentiful in the region.

That Armenia had many horses, which were largely used even so far
back as the fifth century B.C., can be gathered from the writings of
Ezekiel, for the prophet does not hesitate to declare that the people
of Togarmah, which presumably was part of Armenia, traded in the fairs
in horses and mules.

Pindar, who so glorified King Arcesilas, tells us that Cyrene became
famous as the city of steeds and goodly chariots, and later the poet
Callimachus sang of his home “famed for her steeds.” Hiero II. of
Syracuse owed practically all his great successes to the fact that
he owned horses of considerable value, and to this day figures in
marble of horses dedicated by him in commemoration of his victories at
Olympia are to be seen in the local museum of Delphi.

Almost every year attempts are made by wealthy Americans and others to
purchase some of these figures, but down to the present such attempts
have proved of no avail.

Plato, again, has much to say upon the horse in its relation to the
history of his epoch. Thus in one place he writes: “We must mount our
children on horses in their earliest youth, and take them on horseback
to see war, in order that they may learn to ride; the horses must not
be spirited or warlike, but the most tractable and yet the swiftest
that can be had; in this way they will get an excellent view of what
is hereafter to be their business; and if there is danger they have
only to follow their elder leaders and escape.”

Agrigentum—until 405 B.C., when it was destroyed by the
Carthaginians—was famous for its horses. It is said that on one
occasion, when one of the best-known citizens, Exænetus, won the
principal chariot race at Olympus, the entire population came forth
to meet him, and that he was preceded into the city by 300 chariots
drawn by pairs of white horses. Indeed some of the most gorgeous
monuments ever erected to the memory of famous race horses were
those raised in this city during the period of its splendour.





* * * * *

We have it on good authority that, some centuries before Christ, the
Persian men of rank deemed it derogatory to be seen on foot, and that
they habitually rode on horseback. Yet in common with the people of
many other races they were addicted to immolating horses on festival
days, while the practices in which they indulged upon these occasions
are said to have been barbarous in the extreme.

In almost every age white horses in particular would seem to have been
used for sacrificial purposes. The Persians sacrificed bulls as well
as horses, a bull and a horse being sometimes bound together and then
immolated. Arrian mentions that one horse at least was sacrificed to
Cyrus every month, the ceremony being usually performed at Pasargadea,
close to the famous tomb. Here again white horses were used for the
sacrifices, for among the Persians in particular the white horse was
for many centuries deemed sacred and pronounced “beloved of the gods.”

One of the descriptions that probably gives a true account of a
triumphal march in the third century B.C. is that of Herodotus, where
he describes the procession of Xerxes. The following order, he tells
us, was observed.

There came first 1000 carefully selected horsemen, then 1000 carefully
selected spearsmen, then ten sacred Nisæan horses “splendidly
caparisoned.” These horses were called Nisæan, we are incidentally
told, because they were especially reared on the plains of Nisæa, in
Media, at that period famous for its great horses.

Next came the sacred car of Zeus, drawn by eight white horses
“followed by charioteers on foot holding their bridles, for no mortal
was allowed to mount the seat.” Xerxes himself brought up the train,
usually in a chariot drawn by Nisæan horses, with his charioteer
beside him.

* * * * *

The people of almost every nation of whom we have authentic records
would appear to have been addicted in the centuries before Christ
to the atrocious practice of sacrificing live horses to their gods.
Particulars of the weird rites observed in connection with these
sacrifices are for the most part too revolting to be described here,
but one practice observed by the Scythians cannot well be passed

This people inhabited chiefly the treeless steppes of Asia, and is
known to have sacrificed animals of many kinds, but horses most of
all, and usually white or dun horses.

Thus we are told that when a Scythian king died, his favourite
horse, his favourite concubine, and several important members of his
establishment, preferably his cook and his cupbearer, were buried with
him. When a year had passed, a further ceremony took place.

This consisted in the execution, generally by strangulation, of some
fifty of the strongest, handsomest and generally most desirable young
men—probably young men who had belonged to his suite—and in the
strangulation also of an equal number of the best horses that had
belonged to him.

Then, without delay, the bodies of men and horses were disembowelled,
next they were stuffed with chaff or straw, and finally when the
horses, supplied each with a bit and bridle, had been set up in a
circle round the tomb of the deceased monarch, the bodies of the
slaughtered men were set astride them.

And there the ghastly squadron remained until it fell away to dust.

That the literary records in which these gruesome details are to be
found are accurate, has to some extent been proved by discoveries made
from time to time—as for instance at the opening of the great tumuli
in Russia about half-a-century ago.

Indeed during the thirteenth century A.D. ceremonies equally revolting
are known to have been performed regularly among the Tartars, while
at the funeral of Frederic Casimir, Commander of Lorraine, in 1781,
a horse was killed, and then buried with its master, and at even so
recent a date as the funeral of Li Hung Chang a horse and chariot
made of paper were, according to the newspaper reports, burned at
the grave-side—probably a last survival of some weird rite of a
sacrificial nature observed formerly in China and Japan.

Another race known to have immolated live horses, especially white
horses, was the Veneti. This people lived at the head of the Adriatic,
and their name survives to this day in “Venice.”

The sacrifice of white horses was common too amongst the Scandinavian
and the Teutonic races, and formed part of their religion. The
Sicilian Greeks, again, are said to have set a high value upon white
horses, and to have sacrificed them under the impression that by doing
so they afforded additional gratification to their gods.

It would appear, indeed, that in all ages white animals were looked
upon as sacred in a sense, for in parts of India the white elephant is
deemed sacred to this day, and in parts of Persia the white ass. Then,
in the fifth century B.C., the nomad Scythians, whose territories lay
chiefly to the north of the River Don, owned immense herds of horses.
These they used principally for food, while the milk of the mares they
drank and made domestic use of in other ways, a practice long in vogue
among the Turko-Tartaric tribes of Central Asia, and said to be still
in vogue with them in remote regions.

Bearing upon early Persia is rather a well-known story that on the
death of the famous Smerdis the seven princes who were his possible
successors agreed to confer the throne upon the owner of the horse
that should be the first to neigh when they all met on the following
day. The groom of Prince Darius having been told of this, had recourse
to a clever ruse, for on that same evening he led his master’s horse
to the exact spot where the horses were all to meet on the day
following, and there showed the horse a mare. Upon arriving at this
spot next day the horse, as we are told, “neighed furiously,” so that
Darius won his kingdom!

We know that Hiero, King of Syracuse, who flourished towards the end
of the third and during the beginning of the second century, B.C.,
won the great Olympic crown with his good horse Phrenicus. In simple
language Tacitus describes how the people of Thurii—the city built on
the ruins of Sybaris about the year 443 B.C.—first taught horse racing
to the Romans.

Although towards the end of the second century B.C., bareback riding
was still quite common, a covering of some sort for the horse’s back
was becoming much more popular among the Greeks despite the adherence
to bareback riding by the jockeys at the principal festivals.
Atiphanes, the “gentle humourist,” whose plays were performed in
public for the first time towards the close of the second century
B.C., alludes to “coverlets for a horse,” this being probably one of
the first references we have to saddles among the early Greeks.

* * * * *

And now we come to Xenophon, one of the most finished of horsemen
among the ancient Greeks, and apparently a true lover of horses. With
the exception of an individual named Simo, or Simon, who wrote before
Xenophon’s time, there had not existed a man with deep and practical
knowledge of horses or horsemanship, and the care of horses, who was
able to write lucidly upon these subjects until Xenophon wrote with so
much success his own exhaustive work.

Xenophon speaks of Simo—who, according to Suidas, was by birth an
Athenian—on more than one occasion. Xenophon, however, did not hold
Simo in high esteem, as we may gather from the former’s tone of
condescension when he states that though Simo wrote with some
knowledge of horses, yet that he entertained an exalted opinion of
himself that was unpardonable.


The truth of that statement is borne out by the evidence we have that
when, on a famous occasion, Simo presented the brazen horse to the
temple of the Eleusinian Ceres, at Athens, he had the effrontery to
engrave upon the pedestal his own works!

Though when expressing opinions upon the points of a horse the ancient
Greeks differed rather widely in their views, yet most of the rules
laid down by Xenophon are as applicable to-day as they were some three
and twenty centuries ago.

We read, for instance, that “the neck of the horse, as it proceeds
from the chest, should not fall forward, like that of a boar,
but should grow upward, like that of a cock, and should have an
easy motion at the parts about the arch.” That the advice was not
overlooked, even by early artists, can be accurately conjectured if
the Parthenon frieze be inspected, for there almost every horse shown
has a neck “like that of a cock.” Xenophon then proceeds:

“If a horse has the thighs under the tail broad and not distorted,
he will set his hind legs well apart, and will by that means have a
firmer and quicker step, a better seat for a rider, and be better in
every respect. We may see,” he continues, “a proof of this in men,
who when they wish to take up anything from the ground do try to raise
it by setting their legs apart rather than by bringing them together.”

These remarks are sensible, yet probably there are few modern horsemen
ready to admit that a horse’s hoof should be high and hollow, and the
frog kept up from the ground “as well before as behind,” which was
Xenophon’s opinion. Then in his time saddles and stirrups had not,
apparently, been thought of, for we read that when first introduced
they were looked upon with scorn, all who used them being laughed
at and deemed to take rank among what we should call in these days

As already noted, Xenophon had something to say upon bits and bitting,
and he describes at length the advantages of the jointed over the
rigid bit. Also he alludes to the custom of wearing spurs, and
describes incidentally the construction of the prick spurs then in

In this connection it is interesting to note that a bit was discovered
in the Acropolis of Athens some twenty years ago, which, so it is
said, dates back to the early Persian wars of 490-479 B.C.

* * * * *

Certain modern writers of books upon subjects more or less historical
speak of horse doctors. Some twenty-three centuries ago, however, even
the acknowledged experts upon horses and horse breeding would seem to
have possessed only crude anatomical knowledge of the animal, some
of the advice they tendered in cases of illness amongst horses being

Equally it is evident that professional horse breakers and trainers,
also professional riding masters, were known in Greece in Xenophon’s
day, and possibly before his time.

There is something rather delightful about Xenophon’s ingenuousness
when he tells us quite seriously that “a horse that has no longer the
marks in his teeth, neither rejoices the buyer with hope, nor is easy
to be exchanged”! He speaks too with emphasis when assuring us that
when carefully examining a horse with a view to purchase we ought to
pay most attention to the hoofs—advice to some extent discounted by
remarks he makes a few lines further on.

“To sum up all in a few words,” he says elsewhere, “whatever horse
has good feet, is mild-tempered, sufficiently swift, and able to
endure fatigue, and is in the highest degree obedient, will probably
give least trouble to his rider and contribute most to his safety
in military occupations. But horses that from sluggishness require
a great deal of driving, or, from excess of mettle, much coaxing
and care, afford plenty of employment to the rider, as well as much
apprehension in time of danger.”

The ancients evidently had a rooted antipathy to adopting any kind
of contrivance calculated to afford protection for their horses’
hoofs. Upon several occasions attempts were made to introduce metal
horseshoes, but in vain. The device most resembling a horseshoe, that
they were willing to consider and of which we have a trustworthy
description, was a covering not unlike a sandal made of reeds, or, in
rare instances, of leather. In reality it resembled a boot rather than
a horseshoe, but it was used only where the ground was very rough or
exceptionally hard.

In parts of Japan boots of this kind, made of straw, are worn to this
day. Berenger speaks of a horseshoe said to have been in use in the
time of Childeric, whose date was 481, A.D., and most likely it was
one of the first horseshoes, properly so called, of which any record
is extant.

If the figure of it preserved in Montfaucon’s “Antiquities” is to be
relied upon for accuracy, then it somewhat resembled the shoe in use

It seems clear that Xenophon was not an advocate for docking horses’
tails, at any rate to the exaggerated extent we so often see them
docked to-day, also that he was not partial to the hogged mane,
for in speaking of the horse’s fore-lock, “while these hairs,” he
avers, “though of good length, do not prevent the horse from seeing,
they brush away from his eyes whatever annoys them. Therefore we may
suppose that the gods gave such hairs to the horse instead of the long
ears which they have given to asses and mules to be a protection to
the eyes.”

* * * * *

A question sometimes set when the subject of early horsemanship is
under discussion is: How used the ancients to mount, seeing that they
placed at best only cloths on their horses’ backs, and that they had
not stirrups?

Historical records contain information upon the point, and we read
that in the centuries before Christ horses were mounted apparently in
three ways—by the rider’s vaulting without assistance on to the back;
by his vaulting or mounting with the aid of a pole; by his making the
horse crouch.

There was a fourth way, but for an obvious reason it was less often
resorted to. This was by making a slave bend his back, or kneel on all
fours, and by then stepping upon him—using him as a mounting-block,
in short. The last-named method was common in Persia, where Sapor,
when he had conquered the Emperor Valerian, forced him thus to debase
himself to show his complete subjection.

I believe I am right in saying that the soldiery used sometimes to
mount with the aid of a spear. Xenophon, in his seventh chapter,
instructs the horseman to mount “by catching hold of the mane, about
the ears,” a feat surely impossible to perform save when mounting a

In the illustration of a Sarmatian on horseback, facing page 33, both
a man and horse are shown in armour made of horse-hoof cut into little
plates, which, Pausanias tells us in his Attics, were sewn together
with the sinews of oxen and horses. Sometimes bone was used in place
of horse-hoof, but iron never, there being no iron mines in the
country, to the knowledge of the Sarmatians. The soldier shown holding
up his horse’s leg, in the illustration facing page 45, presumably is
about to tie on one of the “stockings” used in place of shoes; and on
the same plate a soldier is about to mount on the off (right) side.