Friday, October 17, 2008


I am about to start my own little page(s) on history and use of horses in war augmented mostly with my own illustrations, hence the title Dario's Caballeros.

My subject will be Polish Winged Hussars (husaria), uhlans, and Polish horses, Ancient Iranians (Medes, Cimerians, Scythians, Saka, Indo-Saka, Sarmatians, Alans, Persians, Kushans) Eurasia steppe warriors, North American Indian horsemen, Islamic warriors, Colonial Latin America, Conquistadores then obviously some on horse tack and war horses.
Let us start with some little info on Nesean horse of ancient, pre-Islamic Iran, that stretched well beyond the borders of the present county of Iran
(I wrote that for a discussion):

     Horses of Nisaya -  scholars and specialist on the ancient equids like Littauer and Crouwel in their digs found horses ranging from 100cm at withers to 150cm from the so called Median strata ...
Considering that the best of these horses ate the wonder herb known as alfaalfa/lucerne – this most important horse food that was domesticated by the Iranians during the II millenium BC,  and this alfalfa provided their animals with necessary protein to grow thus these horses could have attained some great muscular and skeletal size (150cm is a very good size for pre-19th century  horse) pastured on the great Median meadows. It appears that in developing a powerful yet nimble horse the Iranians could have solved the the proverbial problem for cavalry until its demise: relationship between size, strength and stamina of the war mounts versus their performance on the battle field and in transition to-from the battlefield.
We do have some clear information on the Achaemenid horses, mostly from sculptures and ancient writings - the most famous imagery comes from the Apadana Staircase at Persepolis Iran - chariot horse  while the Seleucid and the Parthian  horses must be mostly inferred from other sources, as there are hardly any sources left talking or showing them.
Firstly, one could look at the stone relieves from Firuzabad representing the battle of Hormozdagan between Ardashir, future Sassanian king of Persia, and Arabanus the last Parthian monarch – images from this very great site

    next the famous Dura Europos graffito - Parthian 'knight' - one day soon I should post my drawing of this knight.

        The closesst depiction of ancient Iran horses might be found in the Ms Louise Firouz' article, although it is mostly about the Caspian horse (she so wonderfully brought back from oblivion) in that horse's present condition (well, 1970s), but she provides in her article some data on the Nissean , eg that 'he' was about 65 inches at withers (comparisons done by reference of the Persepolis Apadana). Also she talks about discoveries (late 1960s and early 1970s) of skeletal remains of horses from the pre-Islamic strata in Iran, especially of interest shall be the site at Shahr-e-Kumis where some remains of Parthian horses (including large skull with that 'Nissean nose' aka swelling from occiput through nasal bones) have been found. She cited (1972) works of Anderson, Sandor Bokonyi, M.A. Littauer etc as the best to look up this matter.
Finally, she provided a citation by Timotheus of Ghaza (6century A.D.) who wrote on the Nissean horses (Kermanshah region of Iran)– that they were remarkable for their great size and feet that shook the earth.

    Definitely one should look at the Chinese sculptures and paintings, starting with some from the Han Dynasty (eg horses for emperor Wu-Ti) and Later Han. Wei, Sui to the T'ang dynasty, noting here that the best horses of the Chinese – Tien-Ma or 'heavely horses' – came from east Iranian lands.

Also many a good reader could compare and look at the so called Persepolis graffiti – a fine Callieri's article about these images etc - especially at figure 3, 4, 5 and 6
They do belong to the Sassanian period of the Iranian history but perhaps they can be taken as some indication of the size of the noble mounts.

Finally one needs to look at the Panjikent frescoes – they are mostly from the 7th -8th century but the horses there belong to the last phase of the east Iranian (Sogdian) pre-Islamic culture – and they do have the conformation of the war horses of the ancient Persians. (drawings to follow one day).
I am going to look up in my copy of Ann Hyland's 'Equus' and her "Horse in the Ancient World' to see if she has anything there etc.

Let's us turn to more ancient writers : Strabo wrote about Nissean horses and their breeding grounds having been in Armenia (he thought that the Nisean plain was in Armenia and not in Media) . He also says that Parthian horses were not like any horses of the Greek world but very similar to the Nisean horse bread by Achaemenid Persians (Strabo 524).

Oppian writes in his Cynegetica about the Nissean horses, extolling their easy strides, graceful movements, flowing manes (contrary to the ancient and then contemporary Iranian fashions of crenelated manes and tied tails). He also talks about golden manes - that might imply some influence of the glittering heavenly horses -Tien Ma - from Ferghana - today known as the Akhal-Teke or Turkoman golden horse(please note that obviously the Turkomans were not first to breed these horses that bear their name, these horses as a breed predate the Turks in that area of Eurasian steppe by at least 5-7 centuries and were first bread by the eastern Iranians or the inhabitants of the Ferghana Valley - divided between modern Uzbekistan, Kirghistan and Tajikistan ).

Azzaroli in his book states that in a private communication with Sandor Bokonyi he learned that Bokonyi had 'observed horses remains strong build, standing up to 16hands in the sites from north-western Iran belonging to the Achaemenid period'.

Also, the northern cousins of the Persians - the Scythians, Saka, and Sarmatians, Alans etc -  there are the Pazyryk horses and others of the South-Western Siberia Saka, these horse finds show consistent pattern of tall (15-16h) noble horses and smaller 'common' horses (12-13hands). Dahae or Parni aka Parthians came from the Central Asian steppes already equipped with very fine war horses of certain known qualities etc, suitable for mounted lancer warfare (Mielczarek).
Also might be worth pondering the issue of Parthian exchanges (both peaceful and bellicose) with their cousins from northern India, Pakistan and Bactria(Afghanistan) that might have added more horse breeds/strains to the actual development of the ' Parthian' strain of Nisean horse between 3nd and 1st centuries BC. Ceck the discussion about ancient Indian armies here


Bt the way, I am reading this very interesting book by one of the most prominent 'equine historians' from XIX century - writing about the horses in the pedigree o the English Thoroughbred -William Ridgeway ' The Origin and Influence of the Thoroughbred Horse (Cambridge University Press 1905)' (please note that some of the information written in this book is already outdated because of modern research and archaeological discoveries etc)
 On p. 194 he writes "... the Parthian horses, which were both grey and also commonly dun, were descended from the Nisean breed, and resembled it in appearance, we may conclude that the Persian horses of the fifth century B.C. were dun, white or grey. But we have just seen that dun and white especially characterized the horses of Upper Europe and Upper Asia in classical and Medieval times. From this it would appear that the Nisean horses bred in Armenia were of the Upper Asiatic, i.e. Turcoman stock"......

More to follow soon but you could see some of my artwork and 'fotos' at wikimedia
perhaps worth pondering is the Assyrian horse, especially VII century BC images, since the bulk of the Neo-Assyrian war horses seems to have come from the Iranian/Median tributaries/spoils and Urartu (Armenian) tributes/war spoils. And those pesky Assyrian sculptors and painters were very precise in their work.

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