Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Numidian/Libyan horse - ancient writers and equine art

  let us stay with the coins of the Classical Antiquity and turn to the subject of the Numidian/Libyan horse in the Greek and Roman world for this horse was one of the most famous horse of the Graeco-Roman world .

 Libyan horse from a Carthaginian coin:

Various Numidian rulers included horses on their coins


Diodorus Siculus, in his Bibliotheca Historica, book XVII (from or LacusCurtius), wrote about Alexander, the hero-king of Macedon and soon Persia:
''Having settled the affairs of Egypt, Alexander went off to the Temple of Ammon, where he wished to consult the oracle of the god. When he had advanced half way along the coast, he was met by envoys from the people of Cyrenê who brought him a crown and magnificent figures, among which were three hundred [war] chargers and five handsome four-horse chariots. He received the envoys cordially and made a treaty of friendship and alliance with them''

William Ridgeway wrote, quoting various ancient writers, in his book on The origin and  influence of the Thoroughbred horse", page 253 :
''The islanders from Thera, who planted Cyrene, were not 
slow in fulfilling the prophecy of Medea that " instead of short- 
finned dolphins they should take to themselves fleet mares, and 
reins instead of oars should they ply, and speed the whirlwind- 
footed car," for Cyrene soon became famous as "the city of 
fair steeds and goodly chariots." Pindar glorified her king, 
Arcesilas, for his victories in the chariot-race, and later her 
native poet, Callimachus, sang of his " home famed for her 

Numidians on the Trajan Column:

Horse from a Roman Mosaic (present Tunisia)

Strabo, in ''Geography'' book XVII, wrote on Numidian/Libyan Horse and the various tribes that rode or used horses in Numidia/Lubia (From LacusCurtius):
     ''Although the most of the country inhabited by the Maurusians is so fertile, yet even to this time most of the people persist in living a nomadic life. But nevertheless they beautify their appearance by braiding their hair, growing beards, wearing golden ornaments, and also by cleaning their teeth and paring their nails. And only rarely can you see them touch one another in walking, for fear that the adornment of their hair may not remain intact. Their horsemen any mostly with a javelin, using bridles made of rush, and riding bareback; but they also carry daggers. The foot-soldiers hold before them as shields the skins of elephants, and clothe themselves with the skins of lions, leopards, and bears, and sleep in them. I might almost say that these people, and the Masaesylians, who live next after them, and the Libyans in general, dress alike and are similar in all other respects, using horses that are small but swift, and so ready to obey that they are governed with a small rod. The horses wear collars made of wood [tree wool, perhaps cotton] or of hair, to which the rein is fastened, though some follow even without being led, like dogs. These people have small shields made of raw-hide, small spears with broad heads, wear ungirded tunics with wide borders, and, as I have said, use skins as mantles and shields. The Pharusians and Nigretes who live above these people near the western Aethiopians also use bows, like the Aethiopians; and they also use scythe-bearing chariots. The Pharusians mingle only rarely even with the Maurusians when passing through the desert since they carry skins of water fastened beneath the bellies of their horses...'
 Horses and riders from Roman mosaic from Libya


Roman writer of III century A.D. From Carthago, Nemesianus (again from LacusCurtius ), wrote a poem on hunting (Cynegetica) where he described, amongst others, the Numidian/Libyan horses :
'' may select the courser sent by Mauretania (if he be a stout descendant of good stock), or the horse which the dusky Mazax tribesman[Numidian] has reared in desert fields and taught to undergo ceaseless toil. No need to repine at their ugly head and ill-shapen belly, or at their lack of bridles, or because both breeds have the temper of freedom, or because the neck lashes the sloping shoulders with its mane. For he is an easy horse to guide, plies obediently under the control of a limber switch: its strokes are the orders for speed, its strokes are as bridles too. Nay, once launched across the spacious levels of the plain, with blood stirred, the steeds win fresh strength in the race, leaving by degrees their eager comrades behind. Even so, on the outburst of the winds across the blue waters of Nereus, when Thracian Boreas has uprisen o'er his cavern and with shrill howling dismayed the dreary waves, all the blasts on the troubled deep give way to him: himself aglow mid foaming din, above the billows he o'ertops them in mastery manifest upon the sea: the whole band of the Nereids is mazed in wonderment as he passes over their watery domains.

Nemesianus gives quite detailed description of the preparation of a hunting horse, with some remarks on their long lasting vigour and longevity if properly cared for :
''These horses are slow to attain confidence in prolonged running; also, theirs is youthful vigour even in age that has served its time. For no quality which has bloomed full at its due period suffers collapse in spirit ere physical powers fail. In the fresh spring-time, then, feed the coursers on soft mash, and, lancing a vein, watch old-standing ailments flow out with the ooze of the tainted blood. Soon strength returns joyously to their gallant hearts, moulding the sleek limbs with strength diffused: soon a better blood runs warm in their veins, and they wish for long stretches of road, and to make the broad plain vanish in their career. Next, when summer has hardened the ripening stalks and, scorching the juicy blades, has dried all the moisture for harvest and joined corn-ears [caveat! -not American Maize] to stems, then be sure to furnish barley and light chaff: moreover, there must be care to winnow the produce free from dust, and to run the hands over the horses' muscles, so that the courser may enjoy being patted and relax his body in pleasure and quickly pass the nourishing juices throughout his frame.''

another Roman writer Claudius Aelianus aka Aelian wrote, in Natura Animalium, about the Numidian/Libyan Horse :
''De equo Libyco Libyas talia narrare audio: Eos quidem equorum velocissimos esse, nullo vero laboris sensu affici; graciles quoque nec corpulentos, et idoneos ad sustinendam negligentiam dominorum; qui nullam curam iis adhibent, neque eos, postquam labore fatigati fuerint, strigile perfricant, nec eis volutabra conficiunt, nec ungulas purgant, nec jubam pectunt, nec capronas implicant, neque fessos lavant; sed simulatque constitutum iter confecerint, ex equis desilientes eosdem ad pastiones dimittunt. Ipsi Libyes etiam graciles sunt, et squalore sordidi hujuscemodi equis etiam vehuntur. Medi autem luxuriae dediti sunt, atque ejuscemodi illorum equi; quos magnitudine, specie corporis, et ornatu, ac exteriore cultu atque deliciis una cum dominis delectari diceres; sentire videntur magnitudinem et pulchritudinem suam itemque se magnifice esse exornatos.'' (translated from Greek to Latin  on LacusCurtius).

Finally, the Numidan prince is the subject of the famous Bande Dessinée (French-Belgian comics) series titled 'Jugurtha,' with awesome horse drawings by two great, but unfortunately deceased, artists Moebius and  Franz Drappier

ps most images are from wikipedia 


Telamon said...

Good work.

Dario T. W. said...

Telamon, thanks :)

Unknown said...

This has been a great resource for my work regarding Horse and Bull linguistics and symbology being interchanged and confused. Thank you i hope you do not mind me using some quotes and imagery from your research in my own. If you are interested, you can follow my work at Many Thanks again