Saturday, August 28, 2010

Comanche war bridle

How kola (Lakota greeting),
 my little sketch of what various horse trainers of the XIX century perceived as  the 'Comanche war bridle'   ( the Lords of Southern Plains   ), just a rope  and nothing else...

1830s, Texas still in Mexico, Comanche warriors Comanches de Texas Occidental
 Catlin's (  ) Comanche Osage duel -  Comanche_Osage
Greeting the Anglo-Americans ( George Catlin did this scene in 1834, when he went with the United States Dragoons to Indian Territory ) catlin's comanche chief horsemanship
and in  Catlin's words: of their party galloped out in advance of the war-party, on a milk white horse (look at the rope trailing behind him, this was a typical arrangement, in case of falling off), carrying a piece of white buffalo skin on the point of his long lance in reply to our flag  (and a large buffalo hide shield on his back, and a rifle in a beaded holster hanging from the horn of his saddle, horned saddle with stirrups ). This moment was the commencement of one of the most thrilling and beautiful scenes I ever witnessed. All eyes, both from his own party and ours, were fixed upon the manoeuvres of this gallant little fellow, and he well knew it .  The distance between the two parties was perhaps half a mile, and that a beautiful and gently sloping prairie; over which he was for the space of a quarter of an hour, reining and spurring his maddened horse and gradually approaching us by tacking to the right and the left, like a vessel beating against the windHe at length came prancing and leaping along till he met the flag of the regiment, when he leaned his spear (my note, look at the length of it, Catlin gives more details below)  for a moment against it, looking the bearer full in the face, when he wheeled his horse, and dashed up to Col. Dodge with his extended hand, which was instantly grasped and eyes were fixed upon the gallant and wonderful appearance of the little fellow who bore us the white flag on the point of his lance. He rode a fine and spirited wild horse, which was as white as the drifted snow, with an exuberant mane, and its long and bushy tail sweeping the ground. In his hand he tightly drew the reins upon a heavy Spanish bit, and at every jump, plunged into the animal's sides, till they were in a gore of blood, a huge pair of spurs, plundered, no doubt, from the Spaniards in their border wars, which are continually waged on the Mexican frontiers. The eyes of this noble little steed seemed to be squeezed out of its head ; and its fright, and its agitation had brought out upon its skin a perspiration that was fretted into a white foam and lather. The warrior's quiver was slung on the warrior's back, and his bow grasped in his left hand, ready for instant use, if called for. His shield was on his arm, and across his thigh, in a beautiful cover of buckskin, his gun was slung—and in his right hand his lance of fourteen feet in length. Thus armed and equipped was this dashing cavalier; and nearly in the same manner, all the rest of the party ; and very many of them leading an extra horse, which we soon learned was the favourite war-horse (the practice of leading the war horse along, saving it for  the battle or chase only  ); and from which circumstances altogether, we soon understood that they were a war-party in search of their enemy..

Catlin -  Comanches'  horsemanship

  1. and little original description by the  artist :   ...amongst their feats of riding, there is one that has astonished me more than anything of the kind I have ever seen, or expect to see, in my life: a stratagem of war, learned and practiced by every young man in the tribe; by which he is able to drop his body upon the side of his horse at the instant he is passing, effectually screened from his enemies’ weapons as he lays in a horizontal position behind the body of his horse, with his heel hanging over the horses' back; by which he has the power of throwing himself up again, and changing to the other side of the horse if necessary. In this wonderful condition, he will hang whilst his horse is at fullest speed, carrying with him his bow and his shield, and also his long lance of fourteen feet in length, all or either of which he will wield upon his enemy as he passes; rising and throwing his arrows over the horse's back, or with equal ease and equal success under the horse's neck. ....  I was continually frustrated, until one day I coaxed a young fellow up within a little distance of me, by offering him a few plugs of tobacco, and he in a moment solved the difficulty, so far as to render it apparently more feasible than before ; yet leaving it one of the most extraordinary results of practice and persevering endeavours. I found on examination, that a shorthair halter was passed around under the neck of the horse, and both ends tightly braided into the mane, on the withers, leaving a loop to hang under the neck, and against the breast, which, being caught up in the hand, makes a sling into which the elbow falls, taking the weight of the body on the middle of the upper arm. Into this loop the rider drops suddenly and fearlessly, leaving his heel to hang over the back of the horse, to steady him, and also to restore him whau he wishes to regain his upright position on the horse's back. fragments form Catlin Letters and Notes vol. 2)
    Comanche war party
    Some good books I have read and own on the pre-Anglo invasion Comanches and their society
    G. Betty, Comanche Society:  Before Reservation
    D. Weber, Barbaros, Spaniards and their 'Savages'
    J. Barr et al, Peace came in the form of a woman
     P. Hämäläinen, Comanche empire
    B. De Lay, War of the thousand deserts
    more on the Comanche warriors and horses in the near future

Friday, August 27, 2010

Achaemenid Persian (and Median) cavalry in sketches

 Ushta te,
 I wold like to show you this composite image of several drawings of mine that are supposed to show the horsemen of the Achaemenid Persian Empire   .  the central figure has a kantush or kantus (Median robe  - you can learn more about their clothing form this article  )  like in these figures form the Oxus treasure                   ( wiki/Oxus_Treasure ) Gold_statuettes_from_the_Oxus_Treasure_by_Nickmard_Khoey.jpg  ).
They were done with pen and ink, watercolor and acrylics, and then  placed on one digital paper 'sheet' using GIMP.
They are not finished yet, there is lots of work to be done :) .They will become separate images in their own right... in the future :)

and another old drawing in process of digital painting
I have a drawing of a Oxus Treasure armored warrior's reconstruction but we will save for the next time, in September I hope.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Xenophon on horse ridding - continuation of Peri Hippikes

today continuing from the Xenophon's book Peri Hippikes
Xenophon states:
Of the proper mode of mounting and riding a horse. Of exercising a horse.
1. We shall now show how a rider must act, when he has received his horse for the purpose of mounting him, so In the first place, then, he must take the rein,1 which is fastened to the lower part of the bit, or to the chain that goes under the chin, in his left hand, in a convenient manner, and so loosely, that he may not, either as he raises himself by grasping the mane near the ears, or jumps on the horse's back with the assistance of his spear, pull the animal back. Then, with his right hand, let him take hold of the bridle  at the point of the shoulder, and of the mane at the same time, that he may not in any way, as he mounts, twist the horse's mouth with the bit.
2. When he has set himself at ease for mounting, let him draw up his body with his left hand, and, stretching forth his right, let him lift himself with that also (for, mounting in this way, he will not present an ungraceful appearance behind), and let him do this with his leg bent, and not rest his knees on the back of the horse, but throw his leg across at once to the right side ; and when he has passed his foot clean over, let him then seat himself on the horse's back.
3. It seems to us also very proper, in case a rider should happen to be leading his horse with his left hand, and to be holding his lance in his right, to practise mounting on the right side ;1 but for this he has nothing more to learn, than to perform those movements with his left hand and foot which he had previously performed with his right. 4. We commend such readiness in mounting for this reason, that the rider, as soon as he is seated on the horse, is in every way prepared for action, if it should be necessary to encounter an enemy on a sudden.
5. When he has taken his seat, whether on the horse's bare back or on the cloth, we do not like that he should sit as if he were on a carriage seat, but as if he were standing upright with his legs somewhat apart ; for thus he will cling more firmly to the horse with his thighs, and, keeping himself erect, he will be able to throw a javelin or to strike a blow on horseback, if it be necessary, with greater force.
6. But it is necessary to allow the leg, as well as the foot, to hang loose from the knee ; for if a rider keep his leg stiff, and strike it against anything, it may be broken ; but if the leg hangs easy, and anything strikes against it, it will yield, and yet not move the thigh from its position.
7. A rider should also accustom himself to keep the parts of his body above the hips as flexible as possible ; for he will by this means be better able to exert himself, and if any person should drag or push him, he will be less likely to be thrown off.
   8. Let it be observed, too, that when he is seated on the horse's back, he must first teach the horse to stand quiet, until he has drawn up his mantle, if necessary, and adjusted the reins, and taken hold of his lance in such a way as it may most conveniently be carried. Then let him keep his left arm close to his side, for in such an attitude a rider appears most graceful, and his hand has the greatest power.
9. As to reins, we approve of such as are equally balanced, and not weak, or slippery, or too thick, so that the hand which holds them may be able also to hold the spear when it is necessary.
   10. When the rider gives the signal to the horse to start, let him begin to advance at a walking pace, as this pace is least likely to disturb the horse. Let him hold the reins, if the horse is inclined to hold down his head, rather high ; but if he is more disposed to carry it erect, let him keep them lower, for thus he will best set off the horse's figure. After a little, if he trots at his natural pace, he will find his limbs become pliant without inconvenience, and will come with the greatest readiness to obey the whip. Since too, it is the most approved practice to set off towards the left side, the horse will most readily start on that side,1 if, when he lifts, as he is trotting, his right foot, the rider then give him the signal to gallop. 
    12. For, being then about to raise the left foot, he will thus start with that foot; and just at the moment that the rider turns him to the left, he will make the first spring  in his gallop; for a horse, when he is turned to the right, naturally leads off with the right foot, and when turned to the left, with the left foot.
13. As to the mode of exercising a horse, we approve of that which is called the 'pede' (Volte according to G. Hermann), for it accustoms a horse to be turned by both sides of his mouth ; and it is good to change the direction of his course, that both sides may receive equal stress in the different directions.
14. We approve, too, of a place of exercise of an oblong form, in preference to the round; for in the oblong the horse may be turned with the greater ease, when tired of going straight forward, and he will be exercised at once in running in a direct course and in turning.
   15. It is proper also to pull in the reins as the horse turns ; for it is not easy for a horse, nor safe, when going fast, to turn in a small space,1 especially if the ground be rough or slippery.
16. But at the time that the rider pulls him in, he ought to sway the horse as little as possible with the bit, and to sway himself also as little as possible; for if he sways himself much, he may be well assured that a very small impulse will be sufficient to stretch both him and his horse on the ground.
17. When the horse, after having turned, looks straight before him, the rider should then excite him to greater speed; for it is plain that turnings are made in war either for pursuing or retreating, and hence it is good to accustom a horse, after he has turned, to increase his speed.
18. Also, when the horse appears to have been sufficiently exercised, it is useful, after having let him rest a while, to excite him on a sudden to his utmost speed, as well away from the other horses as towards them; and, after he has been put to his speed, to let him rest somewhere as near as possible, and, when he has stood still awhile, to wheel him about and urge him again to a gallop; for it is certain that occasions will offer when he will have need to practise both.
19. But when it is time to dismount, the rider should never alight either among other horses, or amidst a concourse of people, or beyond the exercise ground; but in the place where the horse is obliged to exert himself, there let him also begin to rest.

 a little sketch o mine on top of this page

Friday, August 20, 2010

Xenophon's threatise 'On Horsemanship' continued

today we're going to continue with the most famous equestrian treatise,  Xenophon's "On Horsemanship,"  already started several days ago on my blog :

 Xenophon on  buying a horse and caring for the steed:

When buying a horse
1. When a person would buy a horse that has been already ridden, we shall subjoin some admonitions which he ought to bear in mind, if he would not be cheated in his purchase. In the first place, then, let it not escape his notice what the age is; for a horse that has no longer the marks in his teeth neither delights the buyer with hope, nor is so easy to be exchanged.
2. When his youth is ascertained, it must also be noticed how he takes the bit into his mouth, and the head-piece over his ears; and this cannot fail to be observed, if the bridle is put on in sight of the purchaser, and taken off in his sight.
3. It is also necessary to see how he takes the rider on his back ; for many horses reluctantly receive on them anything which it is plain to them that they cannot receive without being compelled to work. It must likewise be observed whether, when he is mounted, he wishes to separate himself from other horses, or whether, if he is ridden near horses standing by, he carries off his rider towards them. There are some horses too, that, from bad training, run off from the places of exercise to their stalls' at home.
5. As for horses whose jaws are not alike, that sort of riding which is called the pede3 exposes them, and, still more, a change in the direction in which they are ridden; * for many horses will not attempt to run away with their riders, unless a hard jaw, and their course directed homewards, concur to stimulate them. We ought to ascertain, also, -whether the horse, being put to his speed, is readily pulled up, and whether he submits to be turned about.
6. It is good for a purchaser not to be ignorant, moreover, whether a horse is equally willing to obey when he is roused with a blow; for a servant and an army, if disobedient, are useless, but a disobedient horse is not only useless, but ofter: plays the traitor.
7. But when we take upon ourselves to purchase a warhorse, we must make trial of him in all things in which war will make trial of him; and these are, leaping across ditches, springing over walls, jumping on to mounds, and jumping down from them; and we must try him in riding up and down to steep places and along them; for all such efforts show his spirit, whether it is bold, and whether his body is sound. 8. Yet we must not at once reject a horse that does not accomplish all these feats perfectly ; for many fail, not from being unable, but from want of training ; and if they are taught, and used, and exercised in such performances, they will execute them all well, provided they are sound in other respects, and not wanting in spirit.
9. We must however be cautious of having anything to do with horses that are naturally shy ; for horses that are excessively timorous will not only not allow the rider on their back to harm the enemy, but will often take him by surprise, and expose him to great danger,
10. We must also learn whether the horse has anything of vice either towards other horses, or towards men, and whether he is averse to being handled ; for all such defects are troublesome to his owner.
11. As to any reluctance to being bridled and mounted, and other tricks, a person will much sooner discover them, if, when the horse has been thoroughly exercised, he attempt to do to him what he did before he began to ride him; since horses that, after having been exercised, are ready to submit to exercise again, give sufficient proofs of a mettlesome spirit.
12.- To sum up all in a few words, whatever horse has good feet, is mild-tempered, sufficiently swift, is willing 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.

Attention necessary to be paid to a horse by its owner.
1. When a man has purchased a horse that he admires, and taken him home, it is proper that his stable should be in some part of the premises where the master may see him most frequently ; and it will be right for him to construct the stall in such a way that it may no more be possible for the horse's food to be stolen from the manger than the master's from his cellar. He that is neglectful of such precaution appears to me to be neglectful of himself; for it is evident that in danger the master trusts his personal safety to his horse.
2. A secure manger is not only serviceable to prevent the food from being stolen, but to let it be seen when the horse scatters his food out of the manger ;l and if a person perceives that such is the case, he may be sure, either that the horse, having too much blood in his body, requires veterinary attention, or that, from fatigue having affected him, he needs rest, or that indigestion or some other malady is coming upon him ; and it is with horses as with men, that all diseases are more easily cured at the commencement than after they have acquired strength, and mistakes have been made in the treatment of them.
3. As attention must be paid to a horse's food and exercise, that his body may be vigorous, so must care be likewise taken of his feet. Damp and smooth stable floors injure even naturally good hoofs; and to prevent them from being damp, they ought to be sloping; to prevent them from being smooth, they should have stones inserted in the ground close to one another, similar to a horse's hoofs in size; for such stable floors give firmness to the feet of horses that stand on them.
4. The groom must also lead the horse out of the stable to the place where he is to comb him ; and he should be tied away from the manger after his morning's feed, that he may come to his evening meal with the greater appetite. The ground outside the stable may be put into excellent condition, and serve to strengthen the horse's feet, if a person throws clown in it here and there four or five loads of round stones, large enough to fill the two hands, and about a pound in weight, surrounding them with an iron rim, so that they may not be scattered ; for, as the horse stands on these, he will be in much the same condition as if he were to travel part of every day on a stony road.
5. A horse must also move his hoofs when he is rubbed down, or when he is annoyed with flies, as much as when he is walking; and the stones which are thus spread about strengthen the frogs of the feet. And as we must take care of the hoofs, that they may be hard, so we must take care of the mouth, that it may be soft; and the same treatment softens the flesh of a man and the mouth of a horse.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

XV century horses and their tack in Cappella dei Magi, Florence

In my previous one  entry on the Medieval dextrarius and his lesser friends war-horse-dextrarius-opertus , I attempted to introduce the subject  of the so called  knightly 'great horse.'  I gave links to plenty many illuminations and paintings form High and Late Middle Ages showing  those artists impressions of their great horse, palfrey, courses etc.
So let us now turn the the one of the most important equestrian artwork of the XV century - the Cappella dei Magi in Florence Itally Magi_Chapel  Gozzoli_magi . Painted by Benozzo_Gozzoli one of the most gifted 'equine' Medieval painters (and disciple of the famous Florentine painter of angels, Fra Angelico)  for our purposes this series of frescoes  is a cornucopia of images of a great horse and his lesser equine friends (because the true theme of the artwork is the glory of the Sforza family with some famous characters of the era Sigismodno Pandolfo Malatesta - below on a bay horse next to Galeazzo Sforza on white one,  John VII Palaiologos on a grey horse above and in these sketches by Pisanello Sketches_of_John_VIII_Palaiologos Florence_in_1438 Pisanello  ).

Please note that both horses have bridles without a noseband, heavy curb-bit (but with short and curved shanks) and heavy, single reins. Galeazzo Sforza horse has jeweled pendant hanging from his browband.

Here another Sforza rides a roan horse with a Eastern (Turkish or Byzantine) shabraque on his steed croup. The purpose of the shabraque is clear - it is to give support and protection to a wild cat sitting there. I daresay it is a cheetah and not a leopard, as these trained felines had been used exactly for that purpose - showy and fearsome display and for going hunting while riding to the spot behind his master. This tradition of employing 'horsed' cheetah is very ancient, being used by the nomads and rulers of  Central Asia, spreading to Tang China in the east of Eurasia and to Islamic lands in the Northern Africa in the West.  This  collected roan horse and his comfortably mounted rider show high degree of schooling predating by more than a 100 years the world of Grisone and Renaissance manege schools,  and they are intentionally performing for a viewer. Again no nose band on the bridle, single heavy reins and a curb-bit with glided round 'cheekpiece'.

Here we have a great view of a croup and crouper position. The tail on this black horse is not docked, perhaps following the advice of Xenophon :
13. The haunches should be broad and well covered with flesh, that they may correspond to the sides and the chest; and if these parts are compact, they will be lighter for running, and render the horse much swifter.
14. If a horse has the thighs under the tail broad and not distorted, he will then set his hind legs well apart, and will by that means have a quicker  and firmer step, a better seat for a rider, and will be better in every respect. We may see a proof of this in men ; for when they wish to take lip anything from the ground, they try to raise it by setting their legs apart rather than by bringing them together.
15. A horse should not have large testicles; but it is impossible to tell what will be the size of them in a colt. With regard to the pasterns of the hind legs, or shins, as well as the fetlocks and hoofs, we may make the same remarks as we made concerning the fore-legs.
This rider sits comfortably, relaxed and in full control of his black horse, that has one white marking on his left hind hindleg. The one to this left, holding a chalice (?) uses one hand to control his bay horse, and  his horse's bridle set follows the other horses. Note that this horse has a star on his wide forehead and one sock on his left foreleg.

 Finally white steed of Lorenzo il Magnifico,  performing a parade walk or perhaps he is pacing. Guided with one hand and rather relaxed  single but heavy reins, this horse has the most elaborate bridle and long-shanked gilded curb-bit. Stallion is looking at the road and does not appear to be in any way constrained nor fighting for control against the rider as in many modern dressage competitions. It is a beautiful view of a proud and powerful horse.
One may ask what kind of horses are ridden here? Well, the issue of horse breeding in XV century Europe, here in Italy,  is a bit complicated. Simply put we have no records of stud books and very few books on horse training written during this period. The Medieval Islamic world preserved many books of horse breeding, training and  veterinary practices, but we cannot say that about the Christian Europe. It seems that ancient Roman works and later Byzantine copies of these works were copied by hand (no printing yet) and used.  Yet from written sources and painting and illumination we can gather that  in the early XV century Italy there was a type of horse that make constant appearance in the period paintings, eg Uccello etc. Later on the name used for the Italian horses was Neapolitan horse, extolled by many writers of Renaissance and Baroque. But as we know the Kingdom of Neaples wiki/Kingdom_of_Naples was a Spanish (Aragonese) realm from the end of the XIII century, and many already famous for their beauty and spirit Iberian horses/stallions must have been brought to the kingdom by the new rulers, along with Barb stallions imported from North Africa. By breeding Iberian and Barb stallions with the southern Italian mares, famous from antiquity and during the earlier Middle Ages,   this Neapolitan horse was bred and then spread throughout the Italian Peninsula (in the early 1500 Italian prices Bona Sforza brought her husband, King Sigismund of Poland and Lithuania, many of these horses) and beyond.  We know that from the ancient times all the way through late medieval  period Northern Italy bred good horses ( eg. from Henry VIII of England records), and  that later during the XV century  northern city of Mantua was a great area of horse breeding in Italy. But the straight profile of Gozzoli's  horses is different from more Roman-nosed profile ascribed to Neapolitan horse ( cited below by  Blundeville),  so as much these stallions are some of the greatest examples of Medieval Great Horse in art,  we cannot say with certainty that they are of  of Neapolitan 'breed'  or horses of Neapolitan type bred. They actually  do resemble the famous Roman or Greek  horses of Saint Mark  and a bit different from Ucello's ones, eg Paolo_Uccello_027.jpg  ,  thus perhaps represent then existing  Northern Italian type of great horse, bred by Sforza dukes and their allies in the Northern Italy.  Last note should be on their size: none of these painted horses is taller than what 400 years later Cpt Horace Hayes prescribed for a war horse, no more than 15 hands (150-152cm) at withers. They are muscular and powerful but not tall in height. Their dimensions and relationship to their riders, painted by this Italian master, who most likely was very preoccupied with 'right' proportions and 'correct' perspective in his work,  are in agreement with archaeological finds and surviving equine armor measurements. Therefore, in my opinion these horses, as presented in frescoes of the Cappella dei Magi,  are true representation of the Great Horse of the first half of XV century..
I am going do a separate entry on the horses of Uccello, the painter of Medieval war horse.

Let us part with Thomas de Blundeville 's description of one of these Neapolitan steeds:
 " being both comelie and stronglie made, and of so much goodnesse, of so gentle  a nature, and of so high a courage as anie Horse is, [...] a long slender head, the nether part whereof, taht is to say, from eies downward, for the most part is also somewhat bending like a Hawke's beak, which make him to rein with a better grace."

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Cavalry and horses of Northern Wei - China nomadic rulers

Let us return to China and its nomadic heritage and equine past, to the time of the IV-VI centuries AD.
When in the western Eurasia and around the Mediterranean Sea classical Antiguity was slowly dying under assault of the Germanic barbarians and new religion, and where her direct heirs, Eastern Roman (Byzantine) Empire and Sassanid Persia, were locked in series of never ending wars, in the eastern Eurasia Chinese Han, eg a Han rider from Cernuschi_Museum , empire  Han_Dynasty collapsed amid fighting and corruption, and rivalry amongst the ruling clans. China rulers and conquerors  divided the Han empire into  Three_Kingdoms , while some parts went back to the nomadic peoples as they were restless and seeking their own empires, and soon, in the VI century AD,  almost the entire steppe was to be united under the Turkuts (ancient Turks)   beautifully reconstructed in this Russian article  or on this page ancient Turks articles ,  future arch-enemy of the Tang Dynasty and Sassanid Iran. 

 Three Kingdoms eventually collapsed and in the south of China we then have a leading Jin dynasty Jin_Dynasty 280-420 AD, but  their rule in the north was challenged by the nomads during the  IV century AD.  Because  in Han's wake the northeastern nomadic peoples of the Eastern steppes were bound to create their own smaller and bigger kingdoms, and  one group of proto-Turkic nomads seemed to distinguish itself -  Touba Xianbei xianbei . They absorbed  exhibit/nwei   former masters of the eastern steppe, multiethnic polity of the Xiongnu  xiongnu image002  (wonderful reconstructions  on this Siberian archaeology page  ) that were chief enemies of Chin and Han dynasties empires until Han armies destroyed their might
article Xiongnu mutliethnicity archaeology
 xiongnu belt plate

Toba/Touba Xianbei northern wei essay were most likely Mongolian/Turkic nomads, that came southward from the Manchurian steppe, and upon taking over the Inner Mongolia moved further south, and eventually in concert with Han Chinese elites created their own empire known as Northern Wei (386-534 AD), becoming sinicized towards the end of their rule over the Han populations.  Their steppe enemies were Turkic juan_juan  , some scholars believe they were know as Avars in western Eurasia.  Slav-Avar belt plaques/mounts 
 more images of steppe art, in this article associated with ancient nomadic Bulgarians
But Northern Wei was just one of the kingdoms or empires in China of that time Southern and Northern Dynasties, before the first reunification of Han China by the short lived Sui dynasty  Sui_Dynasty

In the history of the development of war horse harness this period II-VI century AD , within the eastern Eurasia milieu, had been the most  fertile ground  for revolutionary changes - it was the time of the development of solid  'treed' saddle (with pommel and cantle) from Saka/Sarmatian saddle eg saddle sibir_181 , curb-bit, stirrups, horse armor. Naturally some of these inventions were made within the Eastern Eurasia by the  various nomads and Han Chinese, and some came from the West, from the Sassanid Iran (Persia) etc.

Some visual sources showing artifacts of Northern Dynasties,  mostly ceramics and few paintings :

military man/officer in a nomadic costume  (Northern China)
Xinabei belt buckle, with dragon images, this kind of belt buckle has been known to the nomads of the eastern Eurasia since II millennium BC
warrior in armor 

mounted musician
nomadic musicians  china. Wei musicians on horseback
riders, horses, and camels (Bactrian) of Northern Wei 
muscian with nomadic 'horse' drums
nomad on a Bactrian camel
  rider nomadic fashion
archers from frescoes of the  Dunhua caves dunhua53
 heavy cavalry, Dunhua frescos dunhua54
rider with a horn
heavy cavalry cataphract
heavy cavalry cataphract II
heavy cavalry cataphract III
 the above heavy riders are shown without spears and swords, and without spear holster, that only very few sculptures show (I will show them in a separate entry on this blog I hope)

more ceramics eramics - fine steeds:
horse I
horse II
horse III 

here we have fine example of Northern Wei horse armor and saddle
armored horse
pack horse, essential ingredient of a fast moving nomadic/mounted army: pack horse

Northern Wei tomb guardians silkroad/exhibit/nwei/nwei
Northern Wei  neighbors
beautiful painting of two riders from Northern Qi
(550 - 577AD) dynasty 'Xianbei' tomb of one Liu Xian, part of a series of funerary painting showing horsemen riding and hunting  with dogs   riders northern Qi_Dynasty.jpg please note that they are using stirrups

in the western part of the 'Chinese' steppe, in today's Chinese Turkestan, lived Tocharians, Indo-European people of the eastern part of the Silk Road,   Tocharian Qizil Cave Donors Their towns and fortresses will become of part of the Tang Empire, and from there Tang China will clash with oncoming Arab conquerors of Central Asia, in the battle on river Talas 

Some literature on war, Iranian influences in China, 'Chinese' nomads, Chinese miltiary during the end of I milenium BC and fist 500 years of I milenium AD time frame etc:

 Article on articles chinese-iranian influences
Nicola di Cosmo, Ancient China and its Enemies
works of  Albert Dien - very intresting article on the preTang armor in China, while another one -  on Chinese, Korean and Japanese horse armor - is also a very interesting article, and here link to his very interesting book on the lifes and arts of   six dynasties
Chris Peers, and Michael Perry work for  Osprey,  for this period the vol I of imperial China  Imperial China
and  another rather Osprey, badly needing rewriting but with beautiful iconography and illustrations by late Angus McBride, Atilla and Nomad Hordes, by dr Nicolle attila and hordes

 For reconstructions of the nomadic warriors you can look for  "Warriors Of Eurasia, from the VIII century BC to the XVII century ad" by Mikhael V Gorelik, Montvert Publications, 1995.
For the nomadic Bronze and Iron Age art in China nomadic heritage best are the  books by art historian Emma Bunker , eg Ancient Bronzes of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes or Nomadic Art of the Eastern Eurasian Steppes

but this article written by two art galleries, Janssens and Wace with Emma Bunker help, on the Bronzes is also easily accessible via net nomadic bronzes  
 Interesting book by Davis -Kimbal, Bashilov and Yablonsky Nomads in the Early Iron Age
 Orlat belt palque  - found by Galina Pugachenova,  these are some of the most important images of Central Asia nomadic warriors and warrior lore, perhaps  Xiongnu warriors in this article  with detailed drawings Mode Orlat and Russian language version by messers Nikonorov and Khudiakov Nikonorov Khudiakov orlat  
...and so many others, one only needs to starts searching the net...

In China equine-military history overview treads on my blog, next I think I am going to tackle the Tang China and her marvelous horse.
And here is a very interesting site with reconstructed images of Chinese warriors' arms and armor throughout the history china-ancient-armours

 Web forum devoted to the history of this period chinahistoryforum age-of-fragmentation

 I hope to cover some of the subjects mentioned above  in more specific blog entries with my own reconstruction etc.
little sketch of a Sui or Korean caparisoned horse, drawn without a bridle nor bit - on purpose :)

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Xenophon on colt- young stallion conformation

let us return for a moment to that time  less than 2,400 years ago, of the IV century BC,  when Athenian hippeis, adventurer, philosopher and writer Xenophon (Ξενοφῶν ) wrote his famous On Horsemanship ( Peri hippikés) treatise, and I am going to 'publish' here the most relevant parts of that ancient work since this work seems to sum up the ancient  Indo-European (North Iranian, Thracian, Greek, Persian and Median) knowledge  on horses in war and parade.

Xenophon (Ksenofont, Ксенофонт,) :

   1.In regard to a colt not yet broken, it is plain that we must examine his body ; for of his temper a horse that has never been mounted can give no certain indications.
2. In respect to his body, then, we assert that we must first examine the feet; for as there would be no use in a house, though the upper parts were extremely beautiful, if the foundations were not laid as they ought to be, so there would be no profit in a war-horse, even if he had all his other parts excellent, but was unsound in the feet; for he would be unable to render any of his other good qualities effective.
   3. A person may form his opinion of the feet by first examining the hoofs ; for thick hoofs are much more conducive to firmness of tread than thin ones ; and it must also not escape his notice whether the hoofs are high or low, as well before as behind ; for high hoofs raise what is called the frog ' far above the ground; and low ones tread equally on the strongest and softest part of the foot, like in-kneed men. Simon says that horses which have good feet may be known by the sound; and he says this with great justice, for a hollow hoof rings against the ground like a cymbal.
4. Since we have commenced with this part, we shall ascend from it to the rest of the body. The bones immediately above the hoofs, then, and below the fetlocks, must be neither too upright, like those of a goat (for then, being too unyielding, they shake the rider, and such legs are more subject to inflammation), nor ought those bones to be too sloping; for the fetlocks will in that case be denuded of hair and galled, if the horse be ridden either among clods or over stones.
5. Of the legs the bones ought to be thick ; for they are the supports of the body ; but it is not in veins or flesh that their thickness should consist, since, should this be the case, they must, when the horse is ridden over hard ground, be filled with blood, when hard tumours will arise, and while the whole leg is swollen, the skin will widen ; and when the skin is loose, the small bone of the leg4 often gives way, and renders the horse lame.
6. If the colt, as he walks, bends his knees freely, you may conjecture that he will have supple legs when he is ridden; for all colts in the course of time acquire greater freedom of motion in their knees ; and supple joints are justly commended, for they render a horse less likely to stumble and grow tired than stiff joints.
7. The forearms under the shoulders, if they are stout, appear stronger and more graceful, as is the case with those of men. The chest, if somewhat broad, is better adapted both for beauty and strength, as well as for keeping the legs, not so as to touch, but wide apart.
8. The neck, as it proceeds from the chest, should not fall forwards, like that of a boar, but should grow upwards like that of a cock, and should have an easy motion  at the parts about the arch. The head should be bony, and have a small cheek. Thus the neck will be directly in front of the rider,' and the eye of the animal will see what is before his feet. A horse of such a shape would be less able to do mischief, even though he be extremely vicious ; for it is not by bending, but by stretching out the neck and head, that horses attempt to be mischievous.
9. It is necessary to observe, however, whether both the fates * (On account of the smallness of the jaw, which will not obstruct his sight. Weiske ) be soft or hard, or only one of them, for horses which have not both the jaws alike are generally obstinate. To have the eye prominent gives an air of greater vigilance to a horse than to have it sunk, and a horse with such an eye can see much further than another.
10. Wide nostrils are not only better adapted for breathing than those which are contracted, but make a horse appeal more terrible; for when one horse is angry at another, or is excited in being ridden, he dilates his nostrils.
11. When the top of the head is somewhat large, and the ears rather small, they render a horse's head more like what it ought to be. The point of the shoulder being high renders the seat of the rider more secure, and makes the shoulder appear more firmly attached to the body. A double spine is both much softer to sit upon, and more pleasing to the eye, than a single one.
12. The sides being somewhat deep, and swelling towards tin belly, render a horse in general more easy to ride, and stronger, and make him appear better profited by his food. The broader and shorter the loins are, the more easily the horse raises his fore parts, and brings forward his hinder ones; and in so doing, his belly will appear smaller, which, if large, partly disfigures a horse, and renders him also weaker and less able to carry weight.
13. The haunches should be broad and well covered with flesh, that they may correspond to the sides and the chest; and if these parts are compact, they will be lighter for running, and render the horse much swifter.
14. If a horse has the thighs under the tail broad and not distorted, he will then set his hind legs well apart, and will by that means have a quicker  and firmer step, a better seat for a rider, and will be better in every respect. We may see a proof of this in men ; for when they wish to take lip anything from the ground, they try to raise it by setting their legs apart rather than by bringing them together.
15. A horse should not have large testicles; but it is impossible to tell what will be the size of them in a colt. With regard to the pasterns of the hind legs, or shins, as well as the fetlocks and hoofs, we may make the same remarks as we made concerning the fore-legs.
16. I wish also to show by what means \ person will be least likely to be deceived in regard to the probable size; for any colt that has very long legs when it is foaled will become a very large horse, since in all quadrupeds the shank-bones do not grow much as time advances, but the rest of the body, that it may be symmetrical, grows in proportion to them.
17. Those who judge in this way of the shape of a colt seem to us most likely to get a horse that has good feet, and is strong, fleshy, and of a good figure and size. Even though some horses change as they grow up, yet we may still have sufficient confidence in these observations to form a judgment; for far more horses, from being ill-shaped, become well proportioned, than grow deformed after having once been well-shaped.
 The above translation is by Rev. J. S. Watson, published in 1891
link to a Spanish language scholarly article (from Gladius magazine) on the Ancient Greek riders and their 'echo' amongst the Iberians
 at the top my own little sketch of a warhorse, I hope :) and a photo of a  Hellenistic spirited war horse covered with a leopard 'schabraque' (sort of like Alexander the Great before and Hungarian, Polish and Ottoman Turkish riders during the XVI-XVIII centuries)

Friday, August 13, 2010

Horace Hayes on horses

Horace Hayes in his book 'Points of horse,' published in the 1897, presented his very learned opinions regarding what a particular type of horse should have been, his description was based in his extensive travels and experiences as cavalryman, scientist,  horse trainer, equine historian etc. I am giving his horse conformation description and views here, because I think,  H. Hayes gives us a very sound opinion on what a war horse should have been built like prior to the XX century, and I think it applies to horses throughout their use in human warfare since North Iranians on the great Eurasian Steppe first took to mounted warfare,  at least 3000 years ago. Note his insistence on the trooper and officer horse's height when in war conditions, very important! The shortness of legs, and his stoutness in general, in cavalry trooper horse brings to my mind the Mongol-Tatar bachmats of the Pontic-Caspian steppe.

The Cavalry Trooper.—The ideal cavalry horse should (if price has not to be considered) be of the heavy weight (Fig. 433) or thick-set (Fig. 322) hunter type. His chief requirements as regards conformation are as follows :—
1. That he should be up to the weight he has got to carry, which is usually about 18 stone. But he should on no account be too heavily topped for his legs, or for the work he will be called upon to do. His loins, therefore, should be strong, his shoulder-blades long, and his legs should be as short as is compatible with the possession of sufficient speed for military purposes.
2. His legs and feet should be particularly sound and well able to stand work. As he will be called upon at times to go fast and to leap ; his back tendons should be more or less parallel with the cannon bone, and he should have no tendency to undue width of fetlock (p. 282, et seq.).
3. His fore-hand should be light, so that his legs and feet may continue sound, and that he may be able to do his school work properly.
4. He should have a good carriage of the head and neck, so that he may be obedient to the rein.
5. He should be a " good doer," and have a strong constitution, which will usually be the case with a horse that has a bright eye ; soft, cool skin ; deep rounded barrel (pp. 232 to 236); full flank ; firm, prominent anus; and is well ribbed up.
6. In times of peace, the height will usually vary from about 15.1 to 16 hands; but for war purposes, when endurance is of paramount importance, the height should not exceed 15.2, and may be as low as 14.1, especially if Arabs are employed.
The Officer's Charger.—A cavalry officer's first charger, with all the useful points of the cavalry trooper, should have undeniably good looks, and a showy carriage of the head and tail, which should not be docked. As he will have to carry less, and will cost considerably more than an animal in the ranks, he should be well bred, and, with a rider of ordinary weight, he should approach the type of a handsome thorough-bred hunter. A second charger should have all the useful points of a first charger ; but need not be so good-looking. The colour will, as a rule, depend on regimental regulations. Speaking generally, he should not be less than 15.3, during peace time, because a man at the head of a regiment of cavalry, or of a battery of Horse or Field Artillery, looks best on a tall horse. On a campaign, the height should be the same as that advised for a cavalry trooper.
The Artillery Horse.—Artillery horses are divided into those for Horse Artillery and those for field batteries. As the teams of the former have to manoeuvre with cavalry, and also drag their guns, they require to be exceptionally strong, smart horses. The latter, as they are supposed not to go faster than a trot, are stronger and slower horses than those of light cavalry. The wheelers are active, light-built cart-horses. For their work, they need to be somewhat thick in the shoulders, short on the leg, and of considerable weight to stop the gun when the order to halt is given. Their hind-quarters, loins, and hocks should, therefore, be particularly strong. The riding horses of the Nos. 1 and markers of field batteries should be of the light cavalry type.
The Mounted Infantry Horse should be of the same type as the cavalry charger, and should be about 14.2 high. Fig. 437 shows a good specimen of a remount, which did excellent service during the late Boer war. The pony in Fig. 438, though small, was of a useful kind, and also served in South Africa during 1900 and 1901.

The Polo Pony.—Handiness and speed, with sufficient staying and weight-carrying power, are the two chief requirements of the polo pony. Consequently, he should be light in front, should carry his head and neck well, have sloping shoulders, strong hocks, and his hind legs well under him. The fact of his being rather " goose-rumped " will be no detriment. These views are strengthened by the remarks made on pages 310 and 311 about the conformation of the zebra; for the polo pony, like his striped relative, requires great ability of suddenly stopping, turning round, and galloping off in the opposite direction. This turn has to be done chiefly on the hind legs, which in this case will be more or less bent, and will then have full power to project the pony in the new direction. The best English polo ponies, such as the once matchless Dynamite,  are animals which, but for an accident of breeding, would have been high-class hunters or brilliant chasers.
Points of Horse pp392-95

another horse so called Hack  pp389
The Hack.—The chief points about the hack are that he should be " light in front," have sloping shoulders, and sound legs and feet, so that he may be sure-footed and able to stand work ; and he should be rather high in front (pp. 177 and 178). The conformation of his head and neck should be such as to allow him to bend readily to the rein. The action of the hack should be somewhat " high" and should be " true," so that, when viewed from behind, the near pair of limbs, in the walk, trot and canter, should move in a line parallel to that of the off pair. Action, good looks, and a showy carriage of the head and tail are essentials in the high-priced hack.
 According to hipologist Juan Carlos Altamirano, great historian and specialist on the Pura Rasa Espanola or Spanish Horse,  the XVI century nondescript  hacks or 'haquas' imported from England, Northern Europe and Poland were foundation horses along with particular Barb, Neapolitan and Andalusian stallions and Marismenas mares when king Felipe II (Philip II) ordered creation of the breeding program at the Yeguada Real in Cordoba, Spain in 1567 AD.

H. Hayes' entire book can be read here, but my text belongs to 1904 edition and the  photos of the horses given in the text as well
 at the top some old sketch of mine

Thursday, August 12, 2010

XV century Medieval Saddles from MET

today I would like to share with you some screenshots of a video of the German Gothic Medieval Saddles  kept on display at the MET - Metropolitan Museum of Arts in New York.  Light is rather dim in there and I did make some video instead of taking the photos this time.
These XV century saddles are beautifully carved in bone (stag). They must remind us about the wonderful pageantry of the Medieval horse worlds. The best book to talk about that may be  the famous book '

The waning of the Middle Ages' by    Johan Huizinga

We can only imagine  how splendidly these saddles must have looked when taken on a glorious parade day done somewhere in Nuremberg or some other beautiful Medieval German Imperial city of the period.  The tree is lindenwood (which is very soft) covered with thin rawhide, and with a birchbark lining glued onto it, in order to make it waterproof and stronger, then the bone plates were attached/glued.  Museum curators linked it to the Prague, Czech, workshop based on some orders from mid XV century from Prague. More MET images and short description are here

Note the stirrup and cinch holes/slots in their relationship to the saddles' center. MET Curator S.V. Grancsay stated that according to this opinion the rider must have been sitting on the cantle when ridding.

More on the bone carving in the Gothic Era

Interesting article about mounted lance combat, saddles etc

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

War horse 'dextrarius opertus'

Fascinating subject and wonderful art - great horse and his (as it was a stallion or a gelding) equine friends 1250-1450 AD.

    the image (color insert into the same but a black and white one) above of a knight in full 1420-30s suit of armor mounting his fully caparisoned horse, note horse has a chamfron to protect his head,  comes from the illuminations and poems book by Medieval writer Catherine de Pisan(Pizan) published in the XV century
Bayeux Tapestry horses
pre-1250 charging knight
 some medieval iconography of the Middle Ages golden era - 1250-1450:

 Ucello horses (at Fornovo the Italian heavy horse fought the French almost to a vicotry)


 famous painting

Paolo_Uccello's Hawkwood

 another Italian condotiere
Verrocchio condotiere
great horses and palfreys of the clergy painted by Jan van Eyck

Caparisoned horse with a great helm rider
 more caparisoned horses
 king using his servant to mount his white horse
here in many others we have the use of double reins
battle of Poitiers

one of the most famous illuminations Luttrell Psalter knight and his ladies
one of the most elaborated curb-bits with lots of control and damage potential,b
 Spanish rowel spur
 high saddle, curb and breastplate on a famous Bamberg sculpture

past 1450 -man-at-arms, a beautiful watercolor  by Durer

 Let us recall that our own Polish king Wladyslaw II Jagiello rode a roan stallion at the battle of  Grunwald  (Tannenberg) Ad 1410 

One of the most advanced equestrian cultures of the European Middle Ages - Teutonic Knights and their horses in this article by one of the most noted medieval scholars - Sven Ekdahl

great page on caparisoned horses or rather the Medieval caparison itself
allegory or truth - ladies ridding caparisoned warhorses
ladies with Alexander
 ladies in horse combat,%20Bibl.%20Mazarine,%20ms.%201559%20,%20f.%20111.jpg

 this page has many illuminations of warrior ladies of the Middle Ages

finally nothing beats a pacing horse, for comfort and pleasure of riding it - in this wonderful miniature

Above late Medieval hunters of the XV century painting - in the foreground a wonderful white stallion being ridden in a complete collection, he could shame many a rider at today's dressage competitions, note all the horses have curb-bits and second rein, and a bridle without nasal/nose band.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Inwentarz - estate inventory - po nieboszczyku JeMPanu Stanisławie Stawskim

    here is this very interesting estate inventory of movables left by Stanislaw Stawski, cavalryman of the second half of the XVII  century Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. Published by a web user and practicing historian 'Miuti' here:
     Original writing was cleaned a bit by dear Miuti and it is very readable for a Polish reader,  at the link given above.
For my purposes, horses and horse tack, I will mention several interesting, horse related aspects of this estate inventory :
Written list of things left  by the deceased  Stanisław  Stawski, having served as a companion under the 'pancerni' ( as much as I want to use wikipedia, the entry in wikipedia on this subject is less than satisfactory) banner of Stefan  Bidziński (famous Polish horseman, cavalry commander and king Jan III Sobieski's confidant).

Horse tack:
rządzik za który dał nieboszczyk złotych dwieście ze wszystkim porządny, 
1. horse harness set (briddle, saddle, brestplate, crupper etc) paid by the deceased on the amount of 200 zloty and in all a fine one.
gończa uzdeczka nowa jedna, 
2. one 'hunting' bridle, new

3 kulbaka haftowana z olstrami haftowanymi z wojłokiem adamaszkiem podszytym, z pistoletów parą, bez płata jedna
 Kulbaka - Old Polish Eastern-style - war saddle, with pistol holsters embroidered, with a felt saddle banket covered with damask  wiki/Damask , also two pistols and this saddle was without a 'skirt,' one
4 drugich kulbak trzy,jedna nieboszczykowska, dwie czeladnych bez wojłoków,
 other{lesser quality?] 3 war-saddles, one of the deceased, two of the retainers' without felt [blankets]

namiot turecki zdobyczny porządny,
 Turkish tent, captured booty, and in good order


Koń gniady pocztowy zdechł.
 Bay horse, retainer's,   died
U chorągwi drugi także zdechł,
when with the banner/company, another of his horses (retainer's) also died
także i z drogi do domu idąc od chorągwii Jurkiewiczy klacz zdechła u chorągwi myszata,
another mare, grulla or mouse dun, died going home form the Jurkiewiczy banner,   died .
podjezdka jednego białego dano księdzu od pogrzebu a drugiego wronego co się zwał Bałwanem ukradziono. 
One gray/white rouncey [stallion or gelding] was given to the priest who had performed at the funeral, and the second black one known as 'Balwan' (Clown ?) was stolen.

Teraz do domu od chorągwi przyszli ale bardzo chude i znędznione, jeden cisawy od JeM Pana Marcina Stawskiegodrugi wrony, trzeci z tureckiej zdobyczy kary podjezdek.
 Now the horses  that finally have returned home from the banner/company but they are very thin and in poor condition, first a roan from Marcin Stawski (another companion), second raven black, third black from  the Turkish [war] spoils/booty

Source:  this registry comes from m the State Archive in Cracow, Wawel Castle division, part of the estate archive of 
Karol Wacław Larisch (1603) 1768- (1868).