The Horse in Human History

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Overview

The horse is surely the “aristocrat” of animals domesticated by man. This book documents the origins of horse domestication on the Pontic-Caspian steppes some 6,000 years ago and the consequent migration of equestrian tribes across Eurasia to the borders of sedentary states. Horse-chariotry and cavalry in effect changed the nature of warfare in the civilizations of the Middle East, India, and China. But, beyond the battlefield, horsepower also afforded great advances in transport, agriculture, industry, and science. Rapidity of horse communications forged far-flung equestrian empires, where language, law, weights, measures, and writing systems were standardized and revolutionary technologies and ideas were disseminated across continents. Always recognizing this dual character of horsepower – both destructive and constructive – the politico-military and economic importance of the horse is discussed in the rise of Hittite, Achaemenid, Chinese, Greco-Roman, Arab, Mongol, and Turkic states. Following Columbian contact, Old and New World cultures are contrastively evaluated in terms of presence or absence of the horse. And Spanish conquest of the horseless Americas is seen as the model for subsequent European equestrian colonization of horseless territories around the planet.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"..a general and approachable discussion of horses in human society the world over..." —BMCR
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521736299
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 4/13/2009
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 474
  • Sales rank: 369,196
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Pita Kelekna holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the University of New Mexico. Early fieldwork in indigenous societies of the Americas and later research conducted across the Middle East, Central and East Asia have well equipped her for this world-wide analysis of the importance of the horse in human society. She is a member of the New York Academy of Sciences and the American Anthropological Association.

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction to equestrian man and to Equus; 2. Equus Caballus: horse domestication and Agro-Pastoralism across the Eurasian steppes; 3. Nomadic horse culture of the steppes; 4. Expansion from the steppes to Southwestern and Southern Asia; 5. China and the steppes beyond its borders; 6. Equestrian Europe - solar edifices, hippodromes, and Arthurian chivalry; 7. Arabian conquest from the South; 8. Turkic-invader converts to Islam and crusader opponents; 9. From the steppes, the Altaic nomad conquest of Eurasia; 10. From Europe, Equus returns to its continent of origin; 11. Horses are us.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 12, 2009

    Six Millennia of Horsepower

    As a book, The Horse in Human History is extraordinarily far-ranging, covering sixty million years of wild equid evolution and six thousand years of horse domestication by man. We first learn how a diminutive herbivore (less than two feet in height) in the course of climatic change and anatomical development evolved into the robust modern horse, the fastest distance-running animal on the planet. We learn also of extant equids, whose precarious existence in the wild today is gravely imperiled. I had known that asses and zebras were relatives of the horse, but knew nothing of the kiang which survives at 15,000 feet on the Tibetan plateau. There is also the story of the plucky Przewalski horse, which became extinct in the wild during the twentieth century, but from western zoo populations was successfully restored to its historic range on the Asian steppe.

    Domestication of the horse is a complex issue. The latest archaeolgical evidence indicates that the wild horse was first hunted on the Eurasian steppes as a food source and subsequently domesticated during the fourth millennium BCE, between the Dnieper and Ishim rivers. The most contentious debate, however, revolves around quite when the horse was first ridden. Some maintain immediately upon domestication; others reject this, claiming no graphic represention of a horse rider exists much before the second millennium BCE. But, what is certain is that by the second millennium BCE horse-drawn, spoke-wheeled chariots from the steppes had invaded Anatolia, northern India, and China.

    The book explores the economic aspects of horsepower. On the steppes, it is shown that a mounted herder could control three times more animals than a shepherd on foot. Horse mobility was also critical in the exploration for new minerals and the spread of metallurgy. In Persia, China, and Rome, long-distance roads were constructed to expedite rapid transport and communication. With far-flung trade, technological breakthroughs were sped across continents, as the iron stirrup and advanced collar harness reached Europe from China. Yet also described in detail is the excitement of the Roman racetrack, the Mongolian hunt, the Panathenaic festival, and the steppe contest of Buzkashi (forerunner of the modern sport of polo). The great equestrian epics of the Persian Shahnameh and Frankish Chanson de Roland too are discussed.

    All in all, the author presents a well rounded account of the devlopment of horsepower over the millennia. She certainly considers both sides of the argument in the controversy over the origins of horse riding and equally gives a balanced assessment of opposing views regarding the impact of advanced harnessing techniques on European agriculture, transport, and industry. I did, however, find her interpretation of the Arthuriad as a Sarmatian legend diffused west from the steppes to Europe and east to Japan a bit far fetched. I would have welcomed hearing a more critical discussion around this point. But the book is already 450 pages. No doubt, many issues it raises will be debated well into the future!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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