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Horses in antiquity

Cavalry of antiquity

If you ask, where for the first time it occurred to a man to climb onto the horse’s back, everyone will respond without hesitation, in the Great Steppe. And wrong.

The first mentions of horsemen are not connected with the nomadic peoples of Eurasia, but with the Assyrian army. In the X century BC, when the nomadic cattle breeding in the Eurasian steppes was still in its infancy, the Assyrians, taking into account the lack of patency of the chariots, invented to use the soldiers, who were directly on the backs of horses, to chase the enemy and reconnaissance.
As the inventors of horsemanship, the Assyrians were not good riders, however,

The ability to ride on horseback to the very end was limited for them to be able to hold onto a horse and somehow direct its movement. Assyrians dismounted for battle, three attacked the enemy with melee weapons, and the fourth held horses. If archery was supposed, then half dismounted — an archer, sitting astride, fired, while his assistant kept the bridles of both horses at that time. Assyrian cavalry, in fact, was a light infantry riding.

Further, the art of riding began to spread throughout the world rather quickly. Important, after all, was just an idea – by no means, however, not trivial (until then no one had gone to anyone). Some Iranian Black Sea tribes, just as it later happened to the Indians of the prairies, literally in a couple of generations turned into dashing riders. The first horse barbarians — the Cimmerians — had already appeared in the eighth century BC.

One hundred years later it was heard about the Scythians. Scythians could be kept on a horse without hands. But they could hardly have been recognized as masters of equestrian sports by modern standards — it was unlikely the Scythians would risk taking barriers and galloping. In ancient times, chariots races, but not horsemen, were a popular sport. After all, before the saddles and stirrups spread, when I had to just sit on a horsecloth or a pillow tied to the back of a horse, the rider had to hold his horse tightly. The landing was very tight – the rider’s seat was in direct and uninterrupted contact with the back of the horse. Accordingly, all the vibrations transmitted by the horse’s back in motion were transmitted to him (on the seat). Of course, much depended on the art of the rider. In particular, one can stand on it (the back of the horse) with its legs, to be kept bareback on the back of a galloping horse. But such a position is also very unstable, – when jumping or sharply maneuvering a horse, the rider sitting by the “eagle” will inevitably be thrown off. On the other hand, riding a horse without a saddle led to the extraordinary development of certain muscle groups. From that, in Rome, for example, a sign of belonging to the nobility, whose duties included “exercising with a horse,” were considered very thick legs.

In the period from VII to V century BC, many tribes of the Great Steppe, as well as residents of Iran, Asia Minor, Turkestan, Greece, North Africa, Gaul, Italy and India, mastered the art of horse riding. This was the case at first.

Some nations have decisively refused to accept a new mode of movement. For example, the Egyptians. The Chinese mounted their horses just a hundred years before the new era. At the beginning of our era, during the Jewish War, the Jews had no cavalry. Even among the nomads of the Great Steppe, there were disagreements – among the Germanic tribes who invaded Europe at the turn of the new era, there were foot nomads (Franks, Saxons, Langards) and horsemen (Goths, Huns, Vandals). The Slavs mounted their horses only in the VI century of the new era, – and that, – the Balkan Slavs. The Romans tried to learn English riding, then the Normans, but as early as the XIII century the British felt unsure about horseback.

The cavalry of the Scythian type led still only a throwing battle. Most of the ancient images of the Scythians show shooting from the carousel – the rider shoots left at the heading (what looked like shooting back in the image of the Greeks – we leave on the conscience of their artists). Wherever an attack or an attack with a melee weapon is not shown, spears and akinaki were used only for self-defense. In the early stages of cavalry, the horse was used only to gain mobility advantage. In this regard, the Scythians are absolutely no different from the Assyrians. Obviously, having no weapons other than bows, the Scythians could not defeat the heavy infantry, especially if it was covered with arrows. Scythians could not defeat foot shooters, if there were enough of them, – Scythian bows shot very close. But this did not prevent the Scythians to produce terrible havoc in civilized countries. The advantages of mobility allowed them to take the fight only on favorable terms. The same tactics before the Scythians were used by the Cimmerians, and after them the Persians (before dismounting and doing serious work), the Huns (or rather, then still well) and the Chinese from the 1st century BC (well, they were very surprised).

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