The history of humans seems to extend every year as new discoveries are made. In little more than 70 years, historians have moved the date for the arrival of humans back from an accepted belief of a few thousand years to a recognition that it is more than 100,000 years. During that time there have only been a handful of discoveries and inventions that can justifiably claim to have been world-changing. One discovery was the methods of domesticating the horse and using it for transport, farming and war. The author has done a fine job of tracing the history of the domesticated horse and its dramatic application to warfare. Highly recommended.
NAME: Dawn of the Horse Warriors, Chariot and Cavalry Warfare 3000-600BC
AUTHOR: Duncan Noble
PUBLISHER: Pen & Sword
BINDING: hard back
GENRE: Non Fiction
SUBJECT: tactics, technology, cavalry, horse soldiers, chariots, fast movement, ancient history, mounted infantry, bows, arrows, spears, lances, swords
DESCRIPTION: The history of humans seems to extend every year as new discoveries are made. In little more than 70 years, historians have moved the date for the arrival of humans back from an accepted belief of a few thousand years to a recognition that it is more than 100,000 years. During that time there have only been a handful of discoveries and inventions that can justifiably claim to have been world-changing. One discovery was the methods of domesticating the horse and using it for transport, farming and war.The author has done a fine job of tracing the history of the domesticated horse and its dramatic application to warfare. Highly recommended.
The author is not just a historian, but also an archaeologist, rider and trainer, providing the breadth of personal experience to underpin his work.
For tens of thousands of years, man had waged war on foot, or from boats. The size of armies increased from small tribal war bands to real armies, but the basic tactics remained largely unchanged. The bow and arrow, the sword and the spear were still the common weapons, their materials changing but with little change to format or use. The main change was the increasing use of armour and that reduced the speed of armies further. In some environments, the armoured soldier was facing a greater challenge from heat and thirst than from the enemy.
Then, the whole environment changed as the horse revolutionized warfare. It was as great a change as the discovery of gunpowder, the development of aircraft and submarines, and the first use of nuclear weapons. In many respects it was a greater revolution and inspired tales of man-beasts in the centaurs where the close integration of warrior and horse seemed like a wondrous new beast to the first non-horsemen to encounter them.
There is an interesting photo-plate section that uses sketches and photographs of Assyrian reliefs to illustrate the absorbing text.
We do not know with certainty when the first horse was domesticated, or what use it was first put to. 3000BC seems to be our best estimate because by that time there was widespread use being made by some societies and the use was documented and illustrated by reliefs and carvings.
There was almost certainly a wide period when humans learned how best to train horses, selectively breed to produce desired combinations of capability, and devise equipment to make the horse more controllable and useful. Today, modern harness and tack is familiar even to those who have little to do with horses. The familiarity hides the effort that went in to developing the equipment and learning how to make best use of it. Similarly, today’s widespread use of land, air, and sea transport with the ever greater speeds, makes it more difficult to fully understand just how revolutionary a trained horse once was.
For an ancient army making first sight of a mounted enemy the fear produced is difficult to imagine. Ahead would have been a growing cloud of dust that, at first sight, might not have seemed unusual but, as it advanced a much greater speed than a traditional army on foot, fear would have rapidly built because the cause of the great speed could not be appreciated, being hidden at the foot of the dust cloud.
There was a long period when armies could not decide whether to use the horse with a chariot, or as an individual mount. The advantage of the chariot was that it could carry a driver and one or two warriors, leaving the warriors free to use their weapons whilst the driver concentrated on controlling the horse and direction. Although a horseman had to combine both jobs, the horse was more versatile in handling rough terrain and narrow tracks. However, more difficult terrain made it a greater challenge to employ the maximum strength of a cavalry unit in charging the enemy as a mass. What appears far less common in antiquity was the use of the horse for mounted infantry, where the horse provided transport to the battlefield, but the riders then fought on foot as infantry. Part of the reason for that was probably the value of the horse and trained riders/drivers, encouraging the use of fast mass attacks, frequently against enemies that had yet to learn to employ their own horses.
The book provides a comprehensive review of the military use of horses through the period covered and is a fascinating review. What is particularly valuable, particularly to those new to the period, and the geographic areas, is the ‘Who Was Who’ chapter which provides a very helpful glossary of people and States.