Horses in Ancient Greece
When thinking back to the ancient times, the thought of the great chariot races will inevitably enter a person's mind. Horses were not only used for this spectacular and dangerous event in early times, but they were used and worshipped as so much more. The Greeks saw horses as a symbol of speed, competition, and human mastery over nature. They were viewed as an animal worthy of much respect and necessary tool for the Greeks competitive personalities. Horses were an integral part of life in ancient Greece. They played an active role in warfare, transportation and in the games such as the Panathenaic Games in Athens. Athenian enthusiasm for the horse was expressed in the many civic buildings and temples that were covered with paintings and sculptures of riders and battle scenes showing cavalry such as on the Parthenon where the Parthenon Horse originates. Poseidon and Athena together served as protectors of horses and patrons of horsemanship and equestrian activities. Athena, Patron Goddess of Athens, was credited with the invention of the bridle and the use of chariots. The Aristocratic families that ruled Athens during the 6th century B.C. often took pride in their nobility by starting or ending their name with the word hippos, which is the Greek word for horse. The aristocracy bred and raced horses from very early times and it seems that chariot racing was the preferred form of competition and maybe even the foundation of the Olympic Games.
The earliest known direct ancestor of Equus or the horse, the eohippus, lived approximately 50 million years ago in both the Old and New Worlds. Equus originally evolved in North America about three million years ago, spreading to all continents except Australia. Horses disappeared from the Americas for unknown reasons about 10,000 years ago, and were reintroduced by Europeans, around 1500 AD. Many species of the horse arose in the Old World. Horses were probably first domesticated by central Asian nomads in the 3rd millennium B.C. and were first recorded in Greece around 1700 BC.
Horses, at first, were all wild animals like zebras are today. People hunted them for their meat and especially for their skins, to make into leather hides for clothes and for tents and tools. But around 3000 BC, people began to tame horses, to domesticate them, to eat them and to use them to carry things. It may have been the Indo-Europeans, still living around the Caspian Sea, who first tamed horses for their own use. It is believed that the first appearance of the horse in Greece was with the arrival of the Indo-Europeans around 2100 BC. The first appearance of horses at Troy is around 1900 BC. And the first arrival of the horse and chariot in Egypt comes with the invasion of the Hyksos, or Amorites, around 1700 BC, when the Amorites had been learning things from the Indo-European Hittites. Having tame horses made a big difference to people's lives. Horses were a tremendous military weapon. You could use chariots to get into battle and use them to squash your enemies, and you could ride them in order to get from one city to another much more quickly than the other army could. You could send quick messengers. And you could carry tents and food on their backs. In peacetime, horses could carry trade goods from one city to another, and they could pull wagons full of people or hay or wheat or pots from one place to another too. Horses were not much used for plowing in the ancient world, where oxen were generally used instead. Horses were too expensive, and they needed better quality food than oxen. Also, no good harness arrangement for horses was invented until about 200 BC, when one was invented in China. Also, until the medieval period, men generally did not really fight on horseback. They rode their horses to the battle and then dismounted to fight. In the Middle Ages this changed with the development of mounted knights. Some people have said that...
Cited: 1. Dersin, Denise. What Life Was Like at the Dawn of Democracy Time Life Inc. 1997.
2. Burckhardt, Jacob. The Greeks and Greek Civilization. St. Martin 's Press NY. 1998.
3. History for Kids-horses. http://www.historyforkids.org/learn/environment/horses.htm
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