Horses arrived in Egypt during the early Second Intermediate Period (1700 to 1550 B.C.). They often belonged to the wealthy and were more often used to pull chariots in time of warfare. Horses were rarely ridden, except by elite soldiers. Because of their harsh climate, the Egyptians required a horse that was versatile and durable.
The first evidence of horse domestication appeared in Krasni Yar in Kazakhstan, dating from about 5000 B.C. The earliest remains of horses in Egypt are from Avaris, and a few skeleton pieces were discovered in Buhen. The Buhen remains date to the early Second Intermediate Period, though their dates are often disputed. Ramses II built a complex of stables to house 460 horses. It was discovered recently by a team of German-Egyptian archaeologists on the edge of the Nile Delta, northeast of Cairo. The site covers 1,700 square meters. Horses were also prominently featured in artwork and on tools from ancient Egypt. Their image appeared on combs, hair curlers, stamps and toys.
Horses and Royalty
In ancient Egypt, horses were a luxury item, and only the military elite and the ruling class could afford to own them. This made them a symbol of status. The Egyptians often used horses as gifts to the rulers of north Africa and the Near East. King Tutankhamen was buried with a riding crop bearing the inscription: came on his horse like the shining Re. Ramses III is also known for being a horse lover. He often frequented his stables at Piye.
Horses and Warfare
Ancient Egyptians mainly used their horses for warfare. Egypt was considered to be a peaceful country in the ancient world and did not see the need for a professional army until the invasion of the Hyksos during the Second Intermediate Period, the same time that horses appeared in ancient Egypt. It was the Hyksos who introduced the chariot and chariotry to Egypt. Egyptian chariotry consisted of five squadrons with 25 chariots in each and two men in each chariot.
Breeds of Horses
The breeds of horses used in ancient Egypt are not known for certain. Chariot masters were in charge of traveling to foreign lands to obtain stud horses, and horses were taken as booty during military campaigns. These horses were bred together to create the thriving breeding stock of ancient Egypt. The general height of the Egyptian horse was small, at only 1.35 meters tall, though evidence indicates some horses were as tall as 1.5 meters. The skeleton of one such horse was found in the tomb of Hatshepsut's favorite courtier, Senmut.
If ancient Egypt had a common breed of horse, it was most likely the Arabian horse. The Arabian is one of the oldest breed of horses in the world. It originated from the Arabian Peninsula and is a versatile breed trained in endurance riding and bred for stamina in harsh weather conditions, such as a desert. Ancient Egyptian artwork depicts fiery war horses with dished faces and high-carried tales, closely resembling the Arabian horse. The earliest horse skeleton discovered in ancient Egypt, in 1700 B.C., bears all the physical characteristics of the Arabian horse: wedge-shaped head, large eye sockets and small muzzle.
- Photo Credit wild horses on beach image by David Dorner from Fotolia.com
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