Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Ancient Greek Horses

Most of us are familiar with ancient Greek sculptures of the human body, but here's another example of how brilliantly they observed the equine form. This is a relief funerary sculpture, photographed in the Archaeological Museum of Athens, of a caparisoned horse and his handler.

Now if he were my horse I should not be keen on the handler raising his whip-hand in this way, but it is of course possible that we are looking at a chariot horse being trained for battle. He is not saddled and the caparison bears some sort of emblem at the front.

Notice the detail extends to individual muscles and small blood vessels. There is even a small crack in the right fore hoof!

Unless the handler is very diminutive we are looking at a stallion of impressive size for the period too.

Next is a life size bronze of a horse and juvenile jockey. The statue was recovered in pieces from a shipwreck off Cape Artemision in Euboea.

The jockey would have held the reins in his left hand and a whip in the right. These were probably of less durable material and have not survived immersion.

Notice the boy has no stirrups. There is some evidence to suggest that these were not invented until the early Middle Ages. Of course he has no saddle either and they were used by cavalrymen in antiquity. The lack of a saddle would have been a device to save weight,as would the youth of the jockey.

The piece dates from about 140 BC. Oh yes it does.

Recovered here are the metal parts of a real brute of a bit. Notice the shaped bars to prevent it pulling through the mouth and the particularly fierce wheels and serrations of the mouthpiece itself.

If the horse in the first picture had one of these in its mouth I can imagine why he's throwing up his head. Again, I suspect this can only have been battle harness, when instant obedience would be required from the mount and you might actually want him to rear. It's hard to imagine why you would need something like this in normal circumstances.