Friday, March 27, 2009

The Horse in Human History: Book excerpt

I received an email from Jonathan at Cambridge University Press the other day, out of the blue. He asked if I would be willing to write on their forthcoming book, The Horse in Human History. He offered to provide an excerpt. I was impressed that a) Cambridge U Press would know of this blog and b) assume that I routinely include serious historial works on my reading list. I didn't tell him that my most recent horse-related read was The Island Stallion's Fury by Walter Farley.

Anyway, the author is publishing a weekly blog article on horses in history at, through the books pub date of June I think. Jonathan sent me an excerpt from the book. Jonathan shared an excerpt that describes a horse training manual recorded in cuneiform on clay tablets circa 1360 BC by a guy named Kikkli, a Mitannian (empire encompassing Mesopotamia and Syria). Here is the excerpt -- note that as horsemen and women, at least some of our equipment and practices have roots in ancient history...

"Kikkli’s manual, designed for the instruction of the formidable chariotry corps maintained by the Hittite king, revealed the extensive discipline exercised over a seven-month period in the preparation of the chariot horse. The first few days were a trial intended to eliminate from the outset horses unfit for Kikkuli’s rigorous course.
  • In the morning, the horses were harnessed and required to pace 18 km and gallop 120 m; on the way back they were made to run 180 m.
  • Unharnessed, the horses were rubbed down, watered, and each given a handful of clover, two handfuls of barley, and a handful of chopped grass mixed together.
  • In the evening they were driven at a pace 6 km and at a run 120 m.
  • At the stable they were again rubbed down, watered, and given three handfuls of green chaff; later a bushel of boiled grain was added.
  • Coming off grass to a sparse if concentrated diet, the horses craved bulk. At night therefore they were muzzled to prevent their eating the bedding or chewing the manger.
  • This training was continued, extending distances, intensifying effort, alternating gaits, and maintaining a varied diet.
  • After sweating, rugs were put on, and the horses were each given one pail of salted water and one pail of malted water. Other days water was withheld to accustom the animals to thirst. The horses regularly swam in the river.
  • The entire training was conducted in pairs, not only in the chariot but also in the slow pacing during which the horses were yoked but driven by a groom on foot.
Said the author, 'The teams were inseparable, if one horse was a casualty the survivor would only accept another yokefellow after considerable re-training' (Dent 1974:56–59). Superb chariotry would enable the Hittites not only to dominate Asia Minor but also to extend their armies to the borders of Egypt."


  1. Very interesting stuff! The training regimen sounds like a great recipe for ulcers... but different times, I suppose.

    I did try to follow the link, and it looks like it's actually

    Thanks again!

  2. That excerpt is rather interesting. Thanks for sharing.

    Congratulations on your being chosen ro write on the book. What an honor!

  3. Thanks for posting news of this book. I will definitely check it out.

  4. Fascinating! I touch on the Mitanni empire when I teach the Ancient Near Eastern survey and I'm keen to see what else he can provide for context on the era. There's quite a controversy over exactly how horses were trained and used in chariot warfare, for instance!

  5. I am glad they chose you to write it up! This book is directly on point with what I enjoy researching. Thank you for posting about it!

    Xenophon is always a good read too. Though his is closer to what we do now than the Hittite chariot training.

  6. Please! Cambridge employees read all kinds of blogs :) Glad everyone finds Kelekna's work as interesting as we do!

  7. There are many people floating around in the blogosphere. I'm surprised they didn't send you the book itself to review. I was contacted by Random House to do book reviews for them, and they mailed me the books.

    The excerpt was interesting reading.


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