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date: 25 February 2024

The Influence of Central Asia on Horse Uselocked

The Influence of Central Asia on Horse Uselocked

  • Pamela CrossleyPamela CrossleyDepartment of History, Dartmouth College

Summary

Since humans first captured horses and processed them for meat and hides about eight thousand years ago, the uses of the horse have expanded to riding and drafting. Breeding introduced some varieties of conformation, which affected the early human adaption to early chariot warfare, mounted archery, and cavalry. Subsequently, more systematic breeding increased the height, strength, and endurance of some horses. Increasing use of the horse in long-distance communications and transport, often by displacement of donkeys and oxen, changed assumptions about time and space, which contributed to the emergence of large empires. Central Asia—in the sense of the steppes and grasslands extending from Ukraine in the west to Mongolia in the east—had been the venue for early horse domestication, and in the historical period it remained a critical supplier of horses to empires on the Eurasian peripheries of Europe, the Middle East, South Asia, and East Asia, a pattern that continued into the 19th century. This was consonant with the need for compact horses of Central Asian types that could perform the needed tasks for riding and transport, but did not excessively strain the ability of agricultural societies to provide horses with grain and grazing land.

Variations in horse use were manifested in differences in saddle design after the 4th century, reflecting differences in social stratification that cut across military and civilian status. This led to a distinct riding complex for mounted archers, laying the foundation for the expansion of the empires of the Mongols and Mughals, as well as the Qing Empire in China. Between about 500 and 1500, the genetic influence of Central Asia in the global horse population gradually waned as the influence of North African horses increased, corresponding to the expanding role of the horse in European and Middle Eastern transport and agriculture. In the late Middle Ages and the early modern period, aristocratic tastes across Eurasia encouraged the use of even more stallions from North Africa and Arabia, while Central Asian riding patterns became confined largely to nomadic and pastoral economies.

Subjects

  • Central Asia

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