ASB “horse” (equus cabullus, Av. aspa-, Old PerS. asa- and aspa-, Mid. and NPers. asp/b).
From the dawn of history the Iranians have celebrated the horse in their art and in their literature.
There were horses closely related to (and also the progenitors of) present-day domesticated horses living in temperate Eurasia in the Pleistocene (F. Haṇčar, Das Pferd in prähistorischer und früher historischer Zeit, Vienna, 1956). In Iran, skeletal remains of a native breed of small size, used evidently as food, have been discovered in prehistoric sites: in a cave at Behistun (Bīsotūn), 48 km east of Kermānšāh, and in Tamtama, a mountainous area west of Lake Urmia (C. S. Coon, Cave Excavations in Iran, 1949, Museum Monographs, Philadelphia, 1951, pp. 42f.); in Tel-i Iblis, south-central Iran; and in Godin Tepe, central Zagros (M. A. Littauer and J. H. Crouwel, Wheeled Vehicles and Ridden Animals in the Ancient Near East, Leiden and Cologne, 1979, pp. 24f. with references). This breed has tentatively been considered as the origin of “the Caspian miniature horse” now occasionally found in Māzandarān (L. L. Firouz, The Caspian Miniature Horse of Iran, Miami, 1972, pp. 1-8, 24-27; Idem, “Osteological and Historical Implications of the Caspian Miniature Horse to Early Horse Domestication in Iran,” in J. Matolcsi, ed., Domestikationsforschung und Geschichte der Haustiere, Budapest, 1973, pp. 309-15). However, horse remains associated with prehistoric archeological finds may represent not the domestic horse, but a closely related species not necessarily ancestral to the domestic horse (cf. S. Bökönyi, in Firouz, The Caspian Miniature Horse, pp. 12ff.). The still prevailing view is that Indo-Europeans domesticated the horse and introduced it to other territories (“the earliest indisputable evidence of horse domestication is from the Neolithic Sredni Stog Culture in the Dnieper and Don basins,” Littauer and Crouwel, op. cit., p. 25), a view supported by the linguistic evidence: All the main Indo-European languages have preserved the IE. word for “horse” (IE. *ek’ṷo-, see J. Pokorny, ed., Indogermanisches etymologisches Wörterbuch, Bern, 1956, I, pp. 301-02; for Iranian see H. W. Bailey, Dictionary of Khotan Saka, Cambridge, 1977, p. 11).
The antique horses were smaller than modern breeds and were primarily used for drawing chariots of war and transport (see especially Haṇčar, op. cit., pp. 472ff.; W. Nagel, Der mesopotamische Streitwagen und seine Entwicklung im ostmediterranen Bereich, Berlin, 1964; Littauer and Crouwell, op. cit., chaps. VIIff.). The Indo-Europeans highly esteemed the horse (Julius v. Negelein, Das Pferd im arischen Altertume, Königsburg, 1903, is still useful on this topic), especially the white horse, which was particular to the sun god (W. Geiger, Ostiranische Kultur im Altertum, Erlangen, 1882, p. 351), and when the Mesopotamians received the domesticated horse from the Aryans, they also accepted the notion of the holiness of the white horse (E. F. Weidner, “Weisse Pferde im alten Orient,” Bibliotheca Orientalis 9, 1952, pp. 157-59). Already in the second millennium B.C. there existed Hittite texts (such as the Kikkuli treatises) on the breeding, grooming, and use of the horse (Haṇčar, op. cit., pp. 478ff.; A. Kammenhuber, Hippologia hethitica, Wiesbaden, 1961, passim).
The horse in the Avesta. Avestan hymns, especially the older Yašts, abound with praises of the horse (Geiger, op. cit., pp. 350ff.; E. Pūr-e Dāwūd, Farhang-e Īrān-e bāstān I, Tehran, 1326 Š./1947, pp. 243ff.). Swift horses were among the most desired boons bestowed by Aši, the deity of prosperity (Yašt 17.12). The gods themselves possessed fine horses: “four speedy (horses) of one color, white, undying, reared on supernatural food, the forehooves shod with gold but their hindhooves with silver” drew the chariot of Mithra (Yašt 10.125); four white horses also drew the chariot of Sraoša (Yasna 57.27f.). The patron deity of horses was called Druvāspā “possessing sound horses,” while Vərəθraγna (Bahrām) and Tištriya, the divinity of the fluctuating clouds, could appear in the form of a bright red horse (Yast 149; 8.18).
The horse was primarily used for drawing war chariots, but its gradual employment as a riding animal is also attested in the Avesta, according to which some heroes entered into battle fields or places of sacrifice “upon horseback (e.g., Yašt 5.51; 10.11; Yasna 11.2). Horses were also offered to gods, and the Ābān Yašt celebrates many Iranian kings and heroes who sacrificed one hundred horses, one thousand oxen, and ten thousand sheep to Arədvī Sūrā Anāhitā, asking her for special boons. The formula well indicates the value of the horse, and indeed, an Avestan passage records that an excellent (aγṛγo.təmō) horse was worth eight pregnant cows (Farhang-e Oīm 3h, see AirWb., col. 217). The Iranian society was divided into four classes: the priests, the pasturers, the artisans, and the chariot-riders (raθaēštar, i.e., the warriors, see Artēštār) (Yasna 19.17). Chariot racing and horse racing were evidently practiced by the Avestan people, who called the race course čarətā (AirWb., col. 582). A day-long ride of a man upon a good horse was a measure of length used by those people (Yašt 5.4).
The qualities of a good horse were: swiftness, fleetness, endurance, and sharp eyesight. Of colors, white was the most praised, then came dun, redbrown, dark brown, and black (Geiger, op. cit., p. 351). Strict rules were prescribed by the Avesta concerning the breeding, grooming, training, and feeding of horses, and guarding them from diseases and harm (see, e.g. *Duzd-sar-nizad Nask as summarized in Dēnkard 8.24ff. and Nikātum in Nask, ibid., 8.19, 40). The honored position of the horse in the Avestan period is underlined by the fact that many notable Iranians—including Zoroaster’s forebears—bore names compounded with aspa- (Justi, Namenbuch, p. 486; M. Mayrhofer, ed., Iranisches Personen-namenbuch I/1, Vienna, 1977, p. 22; I/3, 1979, p. 4 [indices]).
The horse in western Iran in the early first millennium B.C. From the late second millennium B.C., horses were increasingly used throughout the Middle East as chariot animals, evidently as a consequence of the arrival of fresh waves of Indo-Europeans. Also, breeding, grooming, and equipment improved: Selective breeding and better forage produced larger types; horses of ill temper were castrated; harness and metal bridle pieces developed substantially, and rudimentary saddles (made of quilted felt or woven rug) facilitated easier riding. By the first half of the first millennium, the armies of the Hittites, Egyptians, Assyrians, Elamites, and Indo-Europeans included strong cavalry units (R. Ghirshman, Iran from the Earliest Times to the Islamic Conquest, 1954, pp. 73ff.; P. R. S. Moorey, Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford, 1971, pp. 102-03 with references; Littauer and Crouwel, op. cit., chaps. VIII and IX).
In Iran, we have late second-millennium archeological evidence from Mārlīk (objects made of horse teeth, see E. Negahbān, Mārlīk, Tehran, 1964, p. 15) and early first-millennium skeletal remains from Gīān, Tepe Sīalk, Čoḡā Zanbīl and Susa (Moorey, op. cit., p. 103 with references). Tepe Sīalk also bore witness to the Aryan association of the horse with the sun (Ghirshman, op. cit., p.80). Bābā-Jān (east Lorestān) and Ḥasanlū (Azerbaijan) revealed remains of horses together with their bronze bits. From Ḥasanlū we also have a fine silver beaker ornamented with the representation of a biga mounted by an archer and a driver (Moorey, loc. cit.; E. Porada, The Art of Ancient Iran, 1965, pl. XXVIII). All these indicate the increasing use of the horse by cavalry nations among the newly arrived Aryans. It is from this period that large quantities of “Luristan Bronzes” have been discovered, and among them are many harness bits and bridle pieces as well as items for decorating horses’ heads and chests, of the types which are depicted on Assyrian palace reliefs (Moorey, op. cit., pp. 103, 106ff.). The pasturelands of western Iran were targets of Assyrian invasions for the purpose of securing booty, primarily horses. But the hit and-run tactics of the west Iranian settlers gave the Assyrians difficulties they could not surmount with traditional arms; and so they too began organizing mobile cavalry units. With these they penetrated deep into Iran, Asia Minor, and even reached Egypt; everywhere their mounted forces caused destruction, captured inhabitants, and plundered their possessions of herds and metal utensils (I. M. D’yakonov, Istoria Midii, tr. K. Kešāvarz, Tārīḵ-e Mād, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, pp. 194ff.; Ghirshman, Iran, pp. 84ff.).
The Median Period. Bronze and iron harness and bridle pieces have been discovered at Median sites, also Assyrian annals record and reliefs depict campaigns in Media and Median tribute consisting primarily of horses (cf. R. Ghirshman, “Un Mède sur les bas-reliefs de Nimrud,” Iraq 36, 1974, pp. 37f.). Especially praised were the horses of Nīšāya (NisāyaNesā, south of Hamadān, see below) (D’yakonov, op. cit., pp. 245ff.; Moorey, op. cit., pp. 115f.). Median levels at Nūš-e Jān near Hamadān have produced remains of horses of varied sizes “from ponies or miniature horses that stood 1.05-1.10 m to horses standing over 1.50 m at the withers, with the majority standing 1.35-1.37m, and variation from light to heavy types” (Littauer and Crouwel, op. cit., p. 111 with references). Finally, Cyaxares organized a highly trained and well-equipped cavalry force and overthrew the Assyrians (Herodotus 1.103f.). The riding costume, consisting of a long-sleeved robe, a leathern tunic (jacket), tight-fitting trousers which terminated in socks used as half boots, and headgear with neckguard and cheek pieces (the tiara), were originally Median (cf. Herodotus 1.135, 7. 61-62). At Persepolis the members of the Median delegation depicted on the Apadāna stairways are shown in this costume and their “tribute” also include items of the same dressing (E. F. Schmidt., Persepolis I, Chicago, 1953, p. 85 with pl. 27). On the northern stairway of the Apadāna, the Medes’ “tribute” includes a fine stallion with knotted tail and decorated mane (ibid.). Other nations related to the Medes—Armenians, Cappadocians, Sakas, and Sagartians—also wear the Median costume (save for different headgears) and bring horses (ibid., with pls. 29, 35, 37, 42). With the Median horses, the “horse-food” (aspa.asta = lucerne) was brought into Mesopotamia, where it received the name aspasti (hence Syr. ʾspstʾ, Ar. al-feṣfeṣa, Eng. alfalfa) (B. Meissner, “Babylonische Pflanzennamen,” ZA 6, 1981, pp. 216-96, esp. p. 296).
The Achaemenid Period. Darius the Great tells us that his country was “possessed of good horses and of good people” (Kent, Old Persian, p. 136), Herodotus (1.136) testifies that the Persians carefully instructed their sons “to ride, to draw the bow, and to speak the truth,” and Strabo confirms and elaborates this evidence (Geography 15.3.18). The finest horses were bred in the Median plains, and those of the royal stable were picked from them (Polybius 10.70). Most prized was the Nisaean breed, celebrated for its beauty, large size, and speed (Herodotus 3,106, 7,40; Aristotle, History of Animals 9.50.30; other references in Hanslik, Pauly-Wissowa, XVII/1, cols. 712f., s.v. Nisaion pedion). The plain is to be sought at the site of Hārūnābād (Šāhābād), in the Kermānšāh region, on the road between Ḥolwān and Hamadān (J. Marquart, Untersuchungen zur Geschichte von Eran, Leipzig, 1905, II, pp. 158ff.). This area contained 160,000 horses in the Persian period, but the number was reduced to 60,000 in the reign of Alexander (Diodorus Siculus 17.110). Strabo noted that both Media and Armenia were adapted for breeding fine horses: “There is a meadow tract . . . on the way from Persia and Babylonia to the Caspian Gates: here, it is said, fifty thousand mares were pastured in the time of the Persians, and were the king’s stud. The Nisaean horses, the best and largest in the king’s provinces, were of this breed, according to some writers, but according to others they came from Armenia. Their shape is peculiar, as is that of the Parthian horses, compared with those of Greece and others in our country” (Geography 11.13.7). He again states (11.14.9) that the Nisaean type was bred in Armenia also, adding: “the satrap of Armenia used to send annually to the king of Persia 20,000 foals at the time of the festival of Mithracina [Miθrakāna Mehrgān]”. He further remarks (11.13.8) that “Cappadocia paid to the Persians yearly, in addition to a tribute in silver, 1500 horses, 2000 mules, 50,000 sheep, and the Medes contributed nearly twice this amount.” Other horse-rich pasturelands were in the Upper Babylonia (the satrap of Babylonia possessed, besides war horses, 800 stallions and 16,000 mares in Herodotus’ time; 1.192); Cilicia (which gave the Persians a yearly tribute of 360 white horses: Herodotus 3.90), and East Iranian provinces—Chorasmia, Bactria, Sogdiana, Saka lands, and other neighboring regions—which furnished the Persian empire with fine cavalry units of large proportion (cf. C. Hignett, Xerxes’ Invasion of Greece, Oxford, 1963, pp. 44f.; Littauer and Crouwel, op. cit., pp. 157f.). It was during the Achaemenid period that the lucerne was introduced by the Persians into Greece, where it received the name “Median [i.e., Iranian] grass (Medicago sativa: V. Hehn, Kulturpflanzen und Haustiere, 8th ed., Berlin, 1911, pp. 412ff.).
Historical representations of the horse and riders abound in Achaemenid art, especially on Greco-Persian gems and monuments. In Persepolis, the reliefs depict many horses and some horse-drawn chariots but no horsemen (Littauer and Crouwel, op. cit., chap. X with ample literature). These representations have been used to determine the types and sizes of the Achaemenid horses (e.g., Firouz, The Caspian Miniature Horse, pp. 26f.), but the criteria are made unsafe by artistic conventions of these depictions. Thus, on the famous cylinder seal of Darius the Great (now in the British Museum), the king is shown hunting two lions from a biga; one lion is already killed, the other stands on its hind legs to meet his arrows. The one on the ground appears ten times smaller than its rampant mate because it is the latter which is meant to be the focal point of the scene, being at the same line as Darius and thus furnishing the symmetry to his figure; the horses drawing the king’s chariot occupy the lower part of the scene, which needed no emphasis, and they are accordingly shown unrealistically diminutive in form. There are, nevertheless, certain indications—such as the shape of the head, slenderness or thickness of legs—which permit a rough classification of the horses depicted on Persepolitan reliefs (G. Walser, Die Völkerschaften auf den Reliefs von Persepolis, Berlin, 1966, pp. 104f.). Of the twenty-three delegations appearing on the Apadāna stairways, seven present horses as part of their gifts: the Medes (on the northern stairway: Schmidt, Persepolis I, p. 85 with pl. 27), Armenians, Cappadocians, Pointed-hat Sakas, Sagartians, Hauma-worshipping Sakas, and Thracians. The Syrians and Libyans bring horse-drawn chariots. In addition, the horses of the Great King’s two chariots as well as his personal mounts are depicted. The latter group are shown “as long-bodied, big-boned and ram-headed, with short thick necks and heavy crests” (Littauer and Crouwel, op. cit., p. 148). The saddle-horses of the king are slightly smaller, but the “tribute” chariot-horses “are pony-sized,... lighter in type, shorter-bodied, with more elegant heads and even a suggestion of a concave profile” (ibid.). In another small type, which appears on the seal of Darius and coins of Sidon, the ram-headedness is emphasized and the ears are depicted in a peculiar vertical position (ibid., pp. 148-49). The “tribute” horses also very in type: Median, Armenian, and Cappadocian breeds are—like those of the royal stable—large and powerfully built. They are probably representatives of the Nisaean breed of Media and Armenia (see above). Saka horses are stockier and slightly shorter which may indicate more endurance; they are of the “Turanian” breed of Central Asia, which could carry armored riders. Sagartian and Thracian horses are slender and light. The Libyan and Syrian horses are fine, small, and fleet, like their modern descendants, the “Arab breed” (Walser, op. cit., pp. 104f.). These representations belong to the earlier Achaemenid period. Careful grooming, selective breeding, and better fodder gradually produced larger yet fleeter horses, of the type shown under Iranian warriors on the so-called Alexander Mosaic (B. Andreae, Das Alexandermosaik aus Pompeji, Berlin, 1977) and the “Alexander Sarcophagus” from Sidon (Volkmar von Graeve, Der Alexander-Sarkophag und seine Werkstatt, Berlin, 1970, pp. 95ff.).
In the Achaemenid period, the role of the chariot as a war machine diminished rapidly while mounted troops gained increasing importance (Littauer and Crouwel, op. cit., pp. 152ff.). The heavy, large horses—mostly of the Nisaean breed—were used primarily by the royalty and privileged groups; ordinary troopers, especially on rocky and arid terrain, used the lighter types (ibid., pp. 155f.). The horse shoe was as yet unknown. For a saddle one used a rug, or a cloth made of felt usually patterned and with fringed edges. Such a rug was found in a grave at Pazyrik (5th-4th centuries B.C.): It is ornamented with figures of riding horses (S. I. Rudenko, Frozen Tombs of Siberia: The Pazyrik Burials of Iron-Age Horsemen, tr. M. W. Thompson, London, 1970, pls. 174f.). A rudimentary saddle closer to the later one was used, at least among North Iranians: It was composed of hair-cushions, faced at back and front with wooden or bone plaques (ibid., pp. 129ff. with figs. 66f.; Littauer and Crouwel, op. cit., p. 156 n. 56). Occasionally, Iranian cavalrymen of the elite units wore armor: helmet, corselet, and “thigh-pieces” (Av. rānapān; Gk. parameridia: Herodotus 7.84, 86; Xenophon, Anabasis 1.8.3, 8.6-9) which consisted of quilted felt pieces hung from the “saddle” to protect not only the rider’s thighs but also the horse’s sides (Xenophon, Peri hippikēs [The art of horsemanship] 12.9). On rare occasions, the chest and head of the horse were protected with chamfrein and breast pieces (Xenophon, op. cit., 12.8; idem, Anabasis 1.8.6). Under the Parthians, these defensive items developed into full horse armor. That Iranian horsemanship influenced the Greeks is evident from Xenophon’s Peri hippikēs and Hipparchicus (Cavalry commander 1.17), written when the stirrup was as yet not known. To mount, one took hold of the rein or harness and jumped upon the back of the horse; to dismount, one simply jumped down. Only the elderly were occasionally helped by “giving a leg” in mounting or dismounting. This manner was known even in Greece as “the Persian way” (ibid.).
The horse played a significant part in Achaemenid ritual and beliefs. The kings were traditionally mounted on horse-drawn chariots, always using the Nisaean breed for the purpose (Herodotus 7.40; Arrian, Anabasis 2.11, 3.15). Ahura Mazdā and the sun had similar chariots (Herodotus, ibid.; Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.3.12; Aphian, Mithridatius 70). But the saddle horse was now more favored. The best gift to a Persian was considered to be a fine horse (Xenophon, Anabasis 1.2.27). This was also true of divinities: White horses were sacrificed to the sun (Herodotus, 1.216 [by the Massagetae]; Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.3.12 [by the Magi]; Anabasis 4.5.35 [by the Armenians]; Pausanias 3.20.4 [by the Persians]) and to the waters (Herodotus 7.113; cf. J. Markwart, Wehrot und Arang, Leiden, 1938, p. 88). Cyrus the Great gained so elevated a position that every month a horse was sacrificed to his soul (Arrian, Anabasis 6.29.7).
Horses were often matched against each other in race fields (Xenophon, Cyropaedia 8.3.25). “In Thessaly, Xerxes matched his own horses against the Thessalians’, which he heard were the best in Greece; the Greek coursers were left far behind in the race” (Herodotus 7.196). A friend in life, the horse played a part in the ceremonies held at a hero’s death. Thus, when a notable died, his steed, with its mane shaven off, was brought in the procession of the mourners (Herodotus 9.24; Quintus Curtius 10.5.17; cf. the illustration of this rite on a stele from Memphis dating from about 400 B.C.: F. W. v. Bissing, “Totenstele eines persischen Grossen aus Memphis,” ZDMG 84, 1930, pp. 226-38). Finally, the importance of the horse among the Iranian nobility is evidenced by the fact that many of them bore names compounded with aspa (Justi, Namenbuch p. 486; W. Hinz, Altiranisches Sprachgut der Nebenüberlieferungen, Wiesbaden, 1975, pp. 42ff., 289).
The Parthian Period. Proud of the beauty of their horses (Aelian 3.2), the Parthians taught their children and servants the arts of archery and horsemanship (Justin 41.2). “They ride on horseback at all times; on horseback they go to feasts, attend to public and personal business, march out, stand still, and converse . . . . This is the difference between the freemen and the slaves: the latter go on foot, the former on horseback” (ibid., 41.3). The Parthians obtained horses from the pasturelands known in the Achaemenid period (Strabo, Geography 11.13.7; 14.9). At one time, 50,000 Parthian horsemen were brought into the field against Marc Antony (Justin 41.2).
Documentary evidence for Parthian horses comes from various sites, mainly in the form of pictorial representations. They include depictions on seal-impressions from Nīsā-Miθradātakarta (now Ashkhabad), on the walls of Dura Europos, on the rocks of Tang-e Sarvak in Fārs, on the triumphal relief of Ardašīr at Fīrūzābād, and in the frescoes of the Kūh-e Ḵᵛāǰa in Sīstān (R. Ghirshman, Iran: The Parthian and Sasanian Dynasties, London, 1962, figs. 39, 55, 62, 63, 163). East Iranian horses are shown on Indo-Scythian coins (e.g., the tetradrachm of Spalirises, ca. 80 B.C.: A. D. H. Bivar, “Cavalry Equipment and Tactics on the Euphrates Frontier,” Dumbarton Oaks Paper 26, 1972, p. 273 with fig. 1a) and on Khwarezmian artifacts (R. Ghirshman, “La selle en Iran,” Iranica Antiqua 10, 1973, pp. 94ff., fig. 4). These illustrations indicate that Parthian horses were fairly large, ram-headed, and thickly set. They were essentially war horses, and in 116 B.C., a small herd of them, together with the “horsefood” (*aspā/ăsti, cf. Hinz, op. cit., p. 45) were brought into China as gifts to the emperor Wu Ti of Han. The “blood sweating horse of Farghana” acquired the title of “Heavenly race” (Ṭʿien-ma), propagated rapidly, and furnished the Chinese with a heavy cavalry force which became instrumental in China’s westward expansion and her victory over northern nomads (the literature on the subject is very extensive, see, e.g., H. H. Dubs, The History of the Former Han Dynasty by Pan Ku, II, Baltimore, 1944, pp. 132ff.; Mamio Egami, “The Kʿuaiṭʿi, the Ṭʿao-yu, and Tan-hsi, the Strange Domestic Animals of the Hsiung-nu,” Memoires of the Research Department of the Toyo Bunko, 13, 1951, pp. 87-123 esp. pp. 94ff.; A. Waley, “The Heavenly Horses of Ferghana: A New View,” History Today 5, 1955, pp. 95-103).
As selective breeding and skillful grooming continued, the strength and adaptability of Iranian horses increased. They now carried fully armored lancers—the elite riders of Parthia—and were themselves protected by “a strong coat, made of little plates in the form of feathers” (Justin 41.2). This lamellar horse armor became known in Persian as bargostvān. According to Plutarch, they carried long “spear with steel, and often had impetus enough to pierce through two men at once” Crassus 27.2). The horse shoe came into use, and a saddle with two humps (in front and back) was added to the older rug or cloth (Ghirshman, ibid.). The finest examples of the fully armored Parthian lancers are shown at Tang-e Sarvak and on a Dura Europos graffito (Ghirshman, Iran: Parthian and Sasanian Dynasties, figs. 69. 63c). An actual horse armor, made of leather covered by metal scales, was discovered at Dura Europos (M. I. Rostovtzeff, The Excavations at Dura Europos: Perliminary Report of the Second Season, New Haven, 1931, pp. 194ff.). It fitted a light Arab horse, which gives an indication of the size of the average Parthian mount (N. C. Debevoise, A Political History of Parthia, Chicago, 1938, p. 86 n. 52). Chain armor was introduced in the late Parthian period and rapidly spread to the West and to the Far East (Bivar, op. cit., pp. 275ff.). The fleetness of the Parthian horsemen was proverbial; in particular, their ability to shoot backward while the horse galloped away (Justin 41.2)—the so-called “Parthian shot”—was a dread to their Roman adversaries (M. I. Rostovtzeff, “The Parthian Shot,” American Journal of Archaeology 57, 1943, pp. 174ff.).
The majority of the Parthians rode bare-back, and had little defensive armor (G. Rawlinson, The Sixth Great Oriental Monarchy, London, 1873, pp. 160, 405). Ordinarily, however, a small simple rug served as the saddle (Ghirshman, ibid., fig. 119). The Parthian period saw the beginning of “the Age of Chivalry” with its heraldry associations (G. Wiedengren in H. Temporini and W. Haase, ed., Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt II/9, pt. 1, Berlin, 1979, pp. 253ff.) Thus, the very word “Parthian” (Parθavapahlav) acquired the meaning “knight, hero,” while the term “horse borne/rider” (asabārasavār) came to signify “noble, knight” in contrast to “foot soldier” (payāda) which became synonymous with “common people.” Also, the branding of horses and equipment with family insignia (nišān) gained currency. Thus, the Parthian royal nišān—a circle upon a base—ornaments the horse of the last Parthian king, Ardavān, as depicted in the rock relief at Fīrūzābād representing the Battle of Hormozdagān (Bivar, op. cit., p. 245; clearly visible on pl. 52 in W. Hinz, Altiranische Funde und Forschungen, Berlin, 1969). Traditional Iranian rites connected with the horse were still observed. Thus, the white horse was still considered by the Parthian king to be a favored offering to the sun (Philostratus, The Life of Apollonius of Tyana 1.31).
The Sasanian Period. The Sasanians regarded the white colored horse—especially if shining of hair golden at ears and slim of limbs—as the best of all horses (Mēnōg ī xrad, purs. 60.9, p. 162; Bundahišn, p. 120.12-13). In the third century, a war horse was, as the Dura Europos armor evidenced, as large as a middle-sized Arabian horse of the present day, but subsequently, large coursers appeared which easily carried heavily armed and fully armored cavalry in addition to their own armor. A fine example of such a horse was Šabdēz, the favorite of Ḵosrow II, which according to E. Herzfeld is immortalized in the representation carved at Tāq-e Bostān and in early Islamic poetry (E. Herzfeld, “Khusrau Parwēz und der Tāq-i Vastān,” AMI 9, 1938, pp. 91ff.). Still the Nisaean breed was the most famous of all (Ammianus Marcellinus 13.6.30). Selective breeding, strict regulations, and careful feeding were observed in the raising of horses, and customs developed regarding the grooming, training, leading, and riding of them on various occasions (at ceremonies, at battles, in the chase). The backbone of the army was its cavalry, which was composed of the sons of the nobility and had a high official as stōr-bizišk (veterinarian). The Sasanian Avesta contained a special chapter (Artēštārestān) devoted to the art of war and the grooming, feeding, training, breaking, and use of the horses (Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 215ff.). Although the stirrup was invented in this period (probably in or near China) and was used by the Sarmatians and some other nomadic riders, it seems not to have been known in Iran till the Arab conquest (A. D. H. Bivar, “The Stirrup and Its Origins,” Oriental Art 1/2, 1955, pp. 3-7; R. Grousset, The Empires of the Steppes: A History of Central Asia, tr. N. Walford, New Jersey, 1970, p. 546 n. 12 to ch. I). The lack of stirrups was partially compensated for by better saddle equipment, for the seat of the mounted warrior was now provided with two guard clamps, presumably integral parts of the saddle and made of metal and padded with leather or the like; one was a knoblike device curving outward in front of the saddle as a thick band coiling across the top of the rider’s thigh, and the other was a high cantle at the back, usually covered beneath the tail of the long armored coat of the equestrian. “Essentially, this saddle had the same safety devices as the medieval war saddle” (Schmidt, Persepolis III, Chicago, 1970, p. 135).
A large number of rock-reliefs, metal objects, gems, and stucco ornaments give us a variety of representations of the horse and rider in Sasanian art. However, as with the Achaemenid period, traditional conventions—such as the desire to depict royal figures larger than life—forced the artists not to adhere strictly to the rules of realism. Hence, it is unsafe to use these representations to ascertain the sizes and types of the Sasanian horses. The point is well illustrated by the famous cameo in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris (Ghirshman, Iran: Parthian and Sasanian Dynasties, fig. 195), which shows Šāpūr I on horseback in combat against a mounted Roman Caesar, evidently Valerian. Both emperors are riding pony-sized horses with short legs, thick necks, and ram-heads, familiar in Achaemenid and Sasanian representations, though one would expect Valerian’s horse to have been of the large-bodied European type known from Roman depictions. Furthermore, there are marked differences in size between the mounts of Šāpūr at Dārābgerd (Hinz, Altiranische Funde und Forschungen, Berlin, 1969, pls. 77, 91) and Ardašīr at Naqš-e Rostam (ibid., pl. 60; Ghirshman, op. cit., fig. 168); the former is large, with long legs, slenderish neck, and fairly small head, but the latter is the traditional small horse of the Persian representations. At Dārābgerd, Western influence has allowed the carver of the relief to depict the horse more naturally, i.e., large-bodied, as also on several other representations where the artists have followed a more naturalistic approach: One is engraved on an intaglio now in the Bibliothèque Nationale of Paris (F. Sarre, Die Kunst des alten Persien, Berlin, 1923, pl. 142 no. 7); another is the horse of Bahrām I at Bīšāpūr (Ghirshman, op. cit., fig. 211); a third is the Šabdēz of Ḵosrow II, already mentioned. On the whole, two breeds seem to have been favored: the large Nisaean breed, and the small traditional one. The former acquired fame outside Iranian borders, and Chinese emperors sought them eagerly (E. H. Schafer, The Golden Peaches of Samarkand, Berkeley and Los Angeles, 1963, pp. 58ff.).
Under the Sasanians, horse equipment become more elaborate and ornamental. Royal saddles were placed on very finely woven carpets, the designs of which are clearly visible on the reliefs and metal works; huge tassles and ribbons hung from magnificent caparisons; and the family or individual nišān was branded on the animal and marked on its trappings (thus, the royal Sasanian nišān, a bi-ribboned diadem appears on the horses of Ardašīr at Fīrūzābād [Hinz, op. cit., pls. 51, 52] and, four centuries later, on the Šabdēz of at Tāq-e Bostān [Ghirshman, op. cit., fig. 235]).
The state and great nobles owned large numbers of domestic animals including horses (K. Hori, “A Chinese Account of Persia in the Sixth Century A.D.,” Spiegel Memorial Volume, Bombay, 1908, pp. 246-50 esp. p. 247). A senior official, āxwarbed “Master of the stable,” supervised the state mounts and another, *āxwar-āmār-dibīr “secretary of the stable” (Ar. āhor-hamār-dafira in al-Ḵᵛārazmī, Ketāb mafātīḥ al-ʿolūm, ed. G. v. Vloten, [Leiden, 1895], p. 118) kept records of them and their expenditure (Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 135, 395, 396). The Pahlavi Vendidad testifies (6.2) that while a sheep was valued at 3 stater (= 12 drachms) a horse was priced at 30 stater (= 120 drachms). The horse-food (lucerne) was also highly priced (Nöldeke, Geschichte der Perser, p. 244 with n. 1 ).
A great deal of data regarding the horse and horsemanship of the Sasanian, if indeed not earlier, period can be gathered from the Šāh-nāma of Ferdowsī; P. Horn has collected them in an article the summary of which is as follows (“Ross und Reiter im Šāhnāme,” ZDMG 61, 1907, pp. 837-49): The Iranian noble was inseparable from his mount; to go on foot, even for a short distance, was disrespectful. The choice breeds were the pride of great families, who branded their heraldic signs (nišān) on the thighs of the animals. In mild seasons, the packs stayed in pasturelands. Every year they would be brought together into a well-watered meadow, where some could be captured with lasso. “Colt riders” (korra-tāzān) occupied a significant place among the grooms. The selection of a personal mount was a memorable event in every knight’s life. Usually the choice fell on a stallion. Fully armored, a savār could not fight or move about on foot, and sometimes found it necessary to share a companion’s courser, which was strong enough to carry both. The most suitable age for a war-horse was the age of four. A proverb said that one had to “seek a horse on the basis of its pedigree and color.” The most celebrated of all horses, Rostam’s Raḵš, came from Kabul, i.e. the realm of the Kūšāns. Warriors favored dappled, white, sorrel, and black. Rose-colored (golgūn), golden-brown (būr), and white (čarma) were also desired. When a hero died, or was killed, his horses’ tails and manes were shaven off, the saddles were turned around and left hanging down from the sides while his arms and armor were piled on his favorite mount which led the funeral cortege. Occasionally, a dead hero’s partisans killed his horses to prevent his vanquishers from obtaining them. In the case of Raḵš of Rostam only, a horse burial is attested (he was after all a Saka, cf. below on horses among the Scythians). While the peasants consumed horse meat regularly, only under extreme necessity did a rider eat his horse to survive. Correct horsemanship was an art as well as a privilege; an unpleasant punishment for a guilty soldier was to mount him upon his horse backward and, with feet tied together beneath the horse’s belly, lead him in a mock procession. Horse equipment evidenced the wealth of the owner, and bore fancy and valuable decorations; the caparisons were elaborate, and on festive occasions, the mane and tail of the horses were arrayed with precious ornaments.
The Sasanians kept the older religious traditions regarding the horse: Many representations of the horses of the sun/Mitθra are known, by this time fully winged. The throne of Ḵosrow I Anōšīravān rested on the figures of such horses, and the iconography rapidly spread to the west and far east (Ghirshman, op. cit., pp. 318ff. with pls. 244, 245, 260, 278, 298, 427, 444; Schafer, op. cit., pp. 59ff., 295 n. 17). Names compounded with asp were still favored by the nobility, and the most celebrated fire temple in the empire was at Šēz (Taḵt-e Solaymān in Azerbaijan), which was assigned to Ādur Gušnasp “Fire of the Stallion,” evidently because the deity could appear in the from of a stallion.
Iranian traditions abound with stories of famous horses and their significant roles in heroic and historical events; Rostam’s Raḵš, Sīāvoš’s Šabrang, and Darius’ stallion are but a few of them. More historical are Pasacas, so untamable a horse that only Cyrus the Younger could bring him under the saddle—obviously the prototype of Alexander’s story (Plutarch, Artaxerxes 9), and the Šabdēz of Ḵosrow II Parvēz; the king loved the courser so deeply that he had vowed to deprive of life whoever brought him the news of its death, and so when it died, no one dared to reveal it to Ḵosrow, and Bārbad, the chief musician and minstrel, devised a trick and averted the king’s wrath (Christensen, Iran Sass., pp. 462f.).
It was in the Sasanian period that the northern Arabs started horse riding and acquired a breed which ultimately derives from the antique Libyan horses. With the Arab conquest, this “Arab horse” spread into Iran and Central Asia and mixing with native horses, produced many hybrid types. However, the early Muslims were dependent for information on horses and veterinary matters on Iranian sources, as Ebn al-Nadīm (Fehrest, tr. Dodge, II, pp. 737-38) testifies. The best Arabic treatise on the horse was al-Ḵayl by Abū ʿObayda Moʿammar b. Moṯannā, written in 209/823-24, which he based, as he specifies at the very beginning of the book (ed. Hyderabad, Deccan, 1358/1929), on the accounts of two Iranians: Sahl b. Moḥammad of Sīstān and Abū Yūsof of Isfahan. Similarly, Persian sources such as Qābūs-nāma and Nowrūz-nāma, which have special chapters on horses, their colors, breeds, and diseases, reflect older Sasanian traditions and can be used to supplement our earlier records.
See also Camb. Hist. Iran. I-III, s.v. horses; and A. Azzaroli, An Early History of Horsemanship, Leiden, 1985.
(A. Sh. Shahbazi)
The Scythians (q.v.) are generally believed to have been among the earliest, if not the earliest, of the Eurasian peoples to learn to ride the horse. Owing to the uncertainty of life in the steppes, both the nomads and the farm laborers had to be protected by mounted warriors; without horsemanship the development of an extensive nomadism in south Russia would have been unthinkable. In wars of aggression, the mobility of the horse gave the Scythians a great advantage over their enemies and was an essential prerequisite of their rapid military successes and conquests in the first millennium B.C. In Greek sources the Scythians are referred to as Hippotoxótai “mounted warriors” (Herodotus, 4.46, 9.49), a term which testifies to the importance of both the horse and the bow in their strategy. In the armament of the Sarmatians (q.v.) the bow had lost something of its former significance, the lance and the long sword apparently being their principal weapons. To the Scythians the stirrup seems to have been unknown; probably a kind of felt or leather support was used for resting the feet; the Sarmatians appear to have been the first to make use of the metal stirrup. The trappings were profusely ornamented; the animal style predominates. The manes were normally trimmed. Owing to their indocility, the Scythian riding horses were as a rule gelded; the horses excavated in the tombs of the Pazyryk valley (q.v.) in the Altai Mountains had been treated in the same way; this practice has survived until modern times at many places in Russia and the north Caucasus. The garment of the Scythians was adapted to their equestrian form of life: a close-fitting tunic and baggy trousers. Every adult male had his own stallion, while the tribal chieftains owned large herds of horses; the enormous wealth of horses in the steppes to the north of the Caucasus is still attested in the fourteenth century A.D. by the Arabian traveler Ebn Baṭṭūṭa; about the middle of the nineteenth century, rich landowners in the Kuban area are reported to have possessed up to one thousand horses. The importance of the horse as a sign of social prestige is also borne out by the archeological finds in south Russia and the equine hecatombs which took place at the funerals of kings and tribal chieftains (see below). In art, horses and mounted warriors are extremely popular themes; gods and kings are frequently represented on horseback.
According to Strabo (7.4.8), the Scythian horses were small, exceedingly quick, and difficult to manage. In the tombs of the Pazyryk valley, the finest horses were of the Farḡāna breed, which is widely celebrated for its swiftness; the bulk of the horses, however, were Mongolian ponies of the Przewalski breed.
Besides its military functions, the horse was also used for dragging carts and as a beast of burden. From the Scythian and Sarmatian grave-finds, it appears that the body of the dead was in many instances driven to the grave on a chariot to which several horses had been hitched. Horses were also kept for nourishment; horse-flesh was eaten, and from mare’s milk various products, such as kumys and cheese, were prepared (Strabo, 7.4.6). The Homeric expression hippēmolgoi glaktophágoi (Iliad 13.5-6), “milk-consuming mare-milkers,” apparently applied to a nomadic people in south Russia, shows that the use of mare’s milk for food was regarded as characteristic of the inhabitants of that area at an early time.
The importance of the horse in the life of the Scythians and the Sarmatians is reflected by a number of proper names containing the element aspa-, the common Iranian word for “horse,” found in Greek literary sources and Greek inscriptions from the Pontic area: Aspakos (= Aspaka-), Aspourgos (= Aspuγra- “owning strong horses,” cf. Av. Ugra-, Uγra-, “strong;” cf. also Aspourgianoí, the name of a tribe in the Azov region [Strabo, 11.2.11]), Baioraspos ( = Baiwaraspa- “owning many [ten thousand?] horses,” cf. Av. baēvar- “ten thousand,” NPers. bīvar, Bīvarasp, Oss. [Iron] birä, [Digoron] be(u)rä “many”), and others.
In the religion of the Scythians and the Sarmatians the horse played an important part. According to Herodotus (4.61), the favorite victims at sacrifices were horses, and the Massagetians (q.v.) sacrificed horses to the sun, their only god (ibid., 1.216). But it is especially in the funeral rites that the religious significance of the horse becomes clear. Here our main literary source is again Herodotus (4.71-75). The description here given is in agreement with the archeological findings, as far as these go. When a king dies, Herodotus informs us, he is buried with horses as well as with one of his concubines and other members of his household, cups of gold, and firstlings of all his possessions. At a commemoration ceremony one year after, a monument consisting of fifty of the king’s horses and fifty of his attendants, who had all been killed on this occasion, was set in a circle about the tomb, probably as a kind of protection. Grave monuments consisting of horse carcasses or horse hides are recorded by medieval European and Arabian travelers among the Cumans and various Altaic peoples of Central Asia; the practice has in some places persisted until recent times (J. -P. Roux: La mort chez les peuples altaïques anciens et médiévaux, Paris, 1963, esp. pp. 135ff. and J. A. Boyle: “A Form of Horse Sacrifice amongst the 13th- and 14th-Century Mongols,” Central Asiatic Journal 10, The Hague and Wiesbaden, 1965, pp. 145-50). Although these elaborate funerals, which must have been extremely costly both in lives and material, were partly intended to be political shows, and may even been some kind of an investiture ceremony, it can hardly be doubted that the horses interred with the body were meant as a means of transport to the land of the dead. This is borne out, among other things, by the modern Ossetic Bax fäldisin funeral rites, which evidently derive from ancient Scytho-Sarmatian practices, and in which the horse of the dead plays a prominent part as his conveyance to the underworld.
Regarding the domestication and various uses of the horse in the Eurasian steppes, see O. Schrader: Reallexikon der indogermanischen Altertumskunde, 2nd ed., II, Berlin and Leipzig, 1929, pp. 170-80.
Idem, Die Indo-germanen und Germanenfrage. Neue Wege zu ihrer Lösung, Wiener Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte und Linguistik, Jg. 4, Salzburg and Leipzig, 1936.
Further information on Scythian and Sarmatian horses is found in E. H. Minns, Scythians and Greeks, Cambridge, 1913, passim.
T. T. Rice, The Scythians, London, 1957, especially pp. 69-76 and 92-123.
T. Sulimirski, The Sarmatians, London, 1970, passim.
J. A. H. Potratz, Die Skythen in Südrussland, Basel, 1963, passim.
B. N. Grakov, Skify, Moscow, 1971 (German translation: Die Skythen, Berlin, 1980).
See in particular M. Rostovtzeff (Rostovcev): Iranians and Greeks in South Russia, Oxford, 1922 (repr. New York, 1969), passim.
The religious role of the horse is treated by E. E. Kuz’mina: Kon’ v religii i iskusstve Sakov i Skifov, in Skify i Sarmaty, ed. V. A. Il’inskaya et al., Kiev, 1977, pp. 69-119.
On the hippophoric proper names, see. V. I. Abaev: Osetinskiĭ yazyk i fol’klor I, Moscow and Leningrad, 1949, pp. 157-58, and L. Zgusta, Die Personennamen griechischer Städte der nördlichen Schwarzmeerküste, Prague, 1955, passim.
The great importance of horses, which had been a feature of ancient Iran, did not lessen under the successive post-Islamic regimes. Horses were valued not only for their many practical uses but also because Islam bids Moslems to breed and keep them; in the words of the Koran (8:62), “Have ready for them (the infidels) whatever you can in the way of force and relays of horses, so that God’s enemy and your enemy may be deterred thereby.” Also in the Koran (100:1, al-ʿĀdīyāt), “chargers flashing sparks” (i.e., from their hoofs when at full gallop) are invoked in an oath. Many sayings and instructions about horses and the care of horses appear in the Hadith collections; see the lists under ḵayl and faras in A. J. Wensinck et al., Concordances et indices de la tradition musulmane (Moḥammad Foʾād ʿAbd-al-Bāqī, al-Moʿǰam al-mofahras le-alfāẓ al-ḥadīṯ al-nabawī, Leiden, 1955, II, pp. 103-05, V, pp. 100-06, 400, 403). One such Hadith states that “excellence is pinned on the foreheads of horses.”
Horses in warfare. Horses were used in military operations as the fastest and best means of conveyance until the invention of mechanical vehicles. Large numbers of Iranians took training in equitation and played polo for the purpose of acquiring skills needed in mounted warfare. The best classical Persian work on horsemanship, equestrian sports, and mounted warfare that has come down to us is Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa, written early in the 7th/13th century by Moḥammad b. Manṣūr Mobārakšāh known as Faḵr-e Modabber. The book contains detailed advice, with illustrations, on good and bad points in a horse, ways of breaking and training a horse, proper styles of polo playing and types of polo field, battle procedures, javelin throwing on horseback, and appropriate means of controlling a horse in a lance charge or a sword combat. Names of inventors of these methods are mentioned. The author also gives particulars of rules laid down by Abū Moslem Ḵorāsānī (d. 137/754) for the protection of people’s horses; anyone who ran off with another man’s horse, stole its reins, saddle, or harness, undid its halter, foot-tether, or saddle-strap, let it escape from its stable at night and get lost, stuck thorns under its tail to make it throw its rider, untethered fierce horses, or let loose stallions to jump on mares or fight with other stallions, was to be severely punished, and in such cases no intercessions were to be heeded and absolutely no pardons were to be granted (Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa, pp. 462-64).
Horsemanship is described by the traveler Jean Chardin (1643-1713) as the third sport of the Iranians in the Safavid period. Proficiency therein consisted of the ability to mount a horse nimbly, give a horse free rein and stay firmly seated on its back at the gallop, pull up a galloping horse and bring it gently to a halt, and drop twenty beads in succession while riding and pick them up from the ground on the way back without stopping or slowing down. There were riders in Iran who had the nerve and agility to stand on the saddle and let the horse gallop at full tilt. Iranian riders usually sat somewhat aslant because they often had to wheel round in their exercises. These were of three kinds: polo, arrow shooting on horseback, and javelin throwing on horseback (Chardin, Voyages, English text Travels in Persia, ed. Sir Percy Sykes, London, 1927, pp. 199-200). Chardin then gives an example of the skill and agility of the Iranian mounted marksmen. For the target they would place a small cup (or an apple, a bowl filled with gold coins, etc.) on the top of a pillar 120 feet high and then shoot at it at full gallop; they also could hurl a long, heavy javelin as far away as 700 feet. According to Chardin, such shooting (qapoq-andāzī) exercises were regularly held in all Iranian cities. Kings took part in them, e.g., Shah Ṣafī (1038/1629-1052/1642), who was deft enough to hit the cup at the first or second shot, and Shah ʿAbbās II (1052/1642-1077/1666), who was also no mean performer (N. Falsafī, Zendagānī-e Šāh ʿAbbās Awwal II, Tehran, 1334 Š./1955, pp. 306-07).
Another royal feat of horsemanship is attributed to Loṭf-ʿAlī Khan Zand (d. 1209/1794). He is said to have escaped from the besieged city of Kermān by jumping on horseback over a trench eight zaṛʿ (8.32 m) in width, and on then finding himself in his enemy’s camp, to have escaped a second time by again jumping over the same trench and getting away by the road to Bam (Aḥmad ʿAlī Khan Wazīrī, Tārīḵ-e Kermān, ed. M. E. Bāstānī Pārīzī, Tehran, 1340 Š./1961, p. 366).
The failure of the Saljuq sultan Sanǰar (511/1118-552/1157) to escape capture by his enemies, the Ḡozz, is said to have been due either to the inadequacy of his riding skills or to the rawness of his horse (Faṭh b. ʿAlī Bondārī Eṣfahānī, Taʾrīḵ dawla Āl Salǰūq, ed. S. M. ʿAzzāwī, Cairo, 1394/1974, p. 259).
In peacetime horses belonging to kings were normally sent to grazing grounds outside the cities (Bayhaqī, p. 455). The keeping of hundreds or sometimes thousands of horses was a difficult and complex task for which a special department comprising veterinarians, trainers, grooms, and foragers had to be organized. Great importance was attached to veterinary science. The prince Kay Kāvūs b. Eskandar, writing in 475/1082, gives particulars of defects in horses and emphasizes the need to keep them in good condition (Qābūs-nāma, ed. Ḡ. -Ḥ. Yūsofī, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, pp. 128-32), and the theologian Faḵr-al-dīn Rāzī (544/1149-606/1209) does the same in a section of his Jāmeʿ al-ʿolūm (ed. M. Ḥ. Tasbīḥī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967, pp. 140-43). Diseases of horses and appropriate treatments take up a large part of Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa and a chapter of the book by Šams-al-dīn Moḥammad Āmolī (ca. 740/1339) entitled Nafāʾes al-fonūn fī ʿarāʾes al-ʿoyūn (ed. Ḥāǰǰ Mīrzā Abu’l-Ḥasan Šaʿrānī, Tehran, 1379/1959, III, pp. 345-48).
The chief official responsible for royal horses was called the āḵor-sālār or amīr-e āḵor (cf. Šāh-nāma, ed. Borūḵīm, VII, p. 1929, vv. 168-69) under the Samanids (204/819-395/1005), Ghaznavids (387/997-547/1152), and Saljuqs of Iran and Rūm (429/1037-707/1307); āḵoṛčī or āḵor beg under the Mongols (616/1219-736/1336); mīr-āḵor-bāšī under the Safavids (907/1501-1135/1722); and amīr-e āḵor or mīr-āḵor under the Qajars (1193/1779-1342/1924). In addition to the men who kept the horses, many more engaged in making saddles, harness such as reins, bits, and stirrups, horseshoes, and horse armor. Thus in every period the number of men needed to maintain a cavalry force ready for war was very large; for example, under the Daylami ruler ʿAżod-al-dawla (d. 373/982), 1,800 men were permanently employed to look after and provide for the horses (Mofīżallāh Kabīr, Māhīgīrān-e tāǰdār yā tārīḵsāzān-e īrānī, tr. M. Afšār, Tehran, 1362 Š./1983, p. 223). Other designations of officials in charge of horses in the Mongol period were būz aḵtāčī (responsible for gray horses) and qašḡā aḵtāčī (responsible for horses with white foreheads) (Š. Šarīk-e Amīn, Farhang-e eṣṭelāḥāt-e dīvānī-e dawran-e Mogōl, Tehran, 1357 Š./1978, pp. 75 and 186 respectively; see also Aḵtāǰī). In the Qajar period, particularly under Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah, the official in charge of harness procurement, called the zīndār-bāšī (chief saddle keeper), was a courtier of high standing. The office of mīr-āḵor also carried prestige and was held by royal princes or, at one time, by a son-in-law of the heir apparent, Moẓaffar-al-dīn Mīrzā (Ḡolām-Ḥosayn Afżal-al-molk, Afżal-al-tawārīḵ, ed. M. Etteḥādīya and S. Saʿdvandīān, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982, pp. 38, 46; Dūst-Moḥammad Moʿayyer-al-mamālek, Yāddāšthā-ī az zendagānī-e ḵoṣūṣī-e Nāṣer-al-dīn Šāh, Tehran, 1327 Š./1948, pp. 68, 72; Moḥammad-ʿAlī Ḡaffārī, Tārīḵ-e Ḡaffārī, ed. M. Etteḥādīya and S. Saʿdvandīān, Tehran, 1361 Š./1982, p. 299).
In the reign of Moḥammad Reżā Shah Pahlavī, equestrian interests were promoted and supervised by a Royal Horse Society (Anǰoman-e Salṭanatī-e Asb) under the honorary chairmanship of the Crown Prince. Its purposes were to “preserve, propagate, and improve native Iranian breeds, make them known in foreign countries by holding horse shows in Iran and participating in horse shows and sales abroad, create popular interest in the protection and care of horses, promote and develop equestrian sports, and define and register Iranian breeds and issue identity certificates” (Maǰalla-ye asb 1, Tehran, Ordībehešt 1353 Š./April-May 1974, p. 5).
The costs of keeping, training, and breeding horses were normally borne by rulers, but are known to have been shifted onto the people at certain times. Under the Saljuqs and the atabegs, fief-holders (eqṭāʿdārān) took money from the peasantry in wartime to pay expenses of horseshoeing and harness procurement required for discharge of their obligations to the ruler (N. V. Pigulevskaya and I. P. Petrushevskiĭ, tr. K. Kešāvarz, Tārīḵ-e Īrān, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974, p. 284). In the Mongol period, horses for the hordes were taken at the rate of one out of every hundred owned (Rašīd-al-dīn Fażlallāh, Tārīḵ-e mobārak-e ḡāzānī, ed. K. Jahn, the Hague, 1957, p. 283). In Nāder Shah’s reign (1148/1736-1160/1747), fodder for the horses and other needs of the cavalry were requisitioned from the people (K. Z. Ašrafīān and M. R. Arunova, Dawlat-e Nāder Šāh Afšār, tr. Ḥ. Amīn, 2nd ed., Tehran, 1356 Š./1977, p. 85).
Horses at royal courts. Military need was not the only reason for the tradition of keeping horses at Iranian royal courts. One or more horses, ready to be mounted at any time, usually as “duty” (nawbatī) horses, were always kept at governmental establishments. Neẓāmī ʿArūżī (d. 552/1157) states in his Čahār maqāla (ed. M. Moʿīn, Tehran, 1333 Š./1954, p. 53) that the Samanid amir Naṣr b. Aḥmad was so stirred on hearing Rūdakī sing a poem that he forthwith set foot on the stirrup of a nawbatī horse and rode back to his capital, Bukhara. There are also mentions of the use of nawbatī horses under the Ghaznavids (Bayhaqī, p. 908) and in other periods.
In addition, a body of picked cavalrymen was always kept in readiness to protect the court. Ḵᵛāǰa Neẓām-al molk, writing in the Saljuq period (Sīar al-molūk or Sīāsat-nāma, ed. H. Darke, 3rd ed., Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, p. 125), recommended that “there should always be at the court two hundred men of fine appearance and physique, all good horsemen and fully equipped, so that if ever an emergency arose, they would not fail in whatever task might befall them.” Jengis Khan (d. 624/1126) is said to have had a guard of 10,000 cavalrymen on constant patrol (Pigulevskaya and Petrushevskiĭ, op. cit., tr. Kešāvarz, p. 32). In Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah’s reign, 1,000 horsemen were stationed at the Kašīk-ḵāna (a cavalry barracks) to guard the court and escort the Shah on tours (Moʿayyer-al-mamālek, op. cit., p. 46).
In both wartime and peacetime, kings took with them on campaigns or journeys spare horses called kotal or ǰonaybat for use in case of need. Masʿūd Ḡaznavī had fifty spare horses around the elephant he was mounting in his battle with the Saljuqs (Bayhaqī, p. 759) and on another expedition took with him thirty horses which had trappings studded with turquoise, jasper, and the like (ibid., p. 372). Sometimes the spare horses were also used in official ceremonies (ibid., p. 355).
Making gifts of horses by way of reward or inducement was customary in all periods. At presentation ceremonies, the gift horses were caparisoned with splendid saddles and trappings of a cost proportionate to the status of the giver and the receiver. They might even be shod with golden horseshoes, as were those which the governor ʿAlī b. ʿĪsā b. Māhān (d. 193/809) sent as a gift from Khorasan to the caliph Hārūn al-Rašīd; according to Bayhaqī (p. 538), “after the elephants they brought twenty horses with gold-trimmed saddles, gold-plated horseshoes, and trappings studded with jewels (i.e. rubies) from Badaḵšān and turquoises, as well as horses of the Gīlān breed and two hundred Ḵorāsānī horses with brocade saddle-cloths” (ibid., p. 538). The horses which Masʿūd Ḡaznāvī presented to the caliph Qāʾem were similarly rigged out (ibid., p. 471 ). The Saljuq sultan Ṭoḡrel I sent to the same caliph “thirty Turkish slave-boys and slave-girls mounted on thirty horses and accompanied by two of his servants, each of whom rode a horse with golden stirrups and a jewel-adorned saddle” (Bondārī, op. cit., p. 20). When the Safavid Shah Ṭahmāsb decided to give refuge to Homāyūn, the Mughal ruler of India, in 950/1544, he sent him (i.e., Homāyūn) one hundred swift horses (asb-e be-daw) with gold-trimmed saddles. He also sent him six steady-going, nice-colored, strong-bodied horses picked from his own stables. On their backs were saddles inlaid with lapis lazuli and cloths interwoven and embroidered with gold thread. With each of these horses two attendants were sent (ʿAbd-al-Ḥosayn Navāʾī, Šāh Ṭahmāsb ṣafawī, Tehran, 1350 Š./1971, p. 54). After Nāder Shah’s victorious campaign in India, his son Naṣrallāh Mīrzā was married to an Indian princess, and on the wedding day four horses with jewel-studded trappings were brought forth for the prince (Mīrzā Mahdī Khan Astarābādī, Tārīḵ-e ǰahāngošā-ye nāderī, ed. S. ʿA. Anwār, Tehran, 1341 Š./1962, p. 332). Nāder subsequently sent to the Indian ruler a return gift of horses which his other son Reżā-qolī Mīrzā had procured (op. cit., p. 345; another occasion mentioned on p. 383). In 1145/1732 twelve thousand horses were sent to Nāder as gifts from Arab tribes (Ašrafīān and Arunova, op. cit., p. 84). The custom of presenting gift horses continued into the Qajar period (Ḡaffārī, op. cit., p. 29, 293).
In the reigns of the Ghaznavid sultans Maḥmūd and Masʿūd, it was customary after the appointment of a person to a high office that masters of ceremonies should call out, “Let the horse of the amir of such and such a place be brought forth,” the purpose being to publicize the appointment and glorify the appointee. There are several mentions of this in Bayhaqī’s history (e.g., pp. 158, 159, 355, 373, 526; see also Ḥ. Anwarī, Eṣṭelāḥāt-e dīvanī-e dawra-ye ḡaznavī wa salǰūqī, Tehran, 2535=1355 Š./1976, pp. 16-18).
The game of polo was considered to be both a sport and a form of cavalry training, because it enabled the players to learn how to control themselves and their horses in different situations. In the words of Mobārak-šāh, “wielding the polo-stick has been likened to fighting and beating the foe” (Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa, p. 467). The game was in particularly great vogue during the Samanid, Ghaznavid, Saljuq, and Safavid periods. A chapter of Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa is devoted to proper ways of training polo horses, playing matches, and galloping after the ball. In the Safavid period the Iranians played this game in a large square, at each end of which stood pillars, set close together, which were the goal posts. The ball was thrown into the middle of the square, and the players, each holding a stick, galloped after it. To be able to hit it, they had to bend down lower than the pommels of their saddles, as the sticks were short. It was a rule of the game that the ball must be hit at the gallop. A win was scored when the ball was driven between the goal posts. The game was played with opposing teams of fifteen or twenty men. Shah ʿAbbās I had a passion for polo, playing it himself and often entertaining his guests with a game played by the qezelbāš cavalrymen (Falsafī, op. cit., pp. 304-06).
From ancient until quite recent times, horses were used in hunting. Particularly for hunting fierce animals and swift animals such as gazelles, horses were considered indispensable (Bayhaqī, pp. 232, 529, 651). The amir Kay Kāvūs gives some relevant advice in the Qābūs-nāma (ed. Yūsofī, p. 50): “Riding, hunting, and polo playing are gentlemanly activities, especially when one is young. Masʿūd Ḡaznavī had been fond of lion hunting on horseback (Bayhaqī, p. 150), and Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah Qāǰār was to win a reputation for skill in gazelle hunting at the gallop (Moʿayyer-al-mamālek, op. cit., pp. 35, 80). Faḵr-al-dawla, a daughter of Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah, used to gallop with a gun in one hand and shoot birds such as starlings and pigeons (ibid., p. 50).
Equestrian sports were keenly pursued for the sake of pleasure and exercise as well as military training. Under the Qajars, particularly Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah, horse races and riding competitions were attended by the shah to the accompaniment of much pomp, and lavish prizes of as much as 150 or 200 tūmāns on some occasions were awarded to winners (Afżal-al-molk, op. cit., pp. 65-66; for a more detailed description see Moʿayyer-al-mamālek, op. cit., pp. 69-73). Horse races and jumping contests were held regularly in Reżā Shah Pahlavī’s reign (1304-20 Š./1925-41) and on a larger and grander scale in that of Moḥammad Reżā Shah Pahlavī (detailed reports available in issues of Maǰalla-ye asb).
Until well into the modern period, the fastest means of carrying travelers, messages, and goods was by horse. Ancient and later rulers of Iran, whose control of distant provinces depended on rapid communication, were always interested in the use of horses to bring intelligence reports and convey dispatches and orders. Some, but not all, maintained a regular postal service. Under the Ghaznavids a special department (dīvān) headed by a chief postmaster (ṣāheb-e barīd) supervised the business of rapid message transmission (Bayhaqī, p. 649) and employed fast-riding couriers to bring reports and letters to the central and provincial authorities (ibid., p. 323); but there were apparently not then any staging posts, because the couriers often had to take four horses with them when they set out in order to be able to change their mounts from time to time (ibid., p. 7). If Neẓāmī ʿArūżī is to be believed, the dīvān-e barīd was scrapped by the Saljuqs who had no knowledge of statecraft (Čahār maqāla, p. 40); but according to Bondārī (op. cit., p. 62), it was only suspended for a time in Alp Arslān’s reign. When Baghdad was under the control of the Buyid prince ʿAżod-al-dawla, the staging posts were so well organized that letters from Shiraz to Baghdad (about 900 km) reached their destination in seven days (Mofīżallāh Kabīr, op. cit., p. 90). Neẓām-al-molk recommended that couriers should be stationed at intervals on certain main roads so that reports could be conveyed over fifty parasangs in a single day and night (Sīāsat-nāma, p. 17).
When the Mongols ruled Iran, a more extensive postal system was organized to cover their far-flung empire; yāms (staging posts), which they called “tāyān māh,” were established in all the dominions (Rašīd-al-dīn Fażlallāh, Jāmeʿ al-tawārīḵ II, ed. E. Blochet, Leiden, 1911, p. 49). These yāms were located every four, or sometimes three, parasangs; in a few cases there were thirty-seven yāms in every five parasangs (loc. cit.). The number of horses kept at a yām ranged from 15 to 500 (idem, op. cit., ed. ʿA. ʿA. ʿAlīzāda, Moscow, 1965, III, pp. 359, 483; idem, Tārīḵ-e mobārak-e ḡāzānī, ed. K. Jahn, p. 273). The officer in charge was called the yāmčī (Šarīk-e Amīn, op. cit., pp. 261, 262). According to Clavijo, all along the road from Tabrīz to Samarqand, Tīmūr had built staging posts at a day’s, or sometimes half a day’s, distance from each other, where horses were kept ready to depart at any time. At some of these staging posts 100 horses were stabled, at others only 50, at a few of them 200 (Clavijo, Embassy, Pers. tr. M. Raǰab-nīā, Tehran, 1337 Š./1958, p. 163). If an ambassador was traveling to Samarqand and his horse became incapacitated, he would be entitled to demand the horse of any passing rider, who would be obliged to hand it over to him. “If anyone refused to give his horse, his head would have been at risk” (op. cit., p. 186).
Surviving documents show that in Nāder Shah’s reign the common people, particularly cultivators of state-owned (ḵāleṣa) lands, were forced to supply post horses or pay cash equivalents (Ašrafīān and Arunova, op. cit., p. 83).
The convoy of mounted mail-carriers (singular čāpār) and the post office-cum-stable (čāpār-ḵāna) endured throughout the Qajar period. The čāpārs rode from Kāšān to Tehran in one day (Ḡaffārī, Tārīḵ, pp. 38, 61, 153, 288).
Horses in Persian literature. The importance of horses in the life of the Iranians assured them of a special place in Persian literature. Numerous poets, such as Rūdakī (d. 329/940), ʿOnṣorī (d. 431/1039), Manūčehrī (d. 432/1040-41), Masʿūd-e Saʿd-e Salmān (d. 515/1121), Lāmeʿī Gorgānī (d. ca. 500/1106), Kamāl-al-dīn Esmāʿīl Eṣfahānī (d. 635/1237), and in later times Qāʾānī Šīrāzī (d. 1270/ 1853), and Īraǰ Mīrzā (d. 1305 Š./1926), have left poems in praise of or, occasionally, ridicule of horses, sometimes with interesting observations about good and bad points in a horse (e.g., Rūdakī, Dīvān, ed. Y. Braginsky, Moscow, 1964, p. 46; ʿOnṣorī, Dīvān, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1342 Š./ 1963, pp. 132-34; Masʿūd-e Saʿd Salmān, Dīvān, ed. R. Yāsemī, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960, pp. 314, 564; Lāmeʿī Gorgānī, Dīvān, ed. M. Dabīrsīāqī, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 12-14; Kamāl-al-dīn Esmāʿīl Eṣfahānī, Dīvān, ed. Ḥ. Baḥr-al-ʿolūmī, 1348 Š./1969, pp. 457, 467-468, 633; Qāʾānī, Dīvān, ed. M. J. Maḥǰūb, Tehran, 1336 Š./ 1957, p. 502; Īraǰ Mīrzā, Dīvān, ed. M. J. Maḥǰūb, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974, pp. 7, 8). In the Ḵosrow o Šīrīn of Neẓāmī Ganǰavī (d. 605/1209) there is a beautifully told account of a polo game which Šīrīn and some maidens played with Ḵosrow Parvēz (ed. Ḥ. Pežmān Baḵtīārī, Tehran, 1343 Š./1964, p. 85). Parables and comparisons involving horses are frequent in mystic works. In the Elāhī-nāma of Farīd-al-dīn ʿAṭṭār (d. 618/1221 ?) there is a story of a woman who fell in love with a king’s son. The king ordered that because of her love for the prince, her hair should be tied to the leg of an unruly horse so that she might suffer a nasty death (a form of punishment related in many folk tales). Shortly before the sentenced woman was due to die in this way, she uttered her last wish, begging the king to cause her hair to be tied to the leg of her beloved’s horse so that she might be killed by her beloved and thus attain eternal bliss (Elāhī-nāma, ed. F. Rūḥānī, Tehran, 1339 Š./1960, pp. 40-44; tr. J. A. Boyle, The Ilāhī-nāma or Book of God, Manchester, 1976, pp. 47-49). Horses appear in other stories of the Elāhī-nāma (ed. Rūḥānī, pp. 87-89, 190; tr. Boyle, pp. 104-05, 223-24) and the Moṣībat-nāma (ed. Nūrānī Weṣāl, Tehran, 1338 Š./1959, pp. 258-59, 353). In the Maṯnawī of Mawlawī Jalāl-al-dīn Rūmī (d. 672/1273), human instincts and appetites are likened to an unruly horse (ed. R. A. Nicholson, VI, p. 338), and a story is told about a Ḵᵛārazmšāh’s infatuation with the beauty of a horse and the quenching of this passion by his vizier who pointed out the horse’s defects (op. cit., VI, pp. 463-72). The comparison of human sensuality to an unruly horse is a long-standing motif of Islamic Sufism. The Arabic word rīāda (Persian rīāżat) signifying self repression, or the effort to transform lusts into virtues and to refine the soul through the endurance of hardships originally meant the breaking and training of horses (Qoṭb-al-dīn Abu’l-Moẓaffar Manṣūr b. Ardašīr ʿAbbādī, al-Taṣfīa fī aḥwāl al-motaṣawwefa, ed. Ḡ. -Ḥ. Yūsofī, Tehran, 1347 Š./1968, pp. 54-59).
Names of types of horses and terms for their qualities and their equipment were recorded in a number of special glossaries, e.g. al-Bolḡa by Adīb Yaʿqūb Kordī Nīšāpūrī (ed. M. Mīnovī and F. Ḥarīṛčī, Tehran, 1355 Š./1976, pp. 172-85) and al-Sāmī fi’l-asāmī by Abu’l-Fatḥ Aḥmad b. Moḥammad Maydānī (offset, Tehran, 1345 Š./1966, pp. 266-80).
Customs connected with horses. Only a few of the many reports of such customs from different periods can be mentioned here. In the Ghaznavid period when men of substance were arrested, it was customary to humiliate them by mounting them on mules instead of horses (Bayhaqī, pp. 306, 328). Dismounting was a conventional gesture of respect. Bondārī (op. cit., p, 10) relates that “ʿAmīd-al-molk was waiting for an interview with the caliph’s vizier. As soon as he saw him he tried to dismount, but the (caliph’s) vizier stopped him, and they embraced while still on horseback.”
In the Saljuq period, a man wanting to show deference would often refrain from riding his own horse and ride a spare horse belonging to the revered dignitary instead (ibid., p. 118).
Another gesture of humility was to kiss the hoof of a dignitary’s horse (ibid. p. 53). It was a sign of great respect for a person to walk on foot behind that person’s horse (ibid., pp. 53, 118; Ḡaffārī, op. cit., p. 68). Mawlawī Rūmī’s son Solṭān Walad walked behind Šams Tabrīzī’s horse all the way from Damascus to Konya (Solṭān Walad, Walad-nāma, ed. J. Homāʾī, Tehran, 1315 Š./1936, pp. 48-49).
When the Mongols ruled Iran, they had a custom whereby they took their sons at the age of about five and sat them on a “fortune horse” (asb-e dawlat), then made the horse face eastward and sprayed koumiss onto its mane and hindquarters. They believed that these actions would secure their sons from misfortunes (ʿAbd-al-Razzāq Samarqandī, Maṭlaʿ-e saʿdayn wa maǰmaʿ-e baḥrayn, ed. ʿA. Navāʾī, Tehran, 1353 Š./1974, p. 20).
In the reign of Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah Qāǰār, it was customary to celebrate the Feast of Sacrifices (ʿĪd-e Qorbān) with the public slaughter of a camel and distribution of its meat. The feast was announced three days in advance by a troop of twelve cavalrymen who would ride through the streets yelling to the people that the camel slaughter would take place. At their head rode a royal prince of fiercely warlike appearance, wearing armor and a helmet and holding a large shield. The horses were decked with beads and tassels of many colors, and each had a piece of cloth like a shawl and a fine-toned bell hanging from its neck (Moʿayyer-al-mamālek, op. cit., p. 61).
The etiquette of the Qajar period required that when the shah or an important dignitary went out on horseback, other men should not ride parallel with him but should always be at least a few feet behind his horse. A rider once let his horse come too close to the crown prince’s horse, and a courtier who saw this disrespectful act shouted, “Keep back! Ride properly” (Ḡaffārī, op. cit., pp. 84, 124).
In the later years of the Qajars, men claiming to be victims of gross injustice would shut themselves up in stables belonging to the shah or a high dignitary as a means to publicize their grievances (ibid., pp. 206, 298).
Horses in passion plays. Horses have always played an essential part in passion plays, taʿzīa or šabīh-ḵᵛānī, in commemoration of Imam Ḥosayn’s martyrdom, being needed for the reenactment of events at Karbalā and other scenes. The grandest taʿzīa performances took place in the Qajar period in the presence of Nāṣer-al-dīn Shah. The start of one of them has been described as follows: “Into the arena rode a troop of lancers, mounted on the Shah’s finest horses, holding fifes which had red barrels, gold mouthpieces, and braid frills. The horses were resplendent with gold trappings and golden balls hanging on silk cords strung around their necks. Following the lancers came mounted macebearers and guards with golden maces on their shoulders as custom prescribed. The actors, wearing clothes appropriate for their parts, then entered on horseback, and the play began” (Moʿayyer-al-mamālek, op. cit., p. 66).
Breeds of horses. In most of the faras-nāmas, merits and demerits of horses are judged by tangible criteria, physical and behavioral shortcomings and the like, without consideration of the breed; but in a few of them (e.g., Faras-nāma No. 2179, Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Maǰles-e Šūrā-ye Mellī and ms. belonging to Dr. Ḥasan Sādāt-e Nāṣerī (chaps. 14 and 15), and Faras-nāma-ye Mīrzā Neẓām), breeds are mentioned and described. According to these works, the breeds consisted of:
1. Arab horses, regarded as the finest and fastest and classified as a. ʿatīq (born of an Arab father by an Arab mother), b. haǰīn (born of an Arab father by a non-Arab mother), c. moqref (born of a non-Arab father by an Arab mother). 2. Kurdish horses, regarded as having greater power of endurance than Arab horses. 3. Turkish horses, also called kūhī or dāḡī, i.e., fit for use in mountainous country (Ar. berḏawn), regarded as more patient and surefooted than other horses but smaller. In some of the historical works a few more breeds, such as Gīlī (i.e., from Gīlān), Ḵorāsānī, and Torkmanī or Torkmānī horses, are mentioned (Bayhaqī, p. 538; ʿA. N. Behrūzī, Laṭāʾef o ẓarāʾef-e adabī, Shiraz, 1342 Š./1963. pp. 14, 15; Moʿayyer-al-mamālek, op. cit., p. 35).
Faras-nāmas. Books dealing solely with horses constitute a special genre of Persian literature, the faras-nāma. To meet the demand, particularly from court circles, for information about breeding, training, and caring for horses, faras-nāmas were written in both verse and prose. Among the known manuscripts, two are in verse and the rest in prose. None of these manuscripts are dated earlier than the Safavid period, but some contain statements that the authors got their material from older faras-nāmas. The number of faras-nāmas written in Persian was very large. Below is a list of some important manuscripts and editions:
1. A short faras-nāma in prose, said by its writer to be translated from a work by Aristotle; in collection ms. 966 at the Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Mellī, Tehran; 2. a faras-nāma mainly on veterinary matters and recognition of ages of horses, said to have been written by Qanbar, the freed slave of ʿAlī b. Abī Ṭāleb; in the Ḵalīl Āḡā Library, Cairo; 3. faras-nāma ms. 2179 in the Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Maǰles-e Šūrā-ye Mellī, Tehran; 4. faras-nāma ms. 2180 in the Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Maǰles-e Šūrā-ye Mellī. 5. a faras-nāma by Mīrzā Neẓām, a son of Mollā Ṣadrā; ms. in the Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Mellī; 6. Several manuscript faras-nāmas in the Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Malek and Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Markazī of Tehran University; 7. a manuscript faras-nāma belonging to Prof. Sayyed Ḥasan Sādāt-e Nāṣerī of Tehran University; 8. a versified faras-nāma by a writer with the pen-name Ṣafī, in a collection at the Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Mellī; 9. Part of another versified faras-nāma, in a collection at the Ketāb-ḵāna-ye Mellī; 10. two Persian faras-nāmas printed in India in 1910 and 1911 respectively, the first entitled Faras-nāma-ye hāšemī, a Persian treatise translated from Sanskrit by ʿAbdallāh Khan Bahādor Fīrūz Jang (ed. D. C. Phillott, Calcutta, 1910); 11. Ṭohfat al-ṣadr or Faras-nāma-ye Zabardast Ḵān (ed. D. C. Phillott, Calcutta, 1911). Nos. 3 and 7 have been edited by the writer of this article for publication by the Institute of Islamic Studies of McGill University, Montreal (Tehran Branch). Also Mobārakšāh’s valuable Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa (see above) which may be regarded as a sort of faras-nāma.
In substance a faras-nāma is a small encyclopedia of facts relating to horses. The contents usually include a preface explaining the importance of horses, with quotations of Koranic verses, sayings of the Prophet Moḥammad, and relevant reports and anecdotes, followed by chapters on the recognition of a horse’s age by its teeth; nomenclature of horses of different types and colors; good and bad qualities of horses and indications of their presence or absence; shortcomings of horses and ways to rectify them; proper methods of breeding, training, controlling, and caring for horses; and, most important of all, ill health in horses, with prescriptions of treatments and drugs appropriate for different diseases and injuries.
See also Voyages du Chevalier Chardin en Perse, et autres lieux de l’Orient, ed. L. Langlès, Paris, 1811, X, p. 257, s.v. Chevaux de Perse. P. Viré, G. S. Colin, C. E. Bosworth, and S. Digby, “Iṣṭabl,” in EI2 IV, pp. 213-19.
F. Viré, “Faras,” ibid., II, pp. 784-87.
G. R. Smith, Medieval Muslim Horsemanship, London, 1979.
Camb. Hist. Iran V-VI, s.v horses.
(ʿA. Solṭānī Gordfarāmarzī)
The lands in northern Afghanistan and the upper Oxus valley—Čaḡānīān, Ḵottal, and Vaḵš on the right bank, and Ṭoḵārestān and Badaḵšān on the left bank—were well-provided with good pasture lands in the valleys running up into the mountains, and seem to have been famed for their horses from the period when the Arab invaders first penetrated into Central Asia, such horses being in demand both as war-mounts and for the relays of the barīd or postal and intelligence service. According to an episode in Masʿūdī (Morūǰ V, pp. 478-79; ed. Pellat, sec. 2232), the Ṭoḵārestān horse (berḏawn ṭoḵārī) was scarce and highly-prized in the caliphate of ʿAbd-al-Malek (65-86/685-705), but a generation later, in Hešām’s time (105-25/724-43), comparatively plentiful and in widespread use. The fame of Čaḡānīān for horse-breeding is attested by a well-known anecdote of Neẓāmī ʿArūżī Samarqandī in the Čahār maqāla (ed. M. Qazvīnī and M. Moʿīn, Tehran, 1333 Š./1944, pp. 58-65, E. G. Browne, Revised Translation of the Chahár Maqála, GMS 11/2, London, 1921, pp. 39-45), in which the poet Farroḵī Sīstānī seeks the patronage of the Amīr of Čaḡānīān Abu’l-Moẓaffar Moḥammad (fl. early 5th/11th century), going to him at the spring branding grounds (dāḡgāh) in Čaḡānīān, where the ruler reputedly had 18,000 breeding mares. The region of Gūzgān in north-central Afghanistan, to the west of Ṭoḵārestān, is singled out by the Ḥodūd al-ʿālam, together with Ṭoḵārestān, Čaḡānīān, and particularly Ḵottal (whose horses, ḵatlī, have often been praised in poetry), for its numerous horses and for the manufacture of horse accouterments such as saddle-bags and girths (tr. Minorsky, pp. 106, 108, 114, 119).
The pasture lands along the frontiers of eastern Afghanistan and the right bank of the Indus, including those in the Solaymān Mountains (in the northeastern part of modern Baluchistan and in southern Waziristan), were equally famed for horse breeding, and the name of the Afghans, the indigenous people of these borderlands, has been linked with the Aśvaka (horse people) of Gandhara mentioned in the Mahābhārata (see K. de B. Codrington, “A Geographical Introduction to the History of Central Asia,” Geographical Journal 55, 1955, p. 39).
Given the importance of the horse in medieval Islamic warfare, it is not surprising that the treatise Ādāb al-ḥarb wa’l-šaǰāʿa on the art of war, by the Ghurid author Faḵr-e Modabber, should devote three chapters to them, dealing with such topics as equestrian training and horsemanship, the tactical use of horses in battle, the breeding, care, and doctoring of horses, etc. (India Office ms. 647, fols. 55b-71b; ed. A. Sohaylī Ḵᵛānsārī, Tehran, 1346 Š./1967, pp. 174-238). Here again, inter alia, the skills in horse breeding and farriery of the men of Ḵottal are stressed, as is importance of the upper Oxus provinces for the production of bridles and saddlery (see also Bosworth, The Ghaznavids, pp. 112-13).
The Delhi Sultans of the 7th-9th/13th-15th centuries utilized the breeding grounds of the Panjab and northwestern India as sources for their mounts, but were especially dependent on horses brought from Central Asia and Afghanistan, the region known to them as “the highland region,” molk-e bālā, these beasts being usually designated generically as “Tatārī” (see S. M. Digby, War Horse and Elephant in the Delhi Sultanate: A Study of Military Supplies, Oxford, 1971, pp. 26-28, 34ff.). In Bābor’s time (early 10th/16th century), Kabul was a center for the horse trade, with 7,000 to 10,000 horses brought to its markets every year; as well as riding horses (called by Bābor tipučaqs, conveying in Eastern Turkish the idea of “swiftness, agitation”), Bābor mentions the breeding of pack horses in the Indus plains below Bannū (Bābor-nāma, tr. A. S. Beveridge, London, 1922, pp. 202-235).
The horse trade centered on Kabul continued over the succeeding centuries, for Mountstuart Elphinstone enlarges on the trade in “Kabul horses,” actually bred in the region of Balḵ (i.e., the medieval Ṭoḵārestān) and the Turkmen areas further down the Oxus in the emirate of Bukhara. These beasts comprised “Turki” or “Uzbeki” ones, small and stout, and “Turkomani” ones, larger and more suited to warfare; they were brought to the Kabul district and then fattened on the local pasturelands, mainly for export to India (An Account of the Kingdom of Caubul, London, 1815, repr. Karachi, 1972, I, pp. 386-88).
In modern Afghanistan, the northern and eastern regions of the country (the Oxus lands, the Hindu Kush, Kabul, and Kandahar) remain the chief ones for horse breeding and raising; a total of 195,000 head was recorded by the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization in 1957 (see J. Humlum, La géographie de l’Afghanistan, étude d’un pays aride, Copenhagen, 1959, pp. 263-64, 272-73).
See also Ebn Ḥawqal, p. 449; tr. Kramers, p. 434.
Eṣṭaḵrī, p. 279.
Le Strange, Lands, p. 438.
Yāqūt, II, p. 402.
(C. E. Bosworth)
(A. Sh. Shahbazi, F. Thordarson, ʿA. Solṭānī Gordfarāmarzī, C. E. Bosworth)
Originally Published: December 15, 1987
Last Updated: August 16, 2011
This article is available in print.
Vol. II, Fasc. 7, pp. 724-737