When our descendants first began to work the land as farmers, they tamed or domesticated cattle, donkeys, goats, pigs and sheep to name a few around about 4,000 BC. Zoologists believe that the horse was not truly domesticated for at least another thousand years. It seems that early horses were probably almost untameable, like the modern Zebra of Africa today. These early horses were likely hunted for their meat by the first nomadic tribes living on the Eurasian plains, where herds of wild horses grazed. Knowns as Tarpans, these horses were hunted by various people’s for thousands of years until they became extinct in the nineteenth century.
It is probably the nomads of the Eurasian plains, who successfully first went on to domesticate horses and in turn, become the first riders ? Though it is somewhat surprising that when the horse first appeared in recorded history, there was no rider on its back, but rather it was harnessed to a war chariot.
A Sumerian army engaged in war depicted in the ‘War’ panel, The Standard of Ur.
Around 3000 BC, Sumerians in Mesopotamia (Iraq) drove four wheeled war chariots into battle. Depicted in the Sumerian ‘War’ panel (above), an artifact that was uncovered in 1927/28, it shows chariots in fairly good detail driven by charioteers carrying either a spear or axe. The chariots are pulled by Onagers (large Asiatic asses) which are seen trampling enemies of the Sumerians.
Horses, other than Asiatic asses, were first brought into the Middle East by warrior tribes from Western Asia. The Kassites, Hitties and the Hyksos invaded the Middle East with their chariots around 1750 BC. The Hyksos, in particular, successfully conquered the rich lands around the Nile Delta of Egypt. Following a period of almost two hundred years, the Egyptians finally drove out the Hyksos. In turn, the Egyptians built their own large armies, using the skills they borrowed from the Hyksos charioteers, to conqueror a great empire of their own.
Photo credit: The header image is a photo of possibly the last known male Tarpan caught in 1866 and later displayed at the Moscow zoo, 1884. He was likely not a pure breed Tarpan, but rather a hybrid.