Horses in India

Jaroslav Strnad strnad at
Thu Jan 16 08:18:00 UTC 1997

Dear Dr. Tritsch,

I can supply just few hints on the role of horse in the medieval Indian
warfare. Superior horses suitable for military service constituted an
important strategic commodity always in short supply in the Indian
armies whose core was composed of cavalry units. According to modern
estimates, the Delhi Sultanate imported yearly around 10 000 and the
Mughal empire around 25 000 Turkish (i.e. Central Asian), Persian and
Arabic horses. Throughout the so called "Muhammadan period" horses were
the single most important import commodity which appears to have scaled
down somewhat the otherwise constantly and markedly active trading
balance of the largely self-sufficient subcontinent. It seems that the
reason for these huge imports has to be sought, at least partly in the
Indian climate. According to Peter Hardy, "... the horse breeds with
difficulty or feebly in the extreme south of the Indian peninsula and
the military potentialities of the country-bred animal decline sharply
towards the south and the east of the sub-continent: although to the
extreme north-east, in upper Burma and the territories beyond it, good
horses can once again be reared. Apart from this the best Indian
breeding grounds for horses are on the broad north-western fringe of the

Peter Hardy, War-horse and Elephant in the Delhi Sultanate. A Study of
Military Supplies. Oxford 1971, p. 26 (contains a lot of interesting
stuff relevant to your theme). See also:

J. N. Sarkar, The Art of War in Medieval India. Delhi 1984 (Univ.Bibl.
Tuebingen: 25 A 3111), esp. the section "Cavalry", pp. 99-104 on the
problem of horse-rearing in India, supported by qoutations from medieval

Shireen Moosvi, The Economy of the Mughal Empire c. 1595. A Statistical
Study. Delhi 1987 (Univ. Bibl. Tuebingen: 28 A 5904), esp. pp. 376-379;
on the use of horse in the pre-islamic period, see the interesting
iconographical study by:

Jean Deloche, Le cheval et son harnachement dans l' art indien.
Lausanne, Paris 1986 (Univ.Bibl. Tuebingen 28 B 267). 

After going through all this, you will probably still feel a need for a
more detailed treatment of the exact causes of the Indian horse breeding
problem. At least the Turks and Mughals must have understood the horses
and everything connected with them very well! If you hit upon a relevant
piece of information, I would be interested very much too!


Dr. Jaroslav Strnad
Oriental Institute,  
Academy of Sciences of the Czech Republic
Pod vodarenskou vezi 4
182 08 Praha 8

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