The horse argument, part 1

Lars Martin Fosse lmfosse at ONLINE.NO
Sat Apr 4 11:29:20 UTC 1998

At 11:46 04.04.98 +0200, you wrote:
>>One of my old Classics teachers said exactly the same thing: "They come to
>>the battle on their chariots as if they were riding taxis." His conclusion
>>was that Homer knew about chariots but that he had not seen them used in
>>battle. The Romans used chariots too, but only for racing. Old instruments
>>of war sometimes end up as pure sports articles. Today, we throw spears and
>>shoot the bow at the Olympics, but - pace Rambo - both weapons keep a low
>>profile in today's warfare.
>>Lars Martin Fosse
>Dear Lars,
>        I agree. But the reciprocity is not sure and the "disk throwing"
>shows that some parts of the "agOn" have perhaps a religious origin.
>        The war-chariot was perhaps a "taxi de la Marne" but we can't
>definitely exclude that it was nothing in epics but the ICON of a God-like
>status. Many passages of Iliad or of Mahabharata are very difficult to
>understand as a real-life fight and the long long travel of Arjuna, running
>against the sunset, seems very far from an actual battlefield.
>        Even being unable to PROVE anything, I believe that the later use
>of the chariot in a warfare context is derived from an early use limited to
>processions and races, the Gods being the first owners of light and fast
>chariots, able to fly over the world. And, even later, the chariots,
>drastically submitted to the landscape, were probably more signs of power
>(like banners and eagles) than powerful tactical weapons. As you remark
>with accuracy, the Romans, the better war-experts of their time, never used
>it, except in races and ... triumphs.

This reminds me of a description of battle wagons in actual use. Please take
a look at Xenofon's description of the Great King's army on the march (
Anabasis, Book I,7). Here wagons with sharp knives at the end of the axes
and under the wagon are used in front of the army, evidently a practical
weapon, but a weapon that was dependent upon flat ground. Caesar gives a
description of Celtic chariot warriors in his book on Britain. They way they
behave suggest the kind of man to man fighting that is often described in
the Mbh. War was both a ritual and a sport, and chariots probably
disappeared for various reasons, lack of tactical efficiency being one of them.

Lars Martin Lars Martin Fosse
Haugerudvn. 76, Leil. 114,
0674 Oslo

Tel: +47 22 32 12 19
Fax: +47 22 32 12 19
Email: lmfosse at
Mobile phone: 90 91 91 45

More information about the INDOLOGY mailing list