Horse argument

Vidhyanath Rao vidynath at MATH.OHIO-STATE.EDU
Fri May 29 20:39:48 UTC 1998

It is deja vu all over again.

Much of the ground was already covered in late March/early April.
Being on a quarter system (and due to other demands on my time) I
cannot devote much time to this. But it seems that the basic points
need to be restated, again.

Michael Witzel <witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU> wrote:

>On Sun, 10 May 1998, Vidhyanath Rao wrote:

>> Firstly, the similarities in the rituals cannot be taken as proof that
>> the rituals go back to PIE days.

>how so?

Because there are also similarities the uses of chariots, and there is
no evidence that chariots existed in PIE times. If the use of chariots
is due to later developments, why can't that be the case for horses as

>[delted material]

The point is that the Shintasha vehicle cannot have been usable in
war or races of the type we see later. This relates to practical
matters, which I will return to in a separate post.

>More evidence on chariots, for the time beeing, in Kuzmina (South
>Asian Archaeology 1993, ed. by A. Parpola et al., Hesinki 1994)

I am sorry to have to put this this crudely, but I don't know how else
to say it. Kuzmina, like many IE-ists/Indologists repeats as settled
conclusions statements which have been called into question. This makes
the argument circular and makes me wonder if they read what people
outside their own specialities are saying. For example, the Kikkuli book
is cited to prove that chariots were introduced into the Near East from
Central Asia. But fragments of older texts on horses/chariots have been
found in the Hittite archives. So why should we consider the Kikkuli
text as proving that Mitannis taught chariotry to others in the Near

>[...] but note how carefully Littauer & Crouwell phrase their
>statement about a Near Eastern origin of the chariot:
>"Does it not seem more likely that the horse's introduction to draught in
>the Near East stimulated the local wheel-wrights to invent a lighter wheel
>for the long existing two-wheelers than a people without a history of
>two-wheeled vehicles and with an already superior personal conveyance -
>the mounted horse - should find reason suddenly to invent such a vehicle
>in its entirety?"

>In other words, they don't know.

I fail to see that. To me it looks like a rhetorical question. In the
Near East we see a gradual trend towards the chariot. Keep in mind that
hemiones were harnessed in the Near East by the 24th c. BCE. As early
horses were as small as modern ponies, the change to horses would not
have been that great a step once horses began to be imported. On the
other hand, evidence for internal evolution of such vehicles in the
steppes is scarcer than horse bones in IVC.

As I will explain in my promised post, a practical chariot needs so many
features that simply replacing oxen by horses is simply absurd. That
would have produced a vehicle that would be inferior for bearing loads
(oxen do better in muddy paths than horses, and with the old cart harness
oxen will be able pull larger loads than ponies) without adding speed or

>But there also was the vipatha chariot for rough, cross-country driving!
>And how do you account for the traffic accident in Jaiminiya Brahmana in
>which a boy was dismembered and killed: some people must have driven at
>high speed through a settlement...

Reconstructed chariots based on finds in Tut's tomb would have served
as well. The question here is who developed such chariots?

Driving at high speeds comes back to the questions of practicality,
which I will discuss in another post.

If my memory serves me right, the JB passage you refer to also says
that the boy was revived by a saman. So why should we take one piece of
it as realistic?

>Obviously we need much more evidence to settle all these  questions.

The evidence from the Near East would be more than enough if it weren't
for an IE chauvinism that only IE speakers could handle horses and

>The Greek one (in the Iliad) is too close to the Indian ones to be simply
>diffused across a lot of space and time (descr. in Max Sparreboom,

Diffusion from the Near East westward quite plausible. Hittite
zone of influence (if not the empire itself) reached the east cost of
the Agean. Mycenean Greeks had overseas contacts towards the east.
Etruscans provide the link further westward.

>At least Late COMMON IE (note the many grammatical
>correspondences in Greek and Vedic/Old Iranian - also by "diffusion" from

I thought that I had made it clear that I believe the true chariot to
have been diffused from the Near East, not India. This has nothing to
do with the spread of IE languages.

Anyway, are you arguing that chariots had been invented before I-Irs
and proto-Greeks separated?

>There is of course much more to it: the uneven number of turns
>with the Mitanni, the COUNTER-clockwise turning (continued, this time
>probably via Rome, to this day in our sport stadiums)  etc. : all by

The odd number of turns is a consequence of the race, which consists of
returning to the starting point after reaching a preset mark. If you
run n laps, you must make 2n+1 turns. I suspect that the racing
practice has to do with how chariots were used in war: the races were
used to demonstrate and hone the skills needed in battle.

I am not sure about the counter-clockwise turn, because I am not sure
why the archer stood to the left of the charioteer (this may be due to
the ease, for right-handed archers, of shooting to the left than to the
right). But the two must be related: One likely way the chariot was used
is to approach the enemy infantry, shoot the arrows and (re)turn out of
the range of enemy javelins and other missiles quickly. In view of
practical requirements of archery, it makes more sense to turn
counterclockwise than the other way.

>> Why should other details related to horses be any different?

>But note that the word for chariot is a specialization of IE *reth2o-
>"wheel", found only in Indo-Iranian (thus c. 2000 BC, see separate
>posting): This time, the Greeks have NOT taken over this term by
>diffusion/osmosis! (And they separated from the IIr.s long before the
>Mature Indus Civ.)

So chariots spread by diffusion after all?

And how does this contradict the idea that chariots spread from the
Near East after 1800 BCE? [In case there is any doubt, I do not
think that Vedic civilization dates to 1800 BCE or earlier. ]

>> Second: David Anthony is certain that Sredny Stog (sp?) culture used
>> bits to control horses, based on evidence of tooth wear from a horse
>> found there.

>One horse, yes, and somewhat problematic with regard to its date: maybe
>3000 rather than 4000 BC), see South Asian Archaeology 13, 1997.

I assume that you mean SAA of 95, published in 1997. I would appreciate
more particulars as I need to get it by ILL.

>>However, Arrian and other Hellenistic sources clearly that
>> the bit was unknown in India at the time of Alexander.

>This is SIMPLY not correct:

If only things were so simple to permit such certainity.

>Arrian's description, (Indike 16)  ALSO includes a pin/peg/bolt :
>obelos (a word next to obeliskos, for bit), in addition to the nose band
>with inside-turned "not too sharp thorn/pins" (kentron), which" force
>the horse to obey" (Arrian).

I know about this bolt (translations usually say spit). But there is a
reason why it is not called a bit.

Horses have a convenient gap in their teeth, between their front and
back teeth. The bit is placed in this gap, just about at the corner of
their mouths. The bit acts by pressure on the mouth. If the bit stays
here, as it is supposed to, there would be no `bit wear'. The bit wear
Anthony reported occurred because the horse moved the bit, and the wear
was in the pre-molars.

On the other hand, the nose band + cheek pieces + bolt acted by
pressure on the nose (braking) and the spikes in the cheek pieces acted
on the lips. The bolt simply provided a connection between the cheek
pieces and did not act by itself.

To judge by the representations, the nose-band in the nose-band + `cheek
piece' + bar was placed rather low. As the studs (the kentron) in the
`cheek pieces' acted on/near the lips, (it would have to: lips are more
sensitive than the area of the head further back), the bolt, which
connected the cheek pieces (its main purpose) must be in that area, a
little ahead of the corners of the mouth. The nose band would prevent
this bolt from moving much, certainly from moving back. So how can it
produce the kind of wear that a displaced bit causes?

Just because there is a bolt in the horse's mouth does not mean that it
acts the way a true bit does. That is why Hellenistic writers said that
bits were unknown in India.

BTW, the nose-band's drawback is that it constricts horse's breathing
in a way that bit does not. So if PIE had true bits, it is still puzzling
why Indians switched to nose-bands.

>One should also take a look at Sanchi/Bharhut where there are many
>sculputures of such horses and chariots!

More about these in my promised post.

>Maybe two different traditions are mixed here. [...]

But bits were completely unknown in India, according to Arrian and
others. Why was it so, if there were two different traditions?

That Iranians had the bit does not prove anything as in the Near East,
the bar and snaffle bits were known 13th c. BCE and Iranians come into
history much latter. Some of them were also subjects of Assyrians. So
presence of bits among Iranians does not prove anything for proto-I-Ir.

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