Horse argument 2

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sat May 30 14:34:36 UTC 1998

On Fri, 29 May 1998, Vidhyanath Rao wrote:

(I wrote:)
> >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
> chariots.

Nice political piece in itself!

Language, though, can help: we KNOW about horses, and chariots, and from
which level of the languages involved.
And, who says only IE could handle horses?

Scholars, however, will rely on the evidence. The moment the first really
old chariot is produced from Sumeria or depicted there, nobody will
object.  Until then, earliest evidence in arch. *and* language counts.

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

> Diffusion from the Near East westward quite plausible.

The point is not just racing, but the whole IE horse complex (below)
(we had some discussion on that).

> 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.

But thevery word for "horse", horse driving, horse mythology, horse
rituals go *together* in IE cultures.... Diffusion from a post-common IE
center does not work here.

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

We cannot know perfectly. Greek has other terms for chariots (harma,
cf.harmos 'joint', Latin arma 'gear, weapons', O.Slavic jar-bm-b 'yoke').
As do the Romans with : currus.

**Linguistically,** then, one cannot reconstruct an IE chariot, from
*roth-o- (ratha), nor from *kwe-kwl-o- (cakra). One would need a
correspondence across more IE languages.

[though: Skt. ratha, Lith. ra~tai (plural) 'vehicle', Gallic Celtic
petor-ritum '4 wheeled wagon']

[And, though, all probably secondarily, cf. mod.Engl. "my wheels = car":
Phryg. kileen 'Wain/Great Wagon/Ursa Maiior', Tocharian kuka"l, kokale

However, this is nothing unusual. We cannot, I think, reconstruct the
IE small finger. That does not mean that IEs had only 4 fingers... (and, I
think, there is a Proto-Drav. peacock feather, but .... no peacock)

But, unfortunately, we have Homer's "Indian style" description of the
race. If you then invoke the Hittites as transmitters, we are stuck with
Kikkuli, the *Indo-Aryan*-inspired Mitanni.

> >the uneven number of turns
> >with the Mitanni, the COUNTER-clockwise turning .... : all by
> >diffusion?

> 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.

The turn (vartana) is around the pole at the end of the track. Where one
crashes (you will have seen Ben Hur some time), a very much loved topic in
Zoroaster's, Indian and Greek texts. --

Yes, but there also is 1 turn only: Thus, 1 turn: up to the post and back;
2 turns = 2x the same; 3 turns = 3x etc. Only the turn around the post at
the "end" of the track is counted. But only *odd* numbers are used. Why?

Well, the Greek one is at a funeral, like anything unauspicious, always
connected with uneven numbers and anti-clockwise movement. If my memory
serves me right, the Vedic ritual also has the other type of turn. Not
too clear in Sparreboom's book.- Including one where you just drive up to
the pole and then stop.  These are ritualistic "races", though. And there
is solstice symbolism.

> 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. ]

No one knows the exact dates. The Indus situation allows immigration after
c. 1900 BC., though (theorectically, but unlikely in larger
numbers, even earlier). And the BMAC (1900-1700) reflects the same type of
IA culture, mixed with pre-BMAC sedentary cultures. Immigration should be
older in India than c. 1400 though (see other, Sarasvati discussion and
the drying up of the river). The IIr *ratha points to a time BEFORE 1800
BC, and we find [various types of] chariots E. and W.of the Urals then.

> see South Asian Archaeology 13, 1997.
> I assume that you mean SAA of 95, published in 1997. I would appreciate

Sorry, should have been South Asian Studies, 13, 1997, Oxford: Society
for South Asian Studies.

> >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.

But you did not mention it, masking the evidence. We need all if it.
That's why I checked this passage again, remembering the 'spit' or

Actually the text reads:

"They have noseband .. with spikes...  In their mouth, the horses carry an
iron (piece) like a bolt/peg/spit where the reins are fastened. When they
draw in the reins, the bolt forces the horse (to obey) and the spikes
pierce it and do not allow (the horse) anything but to obey the reins."

The rest may be as you say, ... or not. The text is too short to
tell with certainty. The only thing we can say is that the Greeks were
somewhat astonished about the noseband & spikes. And they used a slightly
different word for the spit/bit (see above) than normally.

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

Arrian? Where? In the quoted passage, he onlys says that they have a
management different from the Greek + Celtic one. (Indike 16).

> That Iranians had the bit does not prove anything as in the Near East,..

> presence of bits among Iranians does not prove anything for proto-I-Ir

No, we are only talking about 300 BC here. (Arrian). Of course, there was
close contact between Iran and the Panjab/Sindh ever since the RV, see
parallel Iran/India discussion (G.Thompson's reply) in this list;
(and, of course, for pre-IA cultures as well, thousands of years before).

Michael Witzel                       witzel at

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