chariots (was: AIT, NEW genetic evidence)

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Mon Mar 6 16:28:13 UTC 2000

Reverting, after the 'animated' discussion of the past week, to a more
academic topic that has languished in my machine :

Part of the present thread (some messages by  Rajarshi Banerjee, of  Tue,
29 Feb 2000 on chariots etc.)  unfortunately  have been armchair sociology
& history.
In spite of  Swaminathan Madhuresan <smadhuresan at YAHOO.COM>  Feb 28/29)
pointing to detailed investigations (plus, incidentally,  Sparreboom
actually learned how to drive *real* horse carts with teams, for this
>SM>  Texts speak of chariots in India. Sparreboom, Chariots in the Veda.

R. Banerjee    Tue, 29 Feb 2000 22:21:51 -0500:
>Judging by archeological traces left chariotry was not very prevalant.
>Whta does the picture in the aticle look like is it based on any real
>chariots of India?  The "ratha yatra" chariot is hardly functional......

As I said recently,  yaatra rathas and popular depictions of "ancient
chariots" are fanciful. -- Wood is not well preserved in a monsoon climate.
One has to look at Old Persian sculptures, the Oxus treasure, actually
preserved Old Near Eastern and Chinese chariots, and one has to compare
them with the slightly later Sanchi & Barhut sculptures (as shown in
Sparreboom).  One of them is on the cover of our Bronkhorst/Deshpande
"Aryan/Non_Aryan" volume (HOS-OM 3).

>In the vedas chariots are at least part of the imagination maybe inspired by
>the knowledge of grand chariot armies in the west.

Where is such knowledge? Do you have access to some unknown Vedic texts?

> After all the name dasharatha appears in mitanni texts. Is the word ratha
>present in avestan?

There are many names in -ratta,  IA loans in the Hurrite language of the
Mitanni (tush-, abi- etc.),  = Ved. ratha/Iran. ra0a  (0=  Engl. th, thorn)
`chariot`, Ved. ratheSTha : Avestan ra0aEStaa- 'standing on a chariot=
charioteer`, Ved. rathin, Avestan rai0ii 'charioteer'. All these are
attested in the oldest texts. And the *old* compound rathe-STha-/ra0aESta-
points to a common Indian (Vedic) & Iranian heritage.
The date of the invention of the horse-drawn  chariot ratha/Ir. ra0a
`chariot`` is indicated by the fact  that the word it  is not shared by W.
Indo-European.:   Lat. rota, Germ. Rad `wheel`;
the specialized meaning ``chariot`` is restricted to IIr. -- Similarly, for

>The ashvamedha could imply ritual warfare with minimal bloodshed. Maybe
>there werent too many horses to go around.

Well, the RV mentions, e.g., a thousand horses 9.78.2,  or hundreds and
thousands of horses as gift  at 6.63.10,  thousand cows and horses  at
1.29.1 ---  RV  8.46.29 has 60,000 horses, the same at 8.26.21:  60,000
horses, 2000 camels, 1000 mares.... in a daanastuti.
Even taking into account the usual predilection of poets for hyperbole
(Indira-zatakam of 1977 CE !!), LOTS  horses are quite apparent here.

The Asvamedha is something entirely different... ONE horse is to be
offered. The rest is a show of strength indeed (400 young noblemen/warriors
following the horse); it can tell us nothing about the number of horses

>It would make sense in a rural setting which does not amass huge organized

Well, the RV, again,  has large numbers of men killed in battle: At 7.18.14
with 6066 killed, at 1.53.9  with 60,099 killed (There is a recent paper on
such numbers which I have to re-read).

>and yet allows for some
>form of political reorganization on a larger scale...
> R Banerjee

obviously, see  Electronic Journal of Vedic Studies, vol. 1, 4, Dec. 1995,

I suggest the reading of some texts and the occasional monograph before
speculating and extrapolating on this list...
Michael Witzel
Department of Sanskrit & Indian Studies, Harvard University
2 Divinity Avenue, Cambridge MA 02138

ph. 617-496 2990 (also messages)
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