Horse argument I

Michael Witzel witzel at FAS.HARVARD.EDU
Sat May 30 10:23:47 EDT 1998

Maybe deja vu,

yet, I was not trying to rehash the old discussion or to develop a
treatise on horse riding / charioteering here. But responding, if memory
serves, to some specific points. From a slightly different angle,
involving also linguistic data *independent* from archaeology.

Thus, a few points: (I see, due to retaining the purva- and
uttarapaksa,  this again becomes too long, I divide it into 2 parts)

On Fri, 29 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
> well?

I think I said precisely that. Late Common Eastern IE or rather
Indo-Iranian has developed the word *ratha (Skt. ratha, Old Iranian ratha
with Engl type -th) from IE *rot-h2-o < *rot-e2h "wheel" as in Latin rota
'wheel, disk', Lithuanian ra~tas 'Rad', German Rad 'wheel'. This indicates
innovation based on technological innovation.  At the same time we find
remnants of chariots in S.Russia/Urals.

(if imported from the Near East you would use the Near Eastern
term,like gilgul 'wheel': see below).

(more about IE chariots below)

Relative archaism (IIr age) is also seen in the archaic compound Ved.
rathe-SThA, Avest. rathaE-s`'tA, rathOi-s`'tA.

By contrast, the IE word for 'horse' may belong to Late Common IE (but not
to early Proto-IE) if we take the innovative -o stem in *h1ekwo-
seriously. Whatever the (IE) etymology may be.

Consequences to be drawn from that:

either new formation due to need for characterization : "quick" *h1Okwu'-
(for example as ridden/driven horse, also in contest : other animals are
quick as well...),

or it may indicate a newly introduced animal. Only possible if the early
speakers of IE had no contact with horses before (for ex. in
Gramkrelidze's etc Anatolian homeland),-- there is no word to distinguish
wild horses from domesticated ones-- or if another word for horse has been
supplanted by H1ekwo- completely across all IE languages: unlikely.

> 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

Maybe, I myself said that it is archaic due to narrow width: developed
from ox wagon. At this stage/locality maybe just status symbok in
processins, who knows?  The future wil tell.

> >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.

Unfortunately she is not an Indo-Europeanist but a well known Russian
archaeologist, and, AT THAT, horse woman herself. Not an ivory tower
woman. (Neither do I belong to that tower myself, nor Sparreboom who has
driven chariots a lot, *before* and after his thesis).

> 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
> East?

Simply, because the Hittites *imported* a Mitanni man, Kikkuli, to teach
them [better methods]. One does not import and employ people whom one does
not need.
(the exact interpretation of his 'training manual' is still under
discussion. People have studied its methods closely by comparing REAL
horses. Have to look up the names).

> >[...] but note how carefully Littauer & Crouwell phrase their
> >statement about a Near Eastern origin of the chariot:.....

> I fail to see that. To me it looks like a rhetorical question.

We should ask them! They don't say it outright (and do not have *clear*
evidence in their paper) for what you allege.

If my memory does not fail, I gave a *possible* scenario for the dev .of
the chariot in the steppes (plus literature).

The ultimate instigation for wheeled vehicles *may* have come from
Mesopotamia if IE "wheel" is indeed from Sumerian (or a 3rd unknown
source):  IE *kwe-kwl-o- > ved.  cakra-, Avest. caxra-, Greek kuklo-,
Engl.  wheel, etc. (EWA I 521) ::  Sumer. gigir / gil-gul, semit.

The details, except for a few early steppe finds and a few early art
representations in the Near East -- by no means always clear as to horses
or hemiones -- largely escape us so far. All conclusions are provisional
and based on present state of archaeology (and linguistics). The future
will tell. But I confidently predict more early chariots in Russia.

More to follow.

Michael Witzel                                   witzel at

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