Horse Breeding in Armenia

Horse Breeding in ArmeniaArmenia has been a renowned land of horse breeding from times immemorial. In fact, the Armenians have been one of the first to develop the chariot. Iron Age frescos scattered throughout the Armenian Highlands testify to the richness of the horse-breeding practice in ancient Armenia.

According to Strabo, ancient Persians had even collected Armenian horses as taxes to enforce their armies and the royal guard. Ancient Armenian cavalry was exceptionally highly valued as well.

Interestingly, Armenians traditionally consider themselves the descendants of the biblical Torgom (Togarmah): in the Bible (Ezekiel 27:14), the House of Togarmah is mentioned to trade horses.

Armenian horsemaster bringing tribute to Darius I of Persia, Behistun Inscription (515 BC.)

“What they say about Armenia bewilders us. How could this mountain people develop such a cavalry that was able to measure itself against the horsemen of the Medes?

One thing which is certain is the fact that Armenia …was a source of excellent well-bred horses. The people in this country had discovered that horses were not just an economic asset, but could also be used for military purposes,” wrote V. Chapot.

Beverley Davis in his “Timeline of the Development of the Horse” (2007) described the chronology of horse domestication in Armenia as follows.

3000 BC

– Petroglyphs found in Armenia (one of the possible sites for the Indo-European homeland) show the oldest pictures of men driving chariots, wagons, and plows, with horses doing the pulling.

2000 BC

– Primitive wagons dating from this time have been found in excellent condition in Armenia. These are the oldest known wagons in the world.

1074 BC

– Tiglath-Pileser I becomes the first great king of the Assyrian Empire. The need for horses drives him into the lands of the Indo-Iranian horse peoples and Armenia.

bronze work: ancient Armenian horse head (7thc. BC.)

36 BC

– Marc Antony takes a 10,000-horse cavalry, most of the animals coming from Spain, to Syria in his war against Parthia. He loses the war and ravages Armenia, returning to Egypt with Armenia’s king and the first large number of Nisean horses in the Roman Empire. Augustus Caesar ends up with them after defeating Antony.

111–114 AD

– Armenia, the breeding ground for the Nisean horse, is annexed by Rome.

396 AD

– The Huns raid Armenia, looking for horses and riches.

Archaeological discoveries made in Armenia over the recent years allow scientists to push these dates even further back. In particular, the discoveries of Shengavit and the village of Nor Naver (4000 – 3000 BC) in Armenia truly surprised the archaeologists. Director of the Scientific and Research Institute of Historical and Cultural Heritage Hakob Simonyan said: “… the amount of revealed horse bones in the territory has exceeded all expectations of the researchers.” Seven excavated tombs held bones and depictions of horses, attesting to the intensive breeding of horses. Regarding this, German paleozoologist Hans Peter Wertman asserted that he hadn’t observed so many horses in the entire Ancient East.

Archaeological excavations further provide evidence that the Armenians were among the first to become engaged in horse breeding for combat purposes. Hakob Simonyan also said that Armenians are among the earliest nations to domesticate horses. It is also known that they have created several breeds of horses.

During the Middle Ages, Armenians carried on the ancient tradition of horse mastery. With the invention of the Armenian alphabet in the 5th century, Armenian authors also produced stunning scientific writings, most of which didn’t make it to our days, unfortunately. The oldest known work about Armenian horse medicine was written in the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia in 1295 – 1298. It consists of 184 handwritten pages. This manuscript explains the creation of the horse, describes the good and bad features of horses, horse care, breaking in and riding, breeding, the breeds known at the time, as well as horse illnesses, symptoms, and treatments.

This Armenian compendium was for the first time translated into German in 2005. It is Armenia’s oldest preserved veterinary medical work, offering in-depth 13th-century knowledge about horses.

by  sources:

Page from a medieval Armenian horse manual (13th century)
Found near Lake Sevan, Armenia Ancient wheel barrel. 2500 BCE

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