P. Edronkin

The Origins Of Equestrian Competitions



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In the ancient world common people had very little time and resources to entertain themselves. They had to work intensively, being those agricultural societies requiring a lot of daily labour, and they didn't have the money required to purchase the expensive gadgets that primitive technology began to produce. And among those items, the light chariot reigns as the supreme achievement of ancient technology, because it really changed the paradigm under which people lived, worked and made war, for it meant the incorporation of the domesticated horse as a practical beast-machine.

Horses and chariots were very expensive then; only the nobles and the kings could afford them, and having such machines was in fact, one of their prerogatives. The origin of the chariot with spoked wheels seems to come from the Accadians, and there are seals showing primitive spoked wheels from Tepe Izar, in modern-day Iran, originated as early as the year 2.000 B.C.; these wheels are in use in modern-day chariots and carts, and even bikes. Back then, they were as expensive and complex as jet turbines, so only a few could afford them.

It is known that the Vedic or Aryian culture from India, around the year 1.500 B.C. also had chariots, being the fact that the technology was passed unto them in the preceding centuries from the Middle East advanced civilisations. Among the Vedian kings and aristocrats, it seems that the sport of ritual or religious chariotry began: they organised races, and it seems that wagering or betting soon accompanied those rituals. Plus, ancient kings in the Middle East and China, used chariots as prestige and hunting vehicles, at least until the era of king Shalmaneser III of Assyria, who lived around the year 830 B.C. Then, it seems, the single horse began replacing the chariot as the status symbol of chieftains, kings and military heroes.

Nevertheless, during the many centuries in which chariotry was even more prestigious as cavalry, all sort of tournaments, races and rituals emerged, but there were very practical reasons for that, and not just entertainment.

Adopting the chariot technology was a major issue: chariots were complex systems - not just a simple transportation conveyance vehicle - requiring lots of money and resources. Their military, propagandistic as well as sporting uses required a lot of highly-skilled people, from horse trainers to iron workers, carpenters and so on; construction materials and spares had often to be imported, and handling of these chariots required extreme care and indeed, trained crews.

Very soon, armies saw their potential as fighting vehicles and assimilated them into their forces. Normally, a combat chariot carried two or three crewmembers. They were all trained to work as teams, belonged to the aristocracy and we can say that they were the first members of any sort of special forces in this world. In all aspects, they were members of an elite.

Since driving a chariot and fighting was not easy, these men had to train as often as they could; so it was a natural solution to adopt competition as a means to achieve that and in some ways, finance the whole enterprise.

And to give you an idea of how expensive these chariots were, we can just mention that the Hittite order of battle prescribed one chariot per a hundred infantrymen. So, a really great army of ten thousand soldiers would sport only about a hundred chariots, making it evident that military chiefs did not use them in all-out frontal assaults like movies pretend to make us believe, because infantry was much cheaper and abundant. It its obvious that chariots were used only for very special missions.




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