Early Riders: The Beginnings of Mounted Warfare in Asia and Europe (review)
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Early Riders: The Beginnings of Mounted Warfare in Asia and Europe. By Robert Drews. New York: Routledge, 2004. ISBN 0-415-32624-9. Maps. Illustrations. Notes. Bibliography. Index. Pp. x, 218. $90.00.

Horse riding marked a decisive turning-point in the development of warfare comparable to the invention of firearms, the military use of airplanes, and, finally, nuclear power. Cavalry fought in armed conflicts for over two and a half millennia.

In the Introduction (Chapter 1) of this learned book the author surveys previous research. In Chapter 2, "Horsemeat," on the evidence of horse bones found at prehistoric human settlements, Drews rightly concludes that while in the Eurasian steppe and its neighboring regions horse meat was staple food, it remains unclear whether the horses butchered were wild or domesticated. Domestication must have been achieved early in the third millennium B.C. but, to my mind, research is faced with the problem of how domesticated horse-herds could be controlled by people who had not mastered the art of riding.

Chapter 3, "Speed," deals with the evolution of horsemanship. The earliest evidence for the riding of horses comes from the Near East and dates from around 2000 B.C. Good riding began in the eleventh or tenth century B.C. with the use of bronze-bits. Chapter 4, "Control," focuses on the evolution of various devices, such as saddles and bits, allowing a better control of the horse. In the first millennium evolved the difficult technique of the so-called "Parthian shot" in which, in feigned retreat, the rider shot his arrows backwards. Secure on his mount, he could also suddenly transform himself from archer into hand-to-hand warrior, able to charge with a devastating effect. In Chapter 5, "Plunder"—which in my view is the most interesting [End Page 217] part of this fine book—the author argues that the aim of the mounted steppe-warriors was not territorial conquest but plunder, a view with which I disagree. To cite but western examples, Huns, Avars, and Hungarians did settle in the territories they had conquered. However, I would subscribe to Drews's unorthodox view that the Scythians and Cimmerians were not the migrating nations that, based on classical sources, conventional research makes them out to be. No reference is made to pastures, the size of which determined the cavalry's size and the radius in which it could operate.

The relatively short 6th chapter, "Iranian Empires," deals with the role of cavalry in the Median and Persian empires principally in the sixth century B.C. The concluding Chapter 7, "Hoplites and Horsemen," focuses on the emergence of the heavily armed foot soldiers who, in the author's view, in the fifth century B.C. ended the dominance of riders on ancient battlefields.

This is a short text, a mere 148 pages, followed by 47 impressive pages of supportive notes. The publisher showed much ingenuity in producing a book as user-unfriendly as possible. The font is small, the spacing of the lines too narrow and the presentation of the notes is a nightmare. They are grouped at the end of the book, their numbering begins anew with each chapter, and the running heads give no indication of the pages of the main text. The price of $90.00 is outrageous.

Denis Sinor
Indiana University
Bloomington, Indiana
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