Egyptian Riders on Horseback in Ancient Egypt Continued

An Ancient Battle-Axe Depicting a Rider on Horseback

Scenes of war in ancient Egypt reveal a few Egyptian riders, as show on the previous page. A ceremonial battle axe aludes to war by its nature as a weapon. Its ornamentation features a bareback rider on a fully stretched out galloping horse, tail and head carried high. The background of the scene is cut out of the bronze blade.

Full length drawing of an ancient Egyptian battle axe of the 18th Dynasty with mounted horse openwork design
Drawing of an ancient Egyptian ceremonial battle axe head with mounted horse cutout design-- 18th Dynasty
ceremonial battle-axe drawn by Wilkinson, now in the British Museum #36766 - and colored drawing below
Drawing of an ancient Egyptian ceremonial battle axe head with mounted horse cutout design-- 18th Dynasty

Wilkinson noted, "though Egyptian horseman are rarely found on any monuments, they are too frequently and positively noticed in sacred and profane history to allow us to question their employment; and an ancient battle-axe represents a mounted soldier on its blade." (John Gardiner Wilkinson The Ancient Egyptians — Their Life and Customs 1853)

A color closeup photo of the axe in Ancient Egypt Eyewitness Books by George Hart 1990 reveals that the axe handle is cracked. The blade's condition further suggests it was actually used. The bell shaped item on the right may represent a lotus. Here the horse's incised mane falls on its neck, unlike the typical roached upright mane seen on monuments. Even though the right hind leg is raised, the photo does not suggest this is a stallion—perhaps it would be obvious looking at the actual axe. The rider appears to hold a loop of rein with his left hand close to the neck while his right hand pulls back the other rein.

Statuette of an Egyptian Riding a Black Mare

mounted black mare wooden figure sketched after a photo in 'The Scepter of Egypt' by Wm. C. Hayes 1953 Met. Museum
[sketch after Wm. C. Hayes photo in The Scepter of Egypt 1953]
Mounted black mare wooden figurine
Color collotype by Max Jaffé postcard The Metropolitan Museum of Art]

A twelve inch high wooden figure of an Egyptian upon a black mare is the only rider sculpture in the round I have found. Wm. C. Hayes and James Breasted photographed opposite sides of the statue.

Breasted must conclude that this rider is a groom, evidenced by the statuette's inclusion in Egyptian Servant Statues. Hayes suggests, rather, that the rider "may be a soldier availing himself of a ride." Breasted attributes this piece to the Amarna or post-Amarna period.

Nobody is sure what the peculiar white stripe markings represent. A color collotype by Max Jaffé suggests the body's white sections are plaster joints from piecing together fragments, although the head markings look painted on the intact surface. Breasted notes that Winlock has found chalk painting on camels and donkeys in Egypt in the common era. Shaved body markings are another possibility. Nobody has suggested she's a zebra mare.

Horemheb's Rider

horse and rider low relief from Horemheb's tomb from Maspero
horse and rider low relief from Horemheb's tomb

Maspero published an illustration of the most frequently cited horseback rider in ancient Egypt, even though it now resides in Bologna, in Life in Ancient Egypt and Assyria in 1902. Maspero's image was drawn by Faucher-Gudin, from a photo taken by Flinders Petrie. The bas-relief came from the Memphite tomb initially built by Haremheb when he was Tutankhamen's general. A horseback rider gallops between workers and soldiers.

The rider wears a brief bottom garment (a kilt?) and a wig. He holds the right rein and a whip, baton, or something high in his right hand, and the left rein way back in his left hand. The horse wears only the bridle and reins. What an odd gait the horse employs compared to typical Egyptian monuments, neither prancing nor leaping in the stylized gallop of battle scenes. He barely touches the ground with only one foreleg somewhat as a horse actually does during one phase of a gallop. Ancient Egyptian artists observed detail keenly but had no motion picture still frames of galloping horses to study.

The rider's awkward seat towards the rump has prompted diverse speculation by writers, especially assumptions that Egyptians were novices at horseback riding. Maspero thought this scene was a person learning to ride. The horse's gait does invite speculation: is he a chariot horse unaccustomed to a rider, a fractious colt, or an indignant respondant to poor horsemanship? Perhaps the horse is wary of the activity to its rear. Behind the horse in the scene beyone this excerpt a group of workmen carry a huge beam over their shoulders right at the horse's eye level. The horse's flagged tail suggests a state of alert. If his second front leg were on the ground I'd think he was kicking at the crew following too closely at his heels with the huge beam.

I assume that this rider's seat is an instance of artistic constraints which challenged each artist to represent all the tack so as not to cut across the person's image. Adjusting the rider farther back on the horse provides space to illustrate the various equipment used between the high carried neck and the rider. I.E.S. Edwards notes that Tutankhamun's artists (Treasures of Tutankhamun 1976 Metropolitan Museum of Art) solved the problem differently on each of three pieces depicting the king drawing his bow. In similar manner, rather than hide the whip behind the horse's neck, Horemheb's artist chose to picture it above the left rein. He still had to compromise and allow the left rein to cut across the rider's body. Such are the constraints of reducing a three dimensional world to two dimensions on stone.

end marker - horse from Horemheb's tomb

[v.1-3] Egyptian Riders [1 | 2 | previous]

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