Egyptian Scouts on Horseback in Ancient Egypt

Luxor Temple Horses in the Battle of Kadesh

The north pylon at Luxor Temple
The Luxor Temple pylon from the west entrance.

The scenes on the first pylon of the Luxor Temple tell Ramses II's self-agrandizing Battle of Kadesh victory. These worn shallow images may disappoint the seeker of the ancient Egyptian horse. They certainly defy photography within their shadowed northern wall. Yet they must have inspired awe in pharonic times commanding an immense gayly painted billboard flanked by a pair of obelisks and four colossal Ramses statues.

Ramses draws his bow in his chariot on Luxor Temple pylon
The faint remains of Ramses II and his horses high up on the Luxor Temple pylon

Along the western walls outside the courts and colonnade, however, some 600 feet of inscribed reliefs present lifesized and colossal leaping horses retelling the battle. Despite their worn and fragmented state their ancient prototype resembling the Egyptian Arabian horse of today should delight any horseman.

Luxor Temple Mounted Horse

Only about a quarter remains of the walls outside the colonnade of Amenhotep III so that you can peek over the wall to a mosque, a modern Luxor apartment building or an occasional palm tree between the columns. In some spots excavations to the base of the wall left a dry moat. Standing on its bank at the level of the Roman fort remains at your back yields a nearly eye level view of some of the carvings, a perspective seldom seen on immense temple walls. From that vantage south on the walls I found a rider on horseback to add to the series of musings about Egyptian horseback riders [v.1-3].

Luxor Temple scout on horseback
a messenger on horseback at Luxor Temple [links to larger version]

This rider plays his part of the formulaic scene where the Egyptian troops rush to reinforce Ramses II who has been single handedly battling the Hittites, or so he claims. The Egyptian scout on horseback closely follows a two-manned chariot which appears to blaze right into the oncoming Ptah Corps. The mounted scout's horse moves in a collected gait compared to the leaping chariot horses in front of it and the chariotry corps to their right which advances towards them at full leaping gallop. Those horses will be the focus of other articles.

The messenger appears to be mounted sidesaddle style on the horse's bare back since both legs clearly fall on the right side of the horse. But notice the rest of the details. The artist carefully depicted the triangular bow in the scout's left hand so that it barely intersects the horse's neck. The raised right hand carries an arrow (perhaps). Notice how the artist depicts both hands clear of the body. The only item allowed to cut across the rider's body looks like it might be the reins tied around his waist. Over the scout's shoulder a quiver hangs behind his back, obstructing nothing. Since this artist has taken such care to represent all the equipment free of the rider's body, he must have drawn the legs with the same constraint—in order to present the body whole. Even considering the rider as actually astride the horse, he is an excellent horseman to manage weapons in each hand, an arrow case over his back, and reins anchored around his waist. The rider's seat behind center of balance as we know it from dressage may express artistic convention more than actual position. The rider's seat compares to the rider from Horemheb's tomb.

The ancient artist's literal representations answer to a higher order of visuals which honor significant body characteristics above photographic reality. That's why we typically see the shoulders in full frontal view yet the hips and legs are in full or three-quarters profile.

The horse is an artistic masterpiece. Its perfect Arabian type boasts a short back, level croup and high set neck and tail arched in animation. The fine boned head with small prick ears suggests a stallion, but the damage to the wall denies confirmation of the animal's sex. Chariot horses are always stallions on these scenes, but the few mounted horses in artifacts may be either mares or stallions. Bedouins in modern history preferred to ride mares on raids because they were less likely to call out than stallions. Ancient messengers might likewise have ridden mares for their more silent approach.

Abu Simbel Scout on Horseback

[v.1-5] Messenger Riders [1 | 2 | Continued]

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