Chapter 11. Reflections on Equestrian Sport in the Ancient Egyptian Pharaohs’ Period


Osman İmamoğlu
Ondokuz Mayıs University, Yaşar Doğu Faculty of Sports Sciences, Turkey

Part of the book: Applications of Traditional Equestrian Sports in the World


In this study, the origin, development, and reflections of equestrian sport on other societies were investigated during the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs. The Pharaohs’ period in ancient Egypt was between 3100-300 BC. In ancient Egypt, horse riding was a means of showing the power of the kings, especially during the Pharaohs, as well as for various uses. Egyptian people had horse races among young people. Equestrian events include chariot racing along with riding. Chariot racing can be done with either four horses or two horses. The race with a two-horse chariot consists of a total distance of 14,500 meters. Riding can be done with foals (Young horses) or full-grown horses. The race distance riding is 7250 meters. Training for riding could only be afforded by wealthy people due to the expensive cost of training and the money it takes to feed the trainer, rider, and horse. The owner received the victory wreath if his horse and rider won because the owner is the one who meets for all of the expenses for the race to occur. The Egyptians, however, trained that noble animal for riding purposes. We can say that the magnificent development of the ancient Egyptian civilization is reflected in the culture and technology of equestrian sports. From the beginning of the Pharaonic period (3100 BC), horses in Egypt were used in horse riding, wars, and demonstration activities, unlike the donkeys used in agricultural work. Generally, they were used to pull chariots instead of riding all the time (Totamir, 2021, İmamoğlu et al., 2018). In ancient Egypt, besides the wars with horses and chariots, hunting was a common occupation. It is thought that all hunting scenes, especially the scenes depicted behind the scenes of war, actually took place (El-Gammal, 2008; Hamed, 2015). The ancient Egyptian documentary was found to include extensive descriptions of the bravery of the kings and their army officers and their skill in using horses and chariots in several battles. Riding never played a big role in the old Orient. Maybe, horseback riding wasn’t an ancient Egyptian pastime. When the kings are shown with their horses; they are decided in the riding scenes of the horse carriage (El- Habashı, 1992; Hamed, 2015). Equestrian activities were moved from the world of wars and war vehicles to the world of sports and hunting during the Pharaonic era in Ancient Egypt. Ancient Egyptians started horse racing among the youth (https://www.ootlah; Koca and İmamoğlu, 2018). In ancient Egypt, the kingdom of Kush in Sudan was famous for its horses, perhaps in the Upper Nubia regions. The royal interest in horses is specifically mentioned in King Piy’s Victorious Stela. In the New Kingdom, horses were for military use, as well as for the elite and ruling class a status symbol. The drawings engraved on many Egyptian antiquities recall that the ancient Egyptians considered equestrian sports as significant and took care of the riders and their horses based on the importance of knights in armies. Equestrianism became one of the sports that required practice and skill. Various equestrian competitions were held as shown on the walls of the Temple or Shrine of Ramses II, including the chase of prey on horseback, long-distance races, and fencing (El-Shereef, 2020). For the normal Egyptian, naturally participating in sporting competitions was not forbidden. The available sources show a lot of documents demonstrating wrestling, stick-fencing, boxing, and jousting, as well as running and rowing. While the pharaoh was not directly involved among the participating athletes, he often was present (Decker, 2017). The question of which clan or society domesticated the horse still has not been clarified by Hoplology, anthropology, archeology, and cultural-historical scientists. Although recent studies on this subject highlight the Turkish-Mongolian peoples, some studies offer an antithesis to this. In addition, the history of the development of the equestrian sport is confirmed by many valuable finds during excavations with skeletons of ancient horses, held in the Akmola area near the Botai station. Researchers of these excavations attribute the existence of these tombs to the 4th (3700-3100) millennium BC. After these excavations, the civilization here was called “Botai culture.” The peculiarity of the Botai culture is that the excavations are unique sources of information about the domestication of wild horses in the Kazakh steppes and the use of wild horses by the Kazakh ancestors (Turkmen, 2021 a,b,c). In this study, the origin, development, and reflections of equestrian sport on other societies were investigated during the ancient Egyptian Pharaohs.

Keywords: Pharaohs’ period, horse, carriage, riding


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