From Glory to Menial: The Multifaceted Use of Horses in War 1701-1918




Varga, Andrea

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The history of mankind has been carried on the back of horses. On March 3, 2023, a study published in the journal Science Advances shed new light on the relationship between man and horse. The study explains that "five Yamnaya individuals well-dated to 3021 to 2501 calibrated BCE from kurgans in Romania, Bulgaria, and Hungary" showcased patterns of wear on their bones, suggesting regular horse riding. These five individuals have set the marker for the oldest examples of horsemen. These people who inhabit this land have deep-rooted ties with equines, often being called "the first nomads of the world." These nomads would not only use their horses for daily transport but relied on them as warhorses. The horses and their riders became feared on the battlefield using rudimentary forms of cavalry. Particularly, the country of Hungary has been extensively studied. In 896 A.D., the kingdom of the Magyars was formed by seven tribes galloping onto the plain of the Danube. In 924 A.D., Madena, an anonymous poet, wrote a song (O tu qui servas armis ista moenia) as the walls of Madena were being augmented in preparation for the attack of the Magyars. The poet writes, "Nunc te rogamus, licet servi pessimi, / Ab Ungerorum nos defendas jaculis" (Now we ask you, even though we are the worst of servants, / to protect us from the arrows of the Hungarians). The culture of horsemen continued to grow each century, being mentioned continuously by the European cultures. The men continued their ancient practice of proper horsemanship, caring for their horses at home and on the battlefield. In return, the horses continually carried the country through the evolutions of warfare. In the fifteenth century, the famed Hungarian huszár cavalry was well established. The huszár technique of cavalry rose from antiquity and spread throughout the entirety of Europe, crossing the world and becoming implemented in the United States of America. To this day, the Hungarian people maintain their cultural ties to the horses to which they owe their country. There are many people who continue the ancient practice of the Hungarian equivalent of cowboys, called "csikós." This thesis will focus on the eighteenth century through World War I, tracing the ways in which the warhorse, once thought to be a glorious instrument of warfare, became an outmoded menial weapon of war with each passing century. Each chapter will focus on a specific element that significantly impacted the evolution of equine warfare. A deeper examination of the cultural aspect in Chapter One, the multifaceted use of the animals explored in Chapter Two, and the progressive mechanization seen in Chapter Three reveals that, eventually, these contributing factors led to a drastic change in the ways horses could serve on the battlefield.



War, Menial, Horsemanship, Hungarians