Medieval warhorses are often depicted as massive and powerful beasts, but in reality many were no more than the size of a pony by modern standards.
Horses during the period were often less than 1.44 meters tall, but size was clearly not everything, as historical records indicate that large sums were spent developing and maintaining nets for the breeding, training and maintenance of horses. horses used in combat.
A team of archaeologists and historians has discovered that these horses were not always bred for their size, but for success in a wide range of different roles, including long-distance raiding campaigns and tournaments.
The researchers analyzed the largest data set of English horse bones dating to between AD 300 and 1650, found at 171 separate archaeological sites.
The study, published in the International Journal of Osteoarcheology, shows that the breeding and training of warhorses were influenced by a combination of biological and cultural factors, as well as behavioral characteristics of the horses themselves, such as temperament.
Depictions of medieval warhorses in movies and popular media frequently show massive mounts on the scale of about 1.72 to 1.82 meters in height. However, evidence suggests that 1.62 and even 1.52 meter horses were very rare in England, even at the height of the royal stallion network during the 13th and 14th centuries, and that animals of this size would have been viewed as very large by medieval people.
Researcher Helene Benkert, from the University of Exeter, said in a statement: “Neither the size nor the robustness of the limb bones alone are sufficient to reliably identify warhorses in the archaeological record. Historical records do not give the specific criteria that defined a warhorse; it is much more likely that throughout the medieval period, at different times, different conformations of horses were desirable in response to changing battlefield tactics and cultural preferences. “
The tallest Norman horse on record was found at Trowbridge Castle, Wiltshire, and is estimated to be about 152 centimeters in height, similar to the size of modern small light riding horses.
The high medieval period (1200-1350 AD) sees the first appearance of horses around 162 centimeters, although it is not until the post-medieval period (1500-1650 AD) that the average height of horses becomes significantly higher, approaching finally to the sizes of modern warmblood and draft horses.
Professor Alan Outram, University of Exeter, said: “The tall medieval destrers (a type of warhorse) may have been relatively large for the time period, but clearly they were still much smaller than we might expect for equivalent functions today. Breeding and selection practices on real stallions may have focused as much on temperament and physical characteristics for warfare as on raw size. “
Professor Oliver Creighton, principal investigator of the project, commented: “The war horse is central to our understanding of medieval English society and culture as a status symbol closely associated with the development of aristocratic identity and as a weapon of war famous for its mobility and impact value, changing the face of battle ”.
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