A new study of ancient hippology by Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell
Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns,2011,
143 pp., $39.50 (hardcover)
Horses played a major role in ancient economics, warfare and daily life, yet until recently, our understanding of the history of horses in ancient Israel was incomplete. Deborah O’Daniel Cantrell’s new book The Horsemen of Israel: Horses and Chariotry in Monarchic Israel (Ninth-Eighth Centuries B.C.E.) addresses the matter, combining Biblical studies, hippology (the study of horses) and archaeology to reveal the importance of horses during the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. Reviewer and Biblical scholar Ziony Zevit praises this history of horses as more than a presentation of new material; he enthusiastically describes it as a “page-turner” that he read over a single weekend.
Zevit commends Cantrell’s approach, noting that her varied backgrounds in hippology and law lead to clearly focused questions and interpretations resting on a solid base of practical knowledge. Horses first appear in the Biblical narrative during Solomon’s reign, and there are increased attestations of their military use during the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah. While scholars have often overlooked contemporary Israelite horsemanship, Cantrell’s evidence clearly establishes the prominence and history of horses in this period. Assyrian inscriptions and the Tel Dan stela mention thousands of horses used for Israelite chariotry, and Cantrell complements this evidence with lesser known historical narratives of their capture and purchase.The book delves into archaeological evidence of the history of horses to supplement what Zevit describes as “sophisticated inferences from Biblical as well as ancient Near Eastern texts.” Excavations at Megiddo reveal a major equine complex with stables, troughs, exercise areas and other prominent features, and Cantrell employs her background in hippology to identify subtle evidence of equestrian habits such as crib-biting and pawing. She combines geography and hippology on a broader scale to show that the topography of Israel would be well-suited to a large-scale chariotry division, and uses hippology on a more theoretical level to examine warhorse psychology and training when discussing their military significance.
Cantrell’s book focuses on chariotry during the divided kingdom of Israel and Judah in the ninth and eighth centuries B.C.E., after which time thinner breeds of horses were introduced and mounted riders started to replace chariots. Readers should be aware that the author’s initial background is in hippology rather than archaeology, and the book prioritizes the usage and history of horses over specific debates on chronology. The divided kingdom of Israel and Judah takes center stage in the military history portion of the Hebrew Bible, and Cantrell’s history of horses redefines our understanding of the Biblical battlefield.
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