Thursday, 3 June 2010

Chariot Archery

As i am mucking about with some mad toxophilists from Exeter University, teaching them and Obama the joys of shooting bow and arrow from chariots, I thought I would put back up my original article on chariot history. This was written back in 2005 or 6 but the basic facts haven't changed much. The Fellrazor referred to was brilliant fun, but mildy unstable, and mutated into Bigfoot but the bigger wheels never impressed any of the animals I drove, so I switched them onto the various threewheelers whcih mutated gradually into 3Mobile.
3Mobile is insanely stable as long as you are going fast, but at low speeds it handles like a, I was going to say pig, but Phillip would take offence, so I will just say that low speed manoeverability is not its strong point, but I am rebuilding it next week to sort that out.
 So enoough of modern history, here is chariot history.

Before we look at chariots, let's look at man's relationship with horses. For the first 50,000 years of man's enduring relationship with horses, he ate them.  For this reason, traditional dress for equestrian activities ought to be dinner jackets. From 3,000BC to 600BC the horse pulled chariots and held the land speed record. From 600BC to approx 1830 AD the horse and rider held the land speed record. The horse is about speed or food, ie the original fast food.
The chariot exists because the horse as we know it, didn't. The horse of the early charioteers, approx 3,000BC was the onager or wild ass. When Equus caballus appeared is still debated, but it is clear that either the horse used by Sumerian charioteers was small and weedy by modern standards or, 4,500 years of man selectively breeding horses has failed to improve the breed at all. Take your pick.
I quote the "historian's approach" according to the International Museum of the Horse website.
"The fact that the early horse was a relatively small animal, probably not exceeding 12 hands in height, has long been put forth as a reason for the late development of horseback riding in the Near East. Even today, however, horses of this size are used as effective mounts, leading one to question the logic of this assumption. The reason for man's preference for driving over horseback riding in the Near East still remains somewhat of a mystery. In one early letter to King Zimri-Lim (1782-1759 BC) of the city of Mari, it was advised that the preservation of his dignity required that he should ride in a chariot, or even on a mule, but not on horseback. Could it have been, as suggested by noted horse historian Mary Littauer, that horse sweat was considered so repugnant that horseback riding was shunned by the elite?"
This nonsense is considered to be history. He "should ride in a chariot or even ON a mule" If horse sweat is so repugnant, how did they cope with the sweat of an animal that was known to be half horse. One dubious letter and a fatuous theory to explain why chariots were used in preference to riding. It is simple. Chariots, not carriages, chariots, allow small ponies that can't carry a man at speed to pull a man at speed.
So what is a chariot. A world land speed record holding, one man, pony drawn vehicle with no suspension which allows easy mounting and dismounting.
Back to speed. Until the chariot, man could only travel as fast as he could run. The available animals were too small to carry a man any distance at speed. But as I have proved, careering cross country behind a 10.1hh Shetland X, Henry may not be able to carry 17 stone at speed but he can really motor with me behind him. So we have proved the chariot was fast, it was one man because who would carry pointless dead weight when trying to go as fast as possible. It didn't have suspension because it didn't need it if the charioteer is on the point of balance and uses his body as intelligent suspension.
This also reduces the loads on the animal by a massive factor. I have built a two man Saddlechariot and Henry hates it. I estimate the additional load of pulling a two man version of the same all up weight as a factor of 5, ie five times as much work. This is all about polar moment of force. Standing on the point of balance, I pivot, bend back and forth, side to side and take upward shocks through foot, ankle and knee. This work by me takes all that load off my pony. If I am not at the centre of action, the pony takes it and Henry hates it. It also puts damaging loads on the harness and fittings. I can get away with traces that no carriage driver would touch because the chariot is a soft vehicle, ie it is easy for the pony.
Why do I say it has to be easy to get on and off. Go back to Ancient Sumeria and count the number of Landrovers and Rice trailers. Now work out how you get your chariot from one bit of nice smooth galloping ground to the next. You do it the way I do. Get off and your animal can pull an empty vehicle over pretty tough terrain. This is also saving your ponies and your vehicle. For the really bad bits, unhitch, get the ponies through, tie them up, come back and lift the chariot over, rehitch and start again.
Yes it is complicated, but it works and there was no alternative. Chariots and pack animals work where there are no roads. Carriages rely on roads.
Yes all the evidence is against me. There are hundreds of representations of two people in a chariot.
Most of them of show kings and emperors being driven in their chariots, but then there are plenty of photographs of Queen Elizabeth the Second in coaches with a full complement of coachmen, grooms, postilions and outriders. This doesn't mean that the standard means of transport in the 21st century is a four horse carriage staffed by a small herd of servants. Having a driver in your chariot has two effects. It confers status and converts a brilliant one man vehicle into a bad unsprung cart.
Military use also brings a whole lot of nonsense to the fore. The chariot predated road building so any discussion of the chariot's use in battle, has to include how it gets there in the first place.
The chariot with two small ponies and a man weighs at least a third of a ton and can move at twenty plus miles an hour. If it hits you it will hurt. It is therefore by definition a weapon. It provides high speed battlefield communications. Assuming the charioteer can fire a bow, the chariot is highly mobile artillery, galloping to vantage points to shoot into the flank of columns. I assume the charioteer at least stops the chariot, and very probably gets out to fire. The significance is that you can move a bowman at 15 miles and hour and he will arrive not even out of breath. Make him run that distance at 4 minute mile speed carrying 100 arrows and see how soon he can fire accurately.
This rather assumes that chariots are used intelligently in warfare, but Royalty and the nobility will always gravitate to the fun flashy end of warfare so a contingent of Hooray Hammurabis would have been inevitable. But even if the chariot's function was in that famous phrase "to add tone to what would otherwise be a vulgar brawl", it would survive on the battlefield for one simple reason. Buying a single seat sportscar always causes friction at home, but for at least 4,500 years domestic disputes can be settled by the "but it's for war, darling" defence. Actually the chariot is the best fun you can have. My advantage over classical historians is that while they peruse dusty texts, I fool around testdriving my latest version the Fellrazor. I know that anything that is this much fun is bound to last, but history books tend to ignore fun as a historical factor. In chariots I believe it was the predominant one.