Chariots, Bits and Greeks

X99Lynx at X99Lynx at
Fri Feb 5 05:32:59 UTC 1999

In a message dated 2/3/99 11:45:48 PM, vidynath at wrote:

<<No. Spruytte, based on representations, showed that Classical greeks
used a dorsal yoke and what is a primitive version of breast traction.
His experiments with reconstructions based on chariots found in Tut's
tomb prove that traction comes from the yoke saddles (neck forks) and
not from the bands arounds the horses' necks. There is enormous
difference between the two that cannot be waved away.>>

But Homer (Illiad 19.393-94) has Achilleus' chariot horses not only yoked but
also specifically says that bits were placed within their jaws - "en de
chalinous gampheleis ebalon."

This word, "cha^li_nos", continues to be used throughout the Classical period
as applying to the bit specifically - e.g., Herodotus, (Histories, 1.215),
clearly distinguishing the Scythian's reins, cheekplates and bits - "ta de
peri tous chalinous kai stomia kai phalara chrusoi".  See also Xenophon, On
the art of horsemanship 3.2, regarding horses with "soft mouths".  It seems
the bit was or could be used from fairly early on.

It is also clear that Homer considered the reins, not the "neck forks", the
way to control a chariot.  See Aeneas offering Hector the reins of his chariot
in Illiad, 5.226.

And finally, it is hard to see how chariots in Tut's tomb prove anything about
how horses were bridled in Classic Greece.

Steve Long

[ Moderator's comment:
  Homer also describes chariots leaping across ditches, and doing other things
  that a chariot could not do, but a bridled horse could.

  By the time the Homeric epics were coming into the forms we would recognize,
  the chariot was obsolete in Greek warfare.  Homer described what he could not
  know in terms with which he was familiar.  Unless we have evidence for bits
  in Mycenaean contexts, I would be very hesitant to cite Homeric evidence for
  how chariots were controlled.
  --rma ]

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