While donkeys and other short-legged equids were present in the ancient Near East since the Paleolithic period, horses were introduced from the Central Asian steppes not before the late third millennium B.C. Their foreign origin is reflected in the Sumerian term ANSE.KUR.RA, which means “donkey of the mountains.” At the beginning, horses were primarily used to pull chariots; the reins were connected to a ring through the nose. With the influx of peoples from the east, who were more familiar with horses (e.g., the Kassites), technologies improved. Since the 16th century, true bits worn in the horse’s mouth and made of bronze were introduced, and this much improved the handling of the animals. They became an important part of the armed forces as cavalry and to pull chariots. While earlier mounted warriors had to ride in pairs, allowing one of them to use his bow while the other controlled both horses, improved reins and bridles could be secured, leaving the hands free. Saddles and stirrups were unknown, but horses could wear breastplates and various ornaments.
   In the beginning of the first millennium B.C., the Assyrians owed their rapid rise to power to their efficient cavalry units. The Assyrian uplands were suitable for horse breeding, and part of their conquests were motivated by the need to secure a reliable supply of horses and riders for their army.
   The chariotry initially represented a prestige unit; costly chariots constituted a noble royal gift. Only in the first millennium did lightweight chariots become an integral part of the military organization (see WARFARE).
   Cuneiform archives from the Kassite period, from Nuzi and Assyriansites, contained manuals on horse breeding, horse terminology (replete with foreign words), and training methods. One text from Ugarit concerns veterinary matters.

Historical Dictionary of Mesopotamia. . 2012.

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