Musil quote on Arabian horses originating with settled folks

By Edouard Aldahdah

Posted on February 23rd, 2010 in Arabia

I realize I haven’t written for two weeks and I apologize. These are busy days at work and in general, with little time left to other endeavors. I received my Khamsat magazine in the mail last week, and I have been reading it in the metro on my way to work. In it is an article by Peter Harrigan, adapted from his talk at the Al Khamsa 2009 convention in Redmond, Oregon, where Peter introduced his audience with the travels and works of Czech explorer and academic Alois Musil.

The Khamsat writeup from Peter’s talk has this excerpt from Musil’s masterpiece “Manners and Customs of the Ruwalah Bedouins” (which by the way is widely  recognized as the single best work of the ethnography of Bedouin tribes):

“The Bedouins assert that no horses were created by Allah in Arabia. According to their tradition, they brought their first horses from the land of the settlers whom they raided”.

There is increasing archaeological, epigraphic and zoological evidence that points to a domestication of the horse by settled population in an area straddling today’s nations of Syria, Turkey, and Iraq, in the plains by the foothills of the Taurus and Zagros chains of mountains. More on this later, but I just thought it was interesting to see how Bedouin lore echoed recent scientific discoveries.

PS: The above photo pictures an Assyrian carved wall panel from the city of Nineveh now on display at the British Museum in London, long after the horse was domesticated, and is just displayed here for illustrative purposes. There is indeed epigraphic evidence of Assyrian king receiving horses as forms of tributes from Arabian kindgom, although it is difficult to say whether these are nomadic Bedouin kingdoms or settled kingdoms.

One Response to “Musil quote on Arabian horses originating with settled folks”

  1. Dear Edouard: wouldn’t a good way to tell whether the horse tribute paid to the Syrian kings came from Nomads, or settled folks, be to find out how they made their living?.. We do know that Asil horses were especially valued by their breeders cuz they were best suited for ghazus(sp) and other raids whether the raids were against trading caravans carrying ,’gold, frankensense, and myhhr,’ or other goods, or against pilgrim caravans going to the holy cities. Most of them were subject to paying off the bedouin, or getting robbed by them. So at what time did it become economically viable for the bedu to literally earn a living by raiding. If we know that then we know when horse culture became inseperable from the bedouin way of life. The reason I ask is that a lot of western historians have the idea that horses were scarce and rare in the pre- Mohamed( peace be upon him)times. I don’t think so, because it doesn’t make sense. The holy Prophet himself (pbuh)was said to have been a caravan guard. I suspect that since horses were absolutely required to strike fast and get away quick, it follows that when the trade routes across greater Arabia developed and the the caravans began the caravans attracted robbers who preyed upon them. Who would have been better positioned to exploit the trading caravans than the tribes who pastured their camels and sheep in the wide open desert? And such practices certainly go back long before the rise of Islam.
    best wishes
    Bruce Peek

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