The Horse, the Wheel, and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World

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Author: David W. Anthony

Publisher: Princeton University Press

ISBN Number: 978-0-69105-887-0

Publication Date: November 19, 2007

Reviewed by: Oonagh


A Review by Maya St. Clair, Kuwait | Previously published in Aontacht: Volume 1, Issue 04, Spring/Autumn Equinox 2009

I'd like to start my review of the book with part of the last sentence of the last chapter of the book:

"... in the invisible and fleeting sound of our speech we preserve for a future generation of linguists many details of our present world." (p.466)

The main ideas of this book are a reconstruction of a dead language and how that is possible (in this case, Proto-Indo-European) and dating it. The reconstruction of the lives and migrations of the Proto-Indo-Europeans including their possible homeland.

The author takes you on a ride through so many different cultures related to the Proto-Indo-Europeans and the branches related to them, and it was a surprise to me how many there are. The author uses words from the reconstructed languages, & adds them to the archeology to give you a look into the lives of these cultures. He also explains the way language tends to follow and explores the reasons that people might replace one language with another.

Most people who think of the discovery of the Horse, and wheel will automatically think of war, but the author gives us a history of both and how they effected the lives of the Proto-Indo-Europeans, and the last thing that it effected was war.

All in all the book is full of surprises. It can and will give you ideas on other places in the world where you can apply the theories that the author presents to make a case of why this country is the way it is, linguistically.

Eurasian Steppes, Language, Bronze-Age, Proto-Indo-Europeans
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Hazel's picture

Celts' 4 pommel saddle

Maya & Oonagh,

Philolgy is best studied by someone with a better memory than mine, but conclusions from it are undoubtedly helpful in sorting out the movements of our ancestors & other influential cultures.

But this review seems like a neat place to tuck in a little fact about the saddle used by Celts. I will refer to Simon James's 1993 book, 'The World of the Celts' & the chapter Chariots & Cavalry. "...the horse was ridden to war throughout the La Tene period, & even in Britain riders fought alongside the chariots." 

"...scholars have recently demonstrated that the saddle used in northwest Europe during the late Iron Age & early Roman period was actually remarkably effective, giving riders a seat as firm as that provided by stirrups. This was achieved by means of four tall pommels, two behind the rump & one angled out over each thigh: the rider sat in, rather than on the saddle.'

James offers two drawings, one of the saddle, & one of a mounted rider using the saddle.

I remember world history classes in which it was concluded that the stirrup was the innovation which provided a rider precise control. This seems not to be the case.

(I did also enjoy the quote from Caesar, "Gallic War, V,1" in which he refers to chariot-riding Britons, "They can run along the chariot pole, stand on the yoke, & get back into the chariot as quick as lightning.")