Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Raising Horses in the plain of Troy

Charles Maclaren wrote a lot about ancient Troy's alleged horses.  

Speaking of one of Priam 's ancestors, [Homer] says, “ Dardanus had a son, king Erichthonius, who was the richest of mortal men; he had three thousand mares grazing in the marsh, rejoicing in their tender foals.” What a picture have we here of the public economy of the heroic age in one passage of nervous brevity and pastoral beauty!  (McClaren, 124) 

From here, McClaren goes on for several pages calculating how many horses a square mile of Trojan plain can support.  

To get the necessary pasture ground for three thousand mares, we must assume that the space between the streams was nearly all a natural marsh in the time of Erichthonius; we may infer that it continued so for many generations, and was a source of wealth to that prince's successors, till a deficiency of corn land for the sustenance of the population was felt, and, further, that the poet saw it in this condition before the drainage had commenced, or before it had made much progress. When he rehearsed the story of the Iliad to the Ionic and Æolic colonists on the shores of the Ægean, if the marsh had been as small as it is now, it would have stood in glaring contradiction to his words; and to save his credit with his auditors, he would either have reduced the number of mares pastured on it to one thousand instead of three, or he would have told that its ancient magnitude greatly exceeded what was then seen. (McClaren 127f)

McClaren is thinking about Homer and his audience, but not about floods.  He quotes Forschhammer on it, but appears to forget about it after that.  

“When the rain , beginning in Mount Ida, extends to the plain, the wide and deep bed of the Menderé is completely filled; in a half or a quarter of an hour it rushes over its banks on both sides ; on the left side it fills the swamps below Bunarbashi, while the Kirk Jos sends off a stream in the direction of its ancient bed to join the Menderé farther down.  On the right it covers the high part of the plain over to the Kalifat Asmak, and transforms that stream into an impetuous river . If the rain continues a few hours, it often happens that the inundation prevails over the whole plain from the Hellespont to the springs at Bunarbashi. It happens also that about the season of the heaviest rains, the strong south-west winds blow, checking the current of the Hellespont, and raising the level of its waters, while these again impede the discharge of the rivers, and increase the inundation in the lower part of the plain.” (Forschhammer, cited by Maclaren, 1863 p. 62f )   

Forschhammer is not as explicit about the dangers of these floods as he could be.  Consider the following remark from Walter Leaf, who visited the plain in the early 20th century.  

"The Mendere is a considerable stream throughout the year; in winter it often brings down heavy floods, which overflow the whole plain, and leave it covered with silt and tree-trunks." Leaf p 30 

Silt and tree trunks?  How many mares pasturing below Pinarbasi will be wiped out in an event like that? The flood plain is not just a threat to humans, but to horses too.  Perhaps one could keep 3000 mares on the prominences around the plain, coming into the plain in small groups at the edges.  But horses living 24-7 in the plain are betting against the odds.  

This raises an interesting series of questions about what is under the mud in front of Hisarlik.  Surely, part of the tell contains living quarters.  Another part will be military.  Another might be stables and livestock containment.  

Look at Hattusa.  A great deal of the walled area is undeveloped.  Those open spaces allow for horses and livestock to be protected inside the walls. Also, perhaps, orchards.  

Hattusa is not the only city with walls that enclose a good deal of open space.  Uruk is that way, perhaps even more so.  

Uruk and Hattusa are good models for thinking about the mound at the foot of Hisarlik.  It is probably not urban dwellings from side to side and end to end.  Rather, there are probably one or more residential districts along with open spaces in which horses, livestock, orchards and military installations could be protected from floods and invaders. 

The above graphic is from Luwian Studies.  It shows a map of Hattusa projected onto the plain of Troy.  The raised earth anomaly at the foot of Hisarlik is around twice the size of the walled compound of Hattusa.  So, it could contain twice the amount of development found there, and also contain twice the amount of open space.  

In non-Homeric accounts of the war (Dares Phrygius and Dictys Cretensis), Trojans have lots of horses, and they have these horses inside the city walls.  It would be impossible to have so many horses and men inside the little fortress on Hisarlik, which is only about 660 feet across, and was filled with many  buildings.  If there were battalions on horseback formed inside the walls and then moved outside the walls as these authors contend, then there must have been a walled area containing open spaces large enough to accommodate it.  

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