|Old World Contacts|
First - Second Period: 330 BCE - 1000 CE
It appears that people had ridden horses for around 1,500 years before they had devised a method for achieving greater stability in the saddle. An early form of the stirrup has been traced to India in the second century BCE. It consisted of a simple loop through which the rider placed his big toe. This was of limited value for stabilising a rider, and of no real value whatsoever as an aid in mounting a horse. Some scholars believe that the first true stirrups were devised in Central Asia during the first century BCE by a nomadic group known as the Sarmatians. This innovation soon spread to other Central Asian peoples, who would have quickly noted that bracing one's feet in a set of stirrups made it much easier to shoot a bow from the saddle.
Invaders from Central Asia, such as the Huns, brought the stirrup to Europe, where it seems to have been valued as much for aiding in mounting as for stabilising a rider in the saddle. In fact, the words for stirrup in Old High German, Old Saxon, and Old English are all derived from words for climbing. When used with the contoured saddle, stirrups afforded a mounted warrior considerable stability, thereby allowing him to deal powerful blows with a sword, axe, mace, or lance. When using the lance in the couched position*, a mounted man could deliver a blow whose energy was derived from the force of the charging horse. But how often this was done outside of tournament jousts is difficult to say, as the Bayeaux Tapestry from c. 1080 shows mounted Normans and English hurling spears and lances at each other, rather than charging home with their weapons couched.
*Note: When a rider attacked with a "couched" lance, he levelled it at his opponent and advanced or charged.
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Old World Contacts / The Applied History Research Group / The University of Calgary
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