Accomplishing the Mission: a prehistory to The Horse in Premodern European Culture

In July 2015, two medievalists met at one of the social spaces of the International Medieval Congress at Leeds. It must have been a reception, with wine flowing as usual, as the two medievalists who did not know each got talking freely and established that, despite their different backgrounds (one of them being an Arthurian scholar and the other a Byzantinist) they still have a medieval interest in common: horses. Sadly, the theme has been largely neglected since the publication of Ann Hyland’s influential books on ancient, medieval and early modern horses. Even the International Medieval Congress, one of the biggest and arguably the most glamorous event in medieval studies, did not have a single session devoted to horse history. The two historians decided to amend this shortcoming by organizing at least one horse session.

Levantia saddlery display at IMC 2016. Timothy Dawson, organizer of horse sessions, demonstrates a Roman saddle, while my husband, Edgar, holds out a spear to him.

Levantia saddlery display at IMC 2016. Timothy Dawson, organizer of horse sessions, demonstrates a Roman saddle, while my husband, Edgar, holds out a spear to him.

Having written the call for papers and published it at all the likely venues, they waited anxiously to see if anyone would apply, determined to speak themselves if there would be too few applicants. They need not have worried, as they have received enough responses to organize three sessions of three speakers in each. At the first sessions in 2016, the audience consisted mostly of speakers themselves and their friends. However, the following year saw a major breakthrough, as not only the organizers were overwhelmed with paper proposals for the sessions, but attendance of some of the sessions was such that people had to stand!

It was also at IMC 2017 that the organizers negotiated the Medieval Institute Press, which was eager to publish a comprehensive volume on horse history, The Horse in Premodern European Culture – the first publication dedicated to different aspects of pre-modern equestrianism since Ann Hyland’s The Horse in the Middle Ages in 1999!

The Horse in Premodern European Culture - book coverIt took just under three years to gather contributions, based on papers from IMC 2016 and 2017, as well as invited authors from outside the IMC, review the articles internally, then send the monograph for external review. The MIP did an admirable work, reviewing the manuscript in very sensible time and being supportive throughout the process of negotiations and publication.

It took only two years from the signing of the contract to the printing of the volume, which is the first publication devoted to different aspects of horse history in pre-modern Europe in over twenty years! The chapters in the volume reflect the variety of the contributors’ disciplinary approaches, covering a variety of spaces and chronological periods. From the Carolingian Empire to Byzantium, from experimental archaeology to post-humanism, from hippiatric writings to dressage manuals, to legal codices… The volume is rich and diverse, illuminating different aspects of the horse’s centrality to premodern European culture.

Over the following weeks, I will be publishing short quotations from the volume’s chapters, followed by my own commentaries as the volume editors on what reading and editing each chapter meant to me and how it contributed to my understanding of horse history.

Flyer for The Horse in Premodern European Culture

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Happy New Year 2020!

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Why Gingerbreads and Horses Make a Perfect Christmas Match

In Latvia, gingerbreads, paper-thin cookies made of brown dough with honey, pepper, and lots of other spices are traditionally baked for Christmas. Now, there are different spice mixes, but, as experience proves, pepper, ginger, cinnamon and honey are paramount for successful gingerbreads. Optional ingredients would also include cloves, nutmeg, and molasses.

horsey gingerbreads.jpg

So, what does it have to do with horses?

First, horses make lovely pets, and, traditionally, Santa in this part of the world (so close to Russia) would arrive in a sleigh pulled by a sturdy little horse, or a threesome of horses, rather than by reindeer. So the traditional song, performed to the melody of ‘Jingle bells’, reads: ‘Jingle bell, jingle bell, Christmas arrives, there will be gifts for you and for me, as children call’.

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Top 7 Latvian Horsy Superstitions

Two most superstitious groups of people are probably sportsmen and those who are involved in agricultural work. It follows that equestrians are bound to have twice as many superstitions as ordinary folk. With this in mind, I asked Edgar, who, like me, has a lifelong interest in horses and local history, to provide a top pick of the most interesting horsy superstitions recorded in Latvia, and he duly obliged.


My first experience at driving a Latvian horse – and doing it for a wedding, too!

These superstitions were collected in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries by local folklorists, but some of them are likely to date to pre-Christian times. Translating them into English for the first time and exclusively for my blog, Edgar has added some commentary on the logic behind the superstitions.


Enjoy! But please bear in mind that we in no way encourage you to try these on your horses, and, if you do, we are not going to take responsibility for any damage incurred by the horses or their handlers!

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Call for papers: Horse History Sessions at the International Medieval Congress

via Call for papers: Horse History Sessions at the International Medieval Congress

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#ShelfieSunday: Practical Horsemanship in Medieval Arthurian Romance

Review of my Practical Horsemanship in Medieval Arthurian Romance – very grateful to Karen Grace Campbell for doing it!

Equine History Collective

practicalhorsemanshipRopa, Anastasija. Practical Horsemanship in Medieval Arthurian Romance. Rewriting Equestrian History Series, vol. 1, Trivent Publishing, 2019. ISSN 2676-8097

Review by Karen Campbell

     Recently, a growing interest in animal studies, posthumanism, and particularly horses and horsemanship has emerged in academia and in medieval academia particularly. Anastasija Ropa, who obtained her Ph.D. from Bangor University, serves as an important cog in the this machine of equestrian studies through her own research on horsemanship and by organizing multiple equine centered conference sessions at the International Medieval Congress held in Leeds, England, since 2016. She has also acted as an editor for various article collections and now offers us a personally authored, concise, and intriguing journey in her book, Practical Horsemanship in Arthurian Romance, which she, appropriately, dedicates to her equine partner Fizz.

     Readers will be pleasantly surprised at how compact yet detailed her description…

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Horse History Sessions at IMC 2019

Session 517: Horses to the East

Tue, 02 July – 09.00-10.30

Jürg Gassmann, Horses in Western Asia in the Transition from Late Antiquity to ca. 1000 CE

Hylke Hettema, A Medieval Genealogy of the Arab Horse

Alexia-Foteini Stamouli, Equids in the Late Byzantine Hagiography: A Comparison with the Middle Period


Session 617: Medieval Equestrian Equipment and Practice

Tue. 02 July – 11.15-12.45

Mattia Caprioli, Eastern Roman Equestrian Military Equipment, 6th-7th Century

Amanda Peyton Seabolt, An Analysis of the Equipment and Training of a 12th and 13th Century Horse and Rider

Adeline Dumont, De l’usage du cheval de guerre au combat au début du XIIIe siècle


Session 717: Horse Breeding and Care

Tue. 02 July – 14.15-15.45

Kelly-Anne Gilbertson, ‘Medicines for Horses’: Textual Transmission of the Central Middle English Horse-Care Text

Gail Brownrigg, Horse Breeding in the New Forest: A Modern Paradigm of Medieval Practice

Samuel Gassmann, The Monastery of Einsiedeln as a centre of Swiss Horse Breeding: 1064-1798

Respondent: Jennifer Jobst


Session 817: The Horse in Law and Chronicle

Tue. 02 July – 16.30-18.00

Edgar Rops, Laws for Racing Enthusiasts: Horses in Early Irish Legal Tradition

Miriam Bibby, Alexander’s Arabian: Noble Steed or Fantastic Beast?

Pierre Chaffard-Luçon, Horses and Tournaments: Legislation during the 13th Century



Session 917: Bits, Pieces, and Other Random Items: The (Im)Materiality of Medieval Horse Equipment – A Round Table Discussion

Tue. 02 July – 19.00-20.00

Participants include John Clark (Museum of London), Timothy Dawson (Independent Scholar, Kent), Adeline Dumont (Université de Lille), John Henry Gassmann (Independent Scholar, Wexford), and Anastasija Ropa (Latvian Academy of Sport Education, Riga).



The organizers of the Horse History sessions and the Round Table are Anastasija Ropa (Department of Management & Communication Science, Latvian Academy of Sport Education), Timothy Dawson (Independent Scholar, Kent), and Gwendolyne Knight (Historiska institutionen, Stockholms Universitet)

Horse History at IMC 2019 poster

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Why Put Artwork All Over Your Document? Querying Illuminated Charters

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Of the Livonians’ Cults, religion(S) and (Im)morality – Again

A Winged DragonDyonisius Fabricius, writing his Livonicae historiae in the first half of the seventeenth century, more than half a century after Balthasar Russow, makes the history of Livonian mores – and immoralities – so much more exciting to read, as well as adding curious observations about the local climate and fauna. Snow can be ordered at will by those skilful in sorcery even on the hottest day. And – did you know it? – Livonia had dragons lurking in its woods and marshes! Of course, not everybody had a pet dragon even in those remote days, so some women had to make go with snakes in between their thighs. A titillating site they must have made to the Jesuit’s amused eyes, though one may wonder in what circumstances he gathered the curious pieces of information not found in Russow’s more austere description of Livonian debaucheries. As I have mentioned previously, Fabricius frequently borrows from Russow the material for the earlier history of Livonia, but the chapter entitled ‘De cultu, religione et moribus incolarum Livoniae’ has no precedent in Russow or, to my knowledge, any other chronicler.

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The Count of May Festival in Riga


Stealing the Excalibur…


…with the help of Sir Ivan

With history being in fashion today, it is not surprising that many old traditions are revived or reinvented, attracting tourists and enriching the communities’ cultural lives. A good example of it is the Count of May festival in Riga, a revival of late medieval or early modern tradition, which is described already in Balthasar Russow’s Chronicle of Livonia.

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