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equestrian statue of marcus aurelius 174 A.D.
i am currently taking an art history class and we are  discussing the equestrian statue of Marcus Aurelius originating around 170 A.D. in our discussion the size of the horse was mentioned. the horse is proportionally smaller than than the rider, and my teacher said that the horse was from one statue while the rider was from another and was likely added to the horse latter. My opinion was that it was just a smaller horse. and i have found no evidence from any art related site say that the horse and rider were joined separately.

in my research of the statue i found out that the saddle is believed to be Persian. which would have been part of the roman empire at this time. and that in a separate relief Conquest and Clemency. is very similar to the statue. The statue is believed to have once had something under the horses raised hoof. Possibly one of the conquered barbarians from the Conquest and clemency relief.

My question is. what type of horse was commonly found in the roman army at this time. Would it be reasonable to say the Romans were using smaller war ponies. or could the horse he was riding been a native horse of the conquered Germanic tribes / Samaritan?
  I read a paper a while back by Helmut Nickel who was a curator at the Metropolitan Museum, called the Emperor's New Saddle Cloth and he was of the opinion that most Roman saddlecloths of the 2nd century AD as shown in the reliefs of the columns of Trajan and Marcus were mostly simple rectangles of cloth, sometimes with a heavy fringe at the bottom which hung below the horse's bellies. I don't know if his saddle was Persian, maybe an older steppe origin, but the saddlecloth or shabrack seemed to show a steppe influence with the zig-zagged edge at the bottom and the back, usually hanging over a felt horse blanket. Below are some images from the columns of Trajan and Marcus as well as a couple of images of Marcus riding his horse.


 This type of saddlecloth was depicted on the famous mosaic of Pompeii in the battle between Alexander and Darius III with the zig-zagged saddlecloths marked in red.


 Marcus defeated the Sarmatian Iazyges in 175AD and added the honorific "Sarmaticus" to his name so maybe in his equestrian monument he is shown to be riding a captured Sarmatian war horse and saddled in Sarmatian fashion in celebration of his victory. I don't know if horses were that big in the 2nd century anyway but the Iazyges and Sarmatians in general were renowned horse breeders and cavalrymen and probably had smaller, tougher and hardier horses than the average 2nd century Roman horses.
 The Pazyryk carpet found in the kurgans in the Altai foothills much further east showed riders wearing different types of shabracks with the same zig-zagged edges. These riders if not Sarmatian were probably the ancestors of the Sarmatians but who the occupants of the Pazyryk region were we are not sure but they apparently were famous traders who going by the goods which were not looted, did very well & probably lived astride an older northern trade route than the later, more southerly later silk routes through Central Asia who bred quality horses so that carpet was probably a barter exchange for some horses or weapons. Below are some examples of the different types of shabracks shown on the carpet Wink


  Just as an aside Nickel wrote at the beginning of his paper "For centuries the statue stood in the Lateran, until it was transferred, in 1538, to the Campidoglio by Michelangelo; it survived largely because it was erroneously believed to be an effigy of Constantine, the first Christian emperor. By a combination of this unjustified attribution, its own artistic merits, and its conspicuous presence, it served as a model for the majority of equestrian statues throughout the entire history of European art."

Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
This sort of distorted proportion was invented by Greek sculptors. It is often noted that on some sculptures, the subject's upper body is disproportionately large in contrast with the lower body. This was done for statues meant to be viewed from below, set on a high pedestal or roof. Thus viewed, the body seems to be in proportion. The Aurelius statue was probably set on a high pedestal and thus viewed horse and man would seem in correct proportion.
Pecunia non olet
The type of horse shown, relatively short-coupled with substantial rather square hindquarters, smallish head and high-arched neck, was favoured as a warhorse in Europe up to the mid 18th century. If you look at contemporary illustrations of the first Duke of Marlborough's campaigns very similar horses are visible. In Marlborough's time it was called 'the black horse', though they came in a variety of coat colours. The arched neck and consequent high head-carriage was favoured as it gave the rider some added protection to the front.

The type is shown here on a tapestry of one of Marlborough's victories:

Fac me cocleario vomere!
Some of the horses available in Italy at this time are no longer with us having been later bred for meat and eventually killed off as a breed.

Modern equivalents of the sort seen in the statue do still exist. Look at the Basque horse and the Giara. If you are looking at the stocky build, crested neck and yet have hairy fetlocks, you need to consider the very old Spanish breeds (not the modern PREs) or the Lusitano.

My own theory is that the South American criollo is the closest now to this Spanish breed as they are fairly pure bred. The are not big horses but they are certainly hardy and up to weight.
Moi Watson

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, Merlot in one hand, Cigar in the other; body thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and screaming "WOO HOO, what a ride!

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