Tuesday, 6 July 2021

Busbecq about Ottoman horses

The horse was highly important for the Turks, it was one of the main pillars of their warfare. the ancient proverb goes: 'The horse is the Turks' wings'. What the longboat and axe was to the Vikings, it was the horse and bow to the Turks. You can imagine that everything around this topic was highly developed and perfected over the centuries (horsemanship, breeding, tack etc). 

Here we have an amazing eye witness source which will give you more information about horses/horsemanship in the Ottoman Empire: 'The Turkish Letters Of Ogier Ghiselin de Busbecq'. Busbecq was a Western ambassador in the Ottoman Empire from 1554 to 1562 and wrote about various things he has seen. For me it is fascinating, it is like a time machine basically. Below I want to compile everything horse/cavalry related from his letters. Also, as usual, don't forget the 'critical thinking', this is only the 'impression' 'he' got.

Sultan Suleyman the magnificent on his horse

Page 6

I set out escorted by the Sanjak-Bey with all his household and the cavalry which he commanded, though I did my best to dissuade him from paying me this honour. The cavalry, when they had passed through the gates, galloped hither and tither and amused themselves by throwing a ball to the ground and then, after urging their horses to full speed, catching it on the point of their spears, and indulging in other similar sports. 

Page 7

I was taken to lodge at the house of an Hungarian, where more attention was paid to my baggage and carriages and horses than to myself. The first concern of the Turks is to secure the safety of the horses, carriages, and luggage ; for human beings they think they have taken enough trouble if they protect them from the severity of the weather. 

Page 25

About half-way between Adrianople and Constantinople is the little town of Tchorlu (Çorlu), famous as the scene of the battle between Selim and his father Bajazet, whence Selim, thanks to his horse Carabuluk (Black Cloud) (comment: should be 'Kara bulut'), escaped in safety to his father-in-law, the King of the Crim-Tatars.

Page 62

On our departure from that part of the field, we saw another very pleasing sight, namely, the Sultan's bodyguard returning home mounted on horses, which were not only very fine and tall but splendidly groomed and caparisoned. 

Page 99

one night, however, it (Busbecq's tame stag) broke loose and created a great panic among the horses, who, according to the usual Turkish practice, were left out at night in the open air of the courtyard. 

Page 105

I have a number of thoroughbred horses, Syrian, Cilician, Arabian, and Cappadocian, also baggage-camels, and everything else ready for my return journey.  [...] I take great pleasure in watching my horses, specially in the summer months, when, in the evening, they all are brought out of their stable and picketed in the court, to enjoy the night breezes and rest more at their ease. They come out and show their delight by prancing and throwing up their heads and tossing their manes, so that they seem conscious that they are being watched. Their fore feet are hobbled, and one of their hind legs is attached by a rope to a stake (köstek in Turkish). No horses are tamer than the Turkish or so readily recognise their master and the groom who looks after them; so kind is the treatment bestowed on them while they are being trained. On my journey to Cappadocia through the region of Pontus and the part of Bithynia (Black Sea coast) which is called from its conditions Axylus (woodless), I noticed what care the peasants bestowed on the colts while they were young and tender, how they petted them and admitted them to their houses and almost to their tables, and stroked and caressed them; you might say that they almost counted them among their children. They all wear round their necks a kind of collar, consisting of rows of amulets against the evil eye, which is greatly dreaded. The grooms who are in charge of them are equally kind to them, winning their affection by constantly patting them and never venting their rage upon them with a stick unless absolutely compelled to do so. The results is that they become most affectionate towards man, while you will never come across a horse which kicks or bites or is refractory, viciousness of this kind being exceedingly rare. By heaven, how different are our methods ! Our stable men think that no effect is produced unless they are always bawling at their horses and continually belabouring their flanks ; with the results that the horses tremble all over with fear, whenever the grooms enter the stable and equally loathe and fear them. The Turks like to train their horses to kneel down at the word of command and allow their master to mount and to pick up a walking stick, cudgel, or sword in their teeth from the ground and give it to the rider on their back. When they have learnt these accomplishments, they place silver rings in their nostrils as a mark of distinction and a proof that they are properly trained. I have noticed horses who stood quite still when their master had been thrown from the saddle ; others who would circle round their groom, who stood at a distance, and halt at his command ; and others who, while their master was dining with me in an upper room, stood with their ears pricked listening for his voice and whinnying when they heard it. It is a peculiar characteristic of Turkish hoses that they always come to a standstill with their necks stretched stiffly out and cannot stop or turn in a narrow space ; this is the fault, if I may so call it, of the bit, which everywhere in Turkey is of the same kind and shape, and is not made tighter or looser, as with us, to suit the horse's mouth. Turkish horses are shod with shoes which are not so open in the middle as ours, but are almost continuous and solid, so that their feet are less likely to be damaged by stumbling. They live considerably longer than with us, and one sees twenty-year-old horses as spirited and strong as our eight-year-olds ; some, whose services have won them their keep for the rest of their lives in the Sultan's stables, are said to have lived to fifty years or even longer. On summer nights, when the heat is intense, they do not keep the horses under cover, but expose them, as I have said, to the night breezes, covering them with horse-rugs and giving them a litter of dry dung. For this purpose they collect the horse droppings all through the year and dry them in the sun and break them up and reduce them to powder. They use it for the horses' bedding, and indeed know of no other kind. Of straw they make no use, not even for food ; but they give them a little hay and a moderate quantity of barley, which nourishes rather than fattens them ; for they like their animals to be rather thin, considering that they are thus fitter for long journeys and labour of every kind. They horse-cloth which I mentioned are put on in summer just as in winter, but they vary them according to the weather. They consider that to keep them covered both conduces to sleekness of coat and is necessary protection against the cold, since they are sensitive to chill, and, in particular, suffer from exposure to bad weather. As I have already remarked, I take pleasure in watching my horses towards sunset when they are picketed each in its proper place in the court, and when I call them by name - 'Arab' or 'Caraman' or whatever they are called - they reply by whinnying and look towards me. For I make a practice of going down to them from time to time and distributing melon skins amongst them with my own hands ; hence the notice which they take of me. 

Page 110

..and this is particularly true of the cavalry - take a horse on a leading-rein loaded with many of the necessities of life. 

Page 111

I may add that men whose horses have died, when the Sultan moves his camp, stand in the long row on the road by which he is to pass with their harness or saddles on their heads, as a sign that they have lost their horses, and implore his help to purchase others. The Sultan then assists them with whatever gift he thinks fit.

Page 137

There is one point about Turkish military manoeuvres which I must not omit, namely, the old custom which goes back to the Parthians of pretending to flee on horseback and then shooting with their arms at the enemy when he rashly pursues. They practise the rapid execution of this device in the following manner. They fix a brazen ball on the top of a very high pole, or mast, erected on level ground, and urge their horses at full speed towards the mast ; and then, when they have almost passed it, they suddenly turn round and, leaning back, discharge an arrow at the ball, while the horse continues its course. By frequent practice they become able without any difficulty to hit their enemy unawares by shooting backwards as they fly. 

Page 145

I was delighted with the view of this splendid army. The Ghourebas and Ouloufedjis rode in pairs, the Silihdars and Spahis in a single file. These are the names given to the household cavalry, each forming a separate body and having its own quarters. Their total number is said to be about 6000 men. [...] The Turkish horseman presents a very elegant spectacle, mounted on a horse of Cappadocian or Syrian or some other good breed, with trappings and horse cloth of silver spangled with gold and precious stones. He is resplendent in raiment of cloth of gold and silver, or else of silk or satin, or at any rate of the finest scarlet, or violet, or dark green cloth. At either side is a fine sheath, one to hold the bow, the other full of bright-coloured arrows, both of wonderful Babylonian workmanship, as also is the ornamented shiled which is attached to the left arm and which is only suited to ward of arrows and the blows dealt by a club or sword. His right hand is encumbered by a light spear, usually painted green, unless he prefers to keep that hand free ; and he is girt with a scimitar studded with gems, while a steel club hangs from his horse cloth or saddle. 'Why so many weapons?' you will ask. My answer is that he is practised in the use of all of them. 'But how' you ask 'can any one use both a bow and a spear? Will he seize his bow only when he has thrown or broken his spear?' No: he keeps his spear in his possession as long as possible, and, when circumstances demand the use of the bow in its turn, he puts the spear, which is light and therefore easily handled, between the saddle and his thigh, in such a position that the point projects a long way behind and the pressure of the knee holds it firm as long as he thinks fit. When circumstances make it necessary for him to fight with the spear, he puts the bow into the quiver or else fixes it across the shield on his left arm. 

Page 229

It was my wish to take back with me some fine horses, and so I instructed my servants to attend the market frequently in hopes of finding what I required. Hearing of this, Ali himself had a splendid thoroughbred of his own exposed in the market as though for sale. My men hurried to the spot and bid for it, and, when 120 ducates was asked, offered eighty, not knowing who the owner was ; but the ment in charge of the horse would not sell it at that price. A day or two afterwards, the same horse, with two others equally well bred, was sent me by Ali Pasha as a git. One of them was a beautiful Arab riding horse. When I thanked him for this gift, the Pasha asked wether I did not think wether the horse that the horse, which my men had wished to buy in the market for 80 ducats, was worth a good deal more. 'Much more,' I replied, 'but they had been instructed by me not to exceed that price, for fear lest I might lose heavily (as sometimes happens) by their purchasing, without knowing it, a horse which had hidden defects.' He then advised me about the feeding of the Turkish horses at the beginning of a journey, namely that they ought to be kept on small rations at first, and that I ought to travel by short stages until they had become accustomed to the work ' and he recommended me to spread the journey to Adrianople (Edirne) over nine or ten days instead of the usual five.  (comment: the distance Istanbul-Edirne is about 240 km. So the usual 5 days would be 48km per day. Ten days would be 24km per day.)

Page 231

He (Ali Pasha) expressed a wish for certain gifts from me in return : a coat of mail of a size to fit his tall and stout frame, a sturdy charger to which he could trust himself without fear of a fall (for he has difficulty in finding a horse which is equal to his great weight), ...[...]

Page 232

When we came to a village it amused us to see Ibrahim, who was following us with great dignity on horseback with his Turkish escort, dash up to us and entreat us by all we held dearest to mount again into our carriages, and not to disgrace the party by allowing men of our high rank to be seen journeying on foot, which the Turks regard as highly undignified.

Page 239

Soleiman stands before us with all the terror inspired by his own successes and those of his ancestors ; he overruns the plain of Hungary with 200,000 horsemen ; ... [...]

Page 241

I also brought with me several very fine thoroughbred horses - it is the first time any one has done so - and six female camels. 

Sultan Osman II (1618-1622)