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N.S. Gill

Who Invented the Stirrup?

By January 27, 2012

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Do you think you know who invented the stirrup, when, and where? It turns out there is some controversy, although it appears to have its origin in Asia. The About.com Guide to Asian History looks into this in The Invention of the Stirrup. One of the issues is what is meant by a stirrup. As Kallie Szczepanski writes:
In sculptures from ancient India, c. 200 BCE, bare-footed riders use big-toe stirrups. These early stirrups consisted simply of a small loop of leather, in which the rider could brace each big toe to provide a bit of stability. Suitable for riders in hot climates, however, the big-toe stirrup would have been no use for booted riders in the steppes of Central Asia or western China.

For a somewhat rambling discussion touching on the origins of stirrups, see Roman Bowyers?


January 27, 2012 at 9:40 pm
(1) historyfanatic says:

“A Sassanid document of the late 6th century describes a pompous array of equipment required of the nobles when on parade, including mail, breastplate, leg guards, horse armor, sword, axe, lance and mace. The list also mentions stirrups, which was probably not available until the later stages of the empire.”
Could this be the earliest documented (if true) use of the stirrup in Middle East before the spread to the west? It’s hard to believe it took several hundred years to travel down the silk road though.


February 3, 2012 at 9:29 am
(2) ancienthistory says:

Rose Williams sent me an email that is directed at this blog post, so I’m posting the relevant sections:

Here is a bit from my book “The Lighter Side of the Dark Ages” dealing with stirrups:

page 9
By the fifth century of this era it (the Roman Empire) was definitely into old age, if not outright senility. None of this was helped by the fact that the Huns, or Scourges of God as they were sometimes called by the more revenge-minded Christians, had sprung from the Central Asian Plains, or the Ural Mountains, or Hell, depending on which authority one believes, late in the fourth century. These small, bandy-legged barbarians and their ponies only slightly shaggier than their masters didn’t look like much, but both had incredible strength and ferocity. They also brought from the East something else Europe had never seen – stirrups to give the horseman a better chance of staying on his horse. 2 Up to this point cavalrymen, even the efficient Parthians, had been forced to avoid sudden turns and sharp contacts, both of which were extremely likely to land them on the ground. With their feet firmly anchored in stirrups, the Huns could charge at great speed, inflict damage, wheel about, and veer, maneuvering as no cavalry in the Roman world had maneuvered before. They had plowed through the Goth (or German, or whatever label one wants to apply to those big rascals living north of the Empire) territory in search of elbow-room, plunder, and a little merry blood-sport.

February 3, 2012 at 9:30 am
(3) ancienthistory says:

From Rose WIlliams Continued
1 Horace, Odes Book II, 10
2 Toe stirrups (loops of rope which held the big toe) were first recorded in Northern India in the 2nd century BC, but their use was somewhat limited by climate and footwear. Single mounting stirrups recorded in China in the 4th Century AD, designed to take the entire foot, were probably the first stirrups as we know them. The mounting stirrup was easier than using a stool to mount and safer than vaulting on when fully armed (Cambyses, king of Persia stabbed himself while mounting when fully armed in 522 BC – A.D.H.Bivar, “The Stirrup and Its Origins.” Oriental Arts, n.s. 1 (1955): 61-68. )

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