PATRICIA KARVELAS: This small statue comes from Armento, an Ancient Greek site in the region of Basilicata in southern Italy. Dating from the 6th century BCE, it is among the earliest works of art to come from the Greek communities of Italy. It is a wonderful piece of construction. Both rider and horse are cast – separately – in solid bronze. Such casting is particularly difficult as large solid bronzes run the risk of cracking as the metal cools. This may in part account for the elongation of the horse’s body, as a deliberate measure to avoid too large a mass of metal. Hollow-casting was known at this period, but was not widely practised.
The statuette depicts a Greek warrior proudly mounted on a horse. If you look closely, you’ll see that in one hand he would have held a spear, now lost. The reigns and crest of his helmet are missing as well. A curious feature of this sculpture is the prominent display of the genitals, particularly odd given that he’s wearing a tunic that should cover them. Their prominence should probably be read as a sign of the warrior’s virility. Masculinity and bravery were synonymous in the Greek world. The Ancient Greek word for courage is literally ‘manliness’.
This rider is clearly a member of the elite. Buying and maintaining horses was an expensive business. Ownership of a horse is normally taken to be a sign that a person belongs to the wealthiest 5 per cent of society.
For all their elite associations, the cavalry rarely played a decisive role in Greek warfare. Battles were normally decided by the clash of infantry. Cavalry were primarily involved in mopping-up operations, once the main battle was over. That said, there does seem to have been slightly more interest in the effective use of cavalry amongst the western Greeks, where the terrain allowed for more effective use of warriors on horseback.
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Date published: 17 December 2021