Enemy Riders on Horseback in Ancient Egypt

Mention owning horses and most people think of horseback riding. Yet horses were hardly used for riding in ancient Egypt. Representations of mounted horses are extremely few considering the thousands of horse icons inscribed all over Egypt. Horseback riding was the exception and chariot driving the rule for use of horsepower in ancient Egypt.

Horseback Riders in Battle Scenes

mounted Asiatic rider recorded by the Napoleonic expedition ~ links to larger view
larger view

Great tableaux of battles on the walls of ancient Egyptian temples provide only glimpses of mounted horseback riding. Judging by battle scenes, Egyptians did not ride their horses. The singular riders are typically the Asiatic enemy in various states of flight or injury. The rider on the right was distilled from a wall scene at Karnak depicting a jumble of horses in battle, drawn by a member of Napoleon Bonaparte's expedition to Egypt, published in Description de l'Égypte in the early 1800s. The scene is broken off at the top of the wall above an oversized Seti I in his chariot during a campaign against the Canaanites. 1 The bareback Asiatic rider wears a beard, cap, and cape. He holds his shield high as his stallion descends from a flying leap.

mounted Asiatic rider recorded by the Napoleonic expedition ~ links to larger view
larger view

An old photo labeled only Karnak, Thebes (unattributed, from a photo CD) testifies to the accuracy of the drawing of that scene, with the rider (at the top left of the larger view) looking back over his shoulder, holding his shield up in protection against the enormous chariot team of horses at his mount's heels. Spears shoot by him and countrymen crumple in front of him.

mounted Asiatic rider photographed in March 2003
My photo of the rider taken in March 2003 reveals much less detail

The majority of horse images on ancient Egyptian artifacts and texts celebrate Ramesses II's warriorship. Ramesses II reigned sixty-five years during the Nineteenth Dynasty in the New Kingdom. This era provides the bulk of the record of horsemanship in ancient Egypt. Fortunately for history, Ramesses told and retold his Battle of Kadesh story all the way from Abu Simbel south in Nubia, extensively in Thebes (nowadays Luxor), and as far north as Abydos.

Seti I Battle Scenes

Seti I battling the Hittites ~ links to a larger version
Seti I battling the Hittites. 2 [The image links to a larger version.]

enemy on horseback from Seti I tableau
closeup of far right rider
second enemy on horseback from Seti I tableau
closeup of lower rider

Ramesses' father Seti I also commemorated his victories. One tableau of battle reproduced in an Adolf Eman drawing above depicts two mounted horses which are ridden by the enemy. Each of those horsemen is looking back at his enemy, the Pharaoh. The mounted horses and riders are here colored yellow for distinction.

In in a damaged section of the relief in front of and below the charging pharaoh in his chariot a mounted Hittite soldier is barely visible. The rider, struck by an arrow, looks back to his gargantuan victor.

Ramesses II Battle Scenes

[v.1-2] Enemy Riders on Horseback in Ancient Egypt
[1 | 2 | Continued]


  1. Lost Civilizations Ramses II: Magnificence on the Nile Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA 1993.
  2. Erman, Adolf, Life in Ancient Egypt, Translated by H. M. Tirard. Originally published in London: Macmillan Company, 1894 — 1971 reprint by Dover. Erman took the image of Sety I in battle from Lepsius.

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