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The horse in the Arabian Peninsula

Le cheval dans la péninsule Arabique

Arabian Humanities number 8

Arabian Humanities numéro 8

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Published on Monday, January 18, 2016


This issue of Arabian Humanities on the horse in the Arabian Peninsula is addressed to archaeologists, historians, archaeozoologists, rock art experts, as well as the disciplines that address the horse’s place and the practice of furūsiyya in modern society (anthropologists, linguists, sociologists ...).



  • Abbès Zouache (CNRS - UMR 5648 CIHAM)
  • Jérémie Schiettecatte (CNRS - UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée)


In 2011, an equine statue discovered two years earlier by a camel breeder on the site of al-Maqar (Saudi Arabia), halfway between Tathlith and Wādī al-Dawāsir, was presented to the Saudi Commission for Tourism and Antiquities in Riyadh. As it had been found with Neolithic artifacts, the statue considered to be 9000 years old was presented to King Abdullah b. Abdulaziz, as evidence that the cradle of the domestication of the horse was to be found in Saudi Arabia. This finding remains the subject of much debate, due to the fortuitous nature of its discovery, and to how should the statue be interpreted in the first place.  Does it represent a horse, a donkey, or an onager? And what of the apparent band carved in relief?  Is it supposed to be a bridle of sorts?  Or a natural feature of the animal?

Regardless of what can be made of the discovery of al-Maqar, it does nevertheless highlight two fundamental points: first, that very little is known about when the horse was introduced and domesticated in the Arabian Peninsula; secondly, that this discovery underscores, in the region, the measure of the importance of the horse in the collective imagination.

Based on these observations, it seemed appropriate to devote a special issue of Arabian Humanities to the significance of the horse and of horseback riding in Arabia from multiple perspectives, from its introduction, domestication and trade, to its many uses, the symbols it conveys and the resulting representations.

Regarding its origins and uses, evidence can be mobilized. Archaeological excavations have yielded faunal assemblages that identify the presence of horses, and sometimes even determine what kind of equine they are. If mounted camels are rarely depicted in rock art, horsemen, armed with swords or spears are a recurring theme of iconography. Historical sources such as the Periplus of the Erythraean Sea tell us the animal was imported in southern Arabia in the 1st c. CE, and they observe a growing number of horsemen in the Himyarite armies. By the 4th c. CE, while the horse seems to have become quite common in southern Arabia, horse farms are attested in the Yemeni highlands. Horse breeding goes on after the Islamic conquest: farms in /Sana'a, Dhamar and Hasi supply the Aden market under the Rasūlids (13th-14th c.) as breeding becomes a mainstay of the economy of medieval Yemen, and horses are exported all the way to India. The most beautiful of them, carefully selected, make for choice gifts. Thus, in 1267, the master of Yemen had twenty such horses sent to the Mamluk Sultan Baybars.

A livelihood for many, throughout the Middle Ages the horse is also a social marker which establishes the domination of a warrior class over the societies of the Arabian Peninsula, as well as the entire Islamic East. As such, it feeds the Arab and Muslim peoples' imagination. Legends attribute its domestication to the ancestor of the Arabs, Ismail, or celebrate its ties with Prophet Muḥammad and Islam. A veritable literary genre is devoted to it, that of the "horse" books" (kutub al-ḫayl), which discuss at length their qualities and defects, and / or focus on the many poems praising its virtues. Such kutub relate to the culture of furūsiyya, which encompasses just about anything having to do with horses, from equestrian art to war, and which every ruler of the period seemed to share. The Rasulid ruler al-Malik al- Muǧāhid 'Alī b. Dāwūd (d. 1362) wrote an essay on hippology. In 1541, the devout ‛Abd al-Qādir al-Fākihī deals extensively with the topic of horses in the Kitāb manāhiǧ al-surūr ("The ways to happiness") which he writes in honour of the Sharif of Mecca Abū Numayy.

Afterwards, while Western travelers rant and rave over horse-riding and Arabian horses, the passion is still alive and well in the Arabian Peninsula. Even today, it still fascinates many of its inhabitants, some of who willingly maintain the myth.

This issue is therefore addressed to archaeologists, historians, archaeozoologists, rock art experts, as well as the disciplines that address the horse’s place and the practice of furūsiyya in modern society (anthropologists, linguists, sociologists ...).

Submission guidelines

Articles should be roughly 9 000 words.

Proposals should be sent before February 1st, 2016

to the editors of the special issue: Abbès Zouache (ab1zouache@yahoo.fr), and Jérémie Schiettecatte (jeremie.schiettecatte@cnrs.fr); as wells as to Sylvaine Giraud (edition@cefas.com.ye).
 All proposals should include the following:

  • The title of the paper
  • An abstract of 15 to 20 lines
  • Additional data to identify the author: full name, institutional affiliation and position, institutional address, phone number and e-mail.
  • Once accepted, the deadline for submission of articles is May 1st, 2016. Authors are requested to meet the editorial standards of Arabian Humanities, available here or from the Editorial Secretary, Sylvaine Giraud (edition@cefas.com.ye).


  • Monday, February 01, 2016


  • cheval, péninsule Arabique


  • Juliette Honvault
    courriel : jhonvault [at] yahoo [dot] fr

Reference Urls

Information source

  • Sylvaine Giraud
    courriel : edition [at] cefas [dot] com [dot] ye


CC0-1.0 This announcement is licensed under the terms of Creative Commons CC0 1.0 Universal.

To cite this announcement

« The horse in the Arabian Peninsula », Call for papers, Calenda, Published on Monday, January 18, 2016, https://calenda.org/353227

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