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Dawn of the Horse Warriors: More Like Dusk . . Amirite?

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Noble’s Dawn of the Horse Warriors: Chariot and Cavalry Warfare 3000-600 BC discusses the introduction of the chariot and its evolution as an instrument of war in Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean region. While the book strongly suggested the author was very well-versed in the subject, I found that it lacked clarity and its structure tended to obscure rather than illuminate the topics it presented.

I am sure that Noble is extremely knowledgeable regarding the development of the chariot and the domestication of horses. That is certainly clear from the text. If I took away nothing else from this book it would be that Duncan Noble knows about ancient chariots man’s interaction with horses. I would imagine that Noble’s previous works must have been well-received or that he is a known expert within the community that studies ancient Mesopotamia. In my mind, there must be a reason for his authorship of this book and the publisher’s decision to present it. I assume there must be a reason because I can find no such reason in the text.

To be blunt, I found this an extremely poorly written book. This work desperately needed an editor. I don’t want to be too harsh, but the best summation of my experience with the book is that if it were not assigned reading, I would have put it down after the first chapter.

From very early on in my readings, I was concerned with what I perceived as a lack of linear thought. Too often in Noble’s writings, pieces were dropped in – a paragraph on a different region, a sentence or two looking at a different era – that has no relation to the topic being developed. While sometimes these diversions had an impact later in the work, there was no apparent or logical reason to include these digressions at the place in which they are presented.

An example of one such diversion is the first appearance of Sintashta (p10). Noble includes a paragraph on the settlement of Sintashta in his chapter on the domestication of the horse. The paragraph before it discusses changes in the region of European-Eurasian interchange. There is no discussion of such changes in the paragraph on Sintashta. The paragraph following is part of the conclusion of the chapter, in which Sintashta plays no part. Sintashta is not encountered again until the chapter on wheeled transport before the Sumerians (p22), but the settlement is not introduced, perhaps assuming one remembers the previous introduction.

There was no logical reason to provide a one paragraph introduction on the settlement that has no bearing on the topic of the chapter, especially when the subject of the paragraph is not again discussed until 12 pages later. I would have assumed the introductory paragraph would have been better placed leading into the paragraph that discusses the settlements significance. And this is only one example of a trend that greatly annoyed me.

Unfortunately, the rest of Noble’s writing does not help to provide clarity to his thoughts or analysis. In fact, I found that the writing obscured whatever information he might be trying to convey. At one point, Noble writes: “The language of the Assyrians was Assyrian, . . . All eight dialects of this Semetic language are now extinct, although well-known to modern Assyriologist linguists who call them collectively Akkadian.” (p41) It seems, from this section, that it might have been more correct to write ‘the language of the Assyrians was Akkadian,’ but perhaps Assyrian was a dialect of Akkadian. I’m honestly not certain, because it seems to follow logically that the language is called Akkadian, but then I am left to speculate on why Noble did not simply write that. As he didn’t, I am left wondering if my understanding is correct.

And this is reflected in the contradictions that are far less common, but no less a problem. In discussing Nuzi chariots (or possibly all Hurrian chariots, it is not clear), Noble indicates that that “a chariot” was “rather Egyptian in style” (p38) which, on first reading, I took to mean that the average chariot identified at Nuzi was of the Egyptian style. Later, though, Noble writes regarding the information the Nuzi tablets provide on the Hurrians, and of their chariots he states “. . . we do not know whether their design tended towards that of the light Egyptian pattern, . . .”(p39) This led me to re-read the section and then wonder if the Hurrian chariots were different than the Nuzi chariots, or if there was a specific kind of chariot which was the Egyptian pattern. It is unclear and this is incredibly unhelpful when one is attempting to research the introduction and evolution of chariots in warfare.

In the end, I recognized that there was a wealth of information which Noble could offer and it is unfortunate his is not a strong enough writer or did not have a strong enough editor to make his book less of a challenge to decipher. Noble likely brings exceptional value to the discussion of chariots in ancient warfare but unfortunately, I found his writing unclear, and the structure of the prose unsound.

I’m going to give Noble’s Dawn of the Horse Warriors 2 Hurrian (or is that Nuzi) chariots out of 5. It’s obvious the author knows his stuff, but this books desperately needed a strong editorial hand.

This review is also published on Good Reads, here.

You can read all my Good Reads reviews here.