The Comanche used to raid into Mexico. In the fall, small groups joined up and rode south on a network of trails, called the Comanche Trace. Some came from as far away as the Arkansas River. In places, there was a beaten path as much as a mile wide. They often rode at night, when the moon was full. Some allied tribes, like the Kiowa and Kiowa-Apache, accompanied them. Each warrior took three or four horses with him.

The Comanche raided as far as Jalisco.  The Kiowa-Apache, who were the most daring, once came back with parrots.  Mostly, though, they stole cattle and horses – tens of thousands of them –  and kidnapped people.

Unless stopped by a real army, the Comanches could and did push back the frontier of settlement. “The Legislature of Chihuahua described the situation it faced in 1846. “We travel the roads…at their [i.e. the Comanches and Apaches] whim; we cultivate the land where they wish and in the amount they wish; we use sparingly things they have left to us until the moment that it strikes their appetite to take them for themselves.” Traveler Josiah Gregg said that “the whole country from New Mexico to the borders of Durango is almost entirely depopulated. ”

During the Civil War, when the US Cavalry and Texas Rangers were otherwise occupied, the Comanche pushed back the frontier in Texas by 100 kilometers or so.

These guys didn’t have to fight from horseback, although they could and did. if 50 raiders showed up suddenly at a small village, the local farmers were screwed, unless of course  they had Yul Brynner, Charles Bronson, and Steve McQueen around.

The Comanche generally inflicted far more casualties than they suffered: in the winter of 1845-1846, 652 Mexicans and 48 Comanches were killed. At that, the Comanche lost more than they had t0 – they took extreme risks to recover the bodies of fallen warriors.  And sometimes they seemed to seek out a fight rather than just raid – presumably in search of  ‘undying fame’.

If the Yamnaya Indo-Europeans could ride, they could have inflicted similar havoc on Old Europe.  They didn’t need dramatically better weaponry: mobility makes it work. Without a state and army, how could Old Europe have stopped it?

I wonder if multispectral satellite imagery could find signs of something like that Comanche trace coming out of the Ukraine.

This entry was posted in Amerindians, European Prehistory, Indo-European and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

105 Responses to Horsepower

  1. jamesd127 says:

    Horses were smaller in those days. I expect the Indo Europeans raided by chariot.

    • eurogenes says:

      People were smaller as well. And they did ride horses.

      Chariots came later, via the Sintashta Chariot Complex expansion.

      • MawBTS says:

        Did the Sintashta use chariots in war? I’ve heard about the burials.

        • eurogenes says:

          They probably did. An argument was made once that the chariots buried at Sintashta sites were too small for people and might have just been funerary gifts, but that argument ignored the fact that only some of the chariots were small, while others were big enough to fit a couple of people.

          In any case, after the Sintashta expansions, chariots were used in war all over the place, so if that’s a coincidence then it’d be a very strange one.

          • engleberg says:

            It’s a pity we didn’t go straight from chariots to velocipedes. There are some ancient Greek gravestones showing swift-footed dudes on something like a skateboard, but oops, never caught on.

      • garr says:

        Farming made people small, didn’t it? So why would herders be small? They can eat lots and lots of hamburgers, just like hunters. Were these people in fact small? If so, what would explain their smallness? They’d rather ride the meat than eat it?

        • Matt says:

          Sticking “height mesolithic europe” into the search engine, this, the first result, seems fairly typical according to this ref (, Mesolithic Europeans are estimated at around 166cm tall for males, which is about 5 foot 4.5 inches tall, and 62 kg, while LBK farmer males were 165cm (5 foot 4 inches) by 64kg.

          Or Hawks –“We do have some data points — the Neandertals were shorter than Upper Paleolithic Europeans, for example, but seem to have been around the same height as Mesolithic people (and a shade taller than Neolithic Europeans). “

          So both pretty small compared to modern hamburger munching people (or Maasai or the people of the Dinaric Alps or whatnot).

          IIRC Mongolian pastoralists are not large people compared to contemporaneous Chinese, Bedouin are not large people compared to Near Eastern farmers, etc. There are plenty of pretty short hunter gatherers who subsist off meat, like the Inuit.

          Although this said, it seems that the Yamnaya and Corded Population may have been a taller, one link suggests a height increase of 1.5 inches for males with the transition point to Corded Ware in Latvia (maybe about 5 foot 5.5 ins). Similar results here – . So a protein share effect isn’t out of the question.

          • Garr says:

            Thanks. I was just remembering hearing/reading/seeing in various places that the Old Stone Age Europeans were very big, and that everybody shrank down when farming started, and it seemed to me that a herder’s diet would be a lot like hunter’s, so there wouldn’t be any need to shrink.

        • Mike P says:

          In Empire of the Summer Moon, S.C. Gwynne quotes contemporary accounts from Texans indicating that the Comanche were quite a bit smaller than them.

          • Campesino says:

            I would be very leery of making generalizations about Comanche physical descriptions. The Comanche were probably the most aggressive group on the Plains when it came to adopting captives into the tribe. For example, the famous Comanche chief Quanah Parker’s mother was a white woman captured in Texas. If you look at pictures of him, he looks at least 6 ft tall. His first wife was a Mescalero Apache, by the way.

            I’m sure if you studied the genome of contemporary Comanche you’d find significant additions from Anglo, Spanish, Pueblo and other Plains tribes

          • Anonymous says:

            I believe one of Mangus Colorado’s wives was Spanish.

  2. eurogenes says:

    This scenario works for the Balkans, and is supported to some degree by archeology. Parts of the eastern Balkans were apparently depopulated for a thousand years after the first Kurgans showed up there.

    But North Central Europe, where the temperate version of Yamnaya (ie. Corded Ware) pushed in, was probably a different story. Several different archeological groups existed side by side there for many generations, often filling specific niches and trading with each other. I forget exactly which niche the Corded Ware filled but it was the one where their cows liked to graze in.

    • Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

      How do we know they traded with each other?

      Is it simply conjecture based on a high likelihood or is it supported by evidence?

      • eurogenes says:

        Because at some archeological sites Corded Ware, Funnel Beaker and other cultures seemed to have swapped goods on a regular basis. Or they stole from each other on a regular basis. But the archeologists doing the research said it was trade.

        • gcochran9 says:

          Trade between the Corded Ware Culture (2900-2450/2350 BC) and Funnel Beaker Culture (4300-2800 BC) was surprisingly difficult.

          • eurogenes says:

            It really couldn’t have been that difficult, since they were right next door to each other at many sites.

            “The contacts between the FBC and CWC people, taking into consideration their temporary settlement in the same regions, might have had unstable character, that is at times peaceful (economic), now and then hostile. Their specific character might not essentially differ from what we could observe in the other areas inhabited by the people of both cultures, e.g. in the western loess uplands of Little Poland (Kruk, Milisauskas 1999).

            Source: Andrzej Pelisiak, The Funnel Beaker Culture Settlements Compared with Other Neolithic Cultures in the Upper and Middle Part of the Dnister Basin. Selected Issues. State of the Research, 2007

          • ursiform says:

            I think Greg’s point is that people need to be alive at the same time to trade …

          • eurogenes says:

            And my point is that they were. Read the quote I posted.

    • epoch2013 says:

      Marija Gimbutas talks about assimilation of Funnelbeaker people:

  3. MawBTS says:

    The difference is that the Comanche got tame horses and learned to ride them from the Pueblo (I believe), who in turn got them from the Spanish. The Indo Europeans had to figure out everything from square one.

    I wonder who was the first person to ride a horse, and why he decided to do it.

    • Jim says:

      After the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 a large number of horses came into the possession of the Pueblo Indians. These were traded to or stolen by people already in the Southern Plains such as the Lipan who started to use them for raiding. A Shoshoni band entered the Llano Estacado about 1700. These people became the Comanches of history. They drove most of the Athabascans to the west and east. Some Pueblo Indians from the Taos Pueblos adopted a nomadic way of life on the Southern Plains and became the Kiowa. The Comanches and Kiowa fought each other until about 1780 when Anglo traders arranged a peace settlement between them. Thereafter the two raided over much of South Texas and into Mexico. The main objective of these raids were cattle (as well as horses). The stolen cattle were exchanged with Anglo traders for stuff like guns, metal implements, leather goods, etc. In the early part of the 19th century the Comanche were the principal suppliers of beef to the US market.

      As time went on others joined in the fun such as the Tonkawa and the Wichita. The latter were Caddo Indians who abandoned the rather sophisticated Caddo culture of East Texas to become Plains nomads.

      The Spanish at times secured the cooperation of the Comanches in their campaigns against the Apaches but unlike the main ally of the Spanish, the Pima, the Comanches were not reliable allies.

      Meanwhile the Gulf Coast at this time was a place of pirates and cannibals. Texas was a pretty exciting place in the 18th century.

    • ghazisiz says:

      “I wonder who was the first person to ride a horse, and why he decided to do it.”

      It was a black dude, of course. Amazing you are not aware! Must not have attended public school…

  4. Jim says:

    The Kiowa Apache were a very small tribe. The Apaches Gregg was referring to more likely were Lipan.

  5. Jim says:

    Interestingly the Apache for a long time (prior to the Pueblo Revolt of 1680) stole horses and cattle from the Spanish primarily to eat although over time hey increasingly traded them to Anglo traders for stuff. It seemed to take the Apaches quite a while to learn to ride horses. The Shoshoni who became the Comanches however became very quickly among the greatest horsemen ever.

  6. Fourth doorman of the apocalypse says:

    OT, but HERV’s (Human Endogenous Retroviruses) are interesting and I recently found out about them.

    I speculate that because sperm replication is going on all the time, it is likely males that introduce HERVs into the human genome.

    Of course, Greg might pop up and say You’re wrong …

  7. Jim says:

    Regarding the “undying fame” as motivation for the Comanches. Successful participation in raids certainly lead to increased prestige as well as greater wealth because of the cattle acquired. However some Comanche men choose not to participate. There was no requirement to take part but those men who had not participated in raiding generally had less status and probably more difficulty in acquirng a wife.

  8. Patrick Boyle says:

    Horse people should all be killed. That was the prevailing sentiment of farmers everywhere for millennia. You can get some of this feeling in a good performance of ‘Prince Igor’. Powerful stuff.

    Keegan describes the attack of mounted archers on the steppe as delivering Somme-like casualties with no possible response from the defenders. The steppes were like that for much of human history. But relief came in the 16th century with the ‘Gunpowder revolution’ which swept out of Europe eastward. Horse people were never much of a problem after that. No more Attila, Genghis or Tamerlane.

    But the Americas had a different history because the horse raiders also had guns. In the long run settlers with Henrys will prevail, but in the short run at the Battle of the Little Big Horn the Indians had the Henrys and the cavalry had only the single shot Springfields.

    A man on a horse is too fast to be hit by a bow or any similar weapon. But with the advent of Henrys and the later Winchester lever guns, a man on a horse made a big easy target. Civilization triumphs.

    You show those picturesque Comanches around 1846. They weren’t going to last much longer. The Henry came out in 1860. The Maxim in 1884. There would be no more horse raiders in combat after that.

    • Matt says:

      Hmm… Wiki says “Skirmishing requires vast areas of free space to run, manoeuvre and flee, and if the terrain is close, light horse archers can be charged and defeated easily. Light horse archers are also very vulnerable to foot archers and crossbowmen, who are smaller targets and can outshoot horsemen. Large armies very seldom relied solely on skirmishing mounted archers”

      Mounted archery was usually ineffective against massed foot archery. The foot archers or crossbowmen could outshoot the horse archers and a man alone is a smaller target than a man and a horse. The Crusaders countered the Turkoman horse archery with their crossbowmen, and Genoese crossbowmen were favoured mercenaries in both Mamluk and Mongol armies. Likewise the Chinese armies consisted of massed crossbowmen to counter the nomad armies. A nomad army that wanted to engage in an archery exchange with foot archers would itself normally dismount. The typical Mongol archer shot from a sitting position when dismounted.

      Could be wrong though. Military history buffs like Greg could say. Sounds correct to me that its easier to hit a large, moving target from stationary than hit a much smaller, more slowly moving (or stationary) target while handling a horse. Seems to suggest that horse archery is good for raiding, not that great for an army, unless you’re in its ideal terrain, very open grassland (traumatic for farming peoples like the Russians expanding into the sea of grass, but less of a bother for peoples situated on good farmland a nice distance from where mounted archery is a great unit type).

      But mounted archery (and a cavalry heavy strategy generally) is good for raids and raiders are “self supporting” (euphemistically) while armies are a challenge to pull together. Easy for raiders to slip in and make a fuss when there’s not the political will and coordination to make a proper army, especially if horses have just been “invented” rather than everyone having millennia of experience with them (and without Chinese / Russian governmental doctrines obsessing about making sure that there is always the political will and coordination for an army).

      • Magus Janus says:

        What then explains the success of the Mongol horde against a myriad of different enemies? I may be incorrect, but to my knowledge their core army membership was mounted archery. They fought and destroyed traditional “knight + archers + foot soldier” european armies (and many others). Seems that if the answre was a simple as just having foot archery then they would not have wrecked the havoc they did.

        I honestly don’t know the answer as I lack the requisite knowledge; hopefully someone like Greg or someone else could elucidate whether wiki is correct in the comment above or if there was something more to the Mongols.

        • Matt says:

          IIRC mounted archery was useful to but mainly in helping them get the ball rolling on the frontier steppe, where it really is very good, then they picked up tons of mercenaries and foot armies, etc. as they pushed forth into China, Iran, etc. changing their tactics along the way but keeping their intent to conquest, which came from being a rather feuding, violent people with an initial military advantage on the edges of a much richer and more peaceful empire.

          I think, I’ve seen the genius of the Mongols described as being an early example of a combined arms force (others being the Romans and really good Chinese armies). No idea who said that or if it’s correct.

          But I actually don’t know enough about military history to comment any more, my knowledge and interest is fairly sketchy.

          • MawBTS says:

            The interesting thing about the Mongols is that the Chinese had been fighting nomadic horsemen from the north for thousands of years, often with good results. Sometimes these guys were pretty organised and scary – the Xiongnu were reputed to have 300,000 cavalry at the Battle of Baideng, exaggerated though that number certainly is. But they never got much of a foothold in China. Most of the big battles took place north of the Great Wall.

            There was something very different about Mongols. China wasn’t conquered because they’d never seen horse archers before.

        • Space Ghost says:

          Mongol armies weren’t just horse archers; they also had lancers. The pike square wasn’t invented until the 15th century, and 13th century European armies probably didn’t have the discipline for it anyway.

          • Bruce says:

            The schiltron was being used in Scotland in the 13th century but I don’t know about mainland Europe.

          • Bruce says:

            Wikipedia says the schiltron may be descended from the Anglo-Saxon shield wall, Viking battle formations and Pictish battle formations. Maybe it’s a British Isles thing.

          • Patrick Boyle says:

            They also, under Genghis, had military intelligence. Genghis received reports from all the scattered fronts. He supplied organization and planning. The Mongols had had their panoply of arms and armament for centuries. He brought it all together.

            The testimony of the people he attacked often contains some reference to a mounted army appearing out of nowhere and attacking from an unexpected direction. A mounted force is much more able to capitalize on superior intelligence.

            The Mongols also used advanced tactics. They were called a horde – implying great numbers just thrown against the enemy – but their tactics were sophisticated and their numbers were relatively small. One tactic used was the false escape route. The Mongols surrounded the enemy but left one sector weak. That weak sector would lose and the disorganized enemy would stream out only to encounter a waiting hidden Mongol force who would annihilated them.

            The sudden Mongol emergence was not technological. The bow was introduced maybe 20 thousand years ago (kya). That’s six thousand years before the atlatl. The horse was begun to be domesticate about 4 kya. That’s about the time of the pyramids. The tool set that Genghis had to work with in the thirteenth century was ancient. He was the difference.

          • Campesino says:

            The bow was introduced maybe 20 thousand years ago (kya). That’s six thousand years before the atlatl.


            There is much controversy about when the bow was invented. Most dates that I have seen from Europe are 16-17,000 BP and these are “inferred” from projectile point size. No one has seen a bow that old or seen them in rock art.

            On the other hand, atlatls date back to the Upper Paleolithic, more like 20-30,000 BP. Actual bone and antler atlatls have been recovered from sites in Europe, some covered in gorgeous carved decorations.

            The Paleoindians brought atlatls with them when they arrived in the New World, whenever that was: older than 14,000 BP, 19-20,000 BP if you believe Stanford and Bradley. Dates all up in the air, and most of the early sites likely underwater off the coast.

            Bows don’t appear in the New World until much later, AD 300-500. Independent invention? Some ship from Eurasia that had people with bows on it blown off course?

          • dave chamberlin says:

            I don’t doubt the considerable evidence that composite bows were invented in 1500 BC and the stirrup around 300 AD in central Asia but coming into use in Europe slowly after 800 AD, I am just commenting on how weird this is. Is there a better answer than that horse cultures were ingenious in the design of bows, carts, chariots, warfare strategy, ect, ect, but it never occurred to them to stabilize themselves better by hooking their feet into loops while bouncing along on the back of a galloping horse. There must be, I just don’t know what it is.

            I have to recommend to people interested in the larger subject of the history of horse domestication that they watch this lecture by David Anthony writer of the the book The Horse, The Wheel, and Language.

        • Bruce says:

          I believe the steppe archers use of composite bows from horseback (which allows high-mobility shoot-and-scoot tactics) is something that made a big difference. Composite bows can be fired from horseback at long-range targets. Good luck firing an English longbow from horseback. Composite bows were very difficult to make and provided a clear advantage to the steppe archers.

          Plus the stubborn, Valhalla-obsessed Teutonics had an overwhelming desire to cut their enemies down in hand-to-hand combat.

          • Patrick Boyle says:

            I don’t know if the Comanches in the nineteenth century were good archers. They might have learned how to use the bow properly. But Amerindians in general were not good archers.

            The Mongols were good archers but the Samurai weren’t, so it wasn’t a simple racial of Eastern Hemisphere issue. The Samurai and the American Indians pulled the arrow back the same way ten year old Boy Scouts do. They pinched the arrow between their fore finger and thumb. When I was a ten year old Boy Scout they corrected my technique – I thereafter pulled back the bowstring not the arrow. Even better would be a thumb hook or other device but this was just target practice not life and death. It was probably a twenty pound bow.

            If you pinch the arrow you can never draw a real war bow. War bows in the West at about the same time that Genghis was in the East, were approximately twice as stiff as hunting bows. Most modern archers couldn’t draw the bows retrieved from the Mary Rose. The skeletons from long bow archers have skeletal deformations like modern power lifters. Western archers were like baseball pitchers – the biggest strongest guys on the team.

            In the East they developed the compound bow. Keegan says the compound bow was the highest technology of the day. We think a crossbow, because it had more moving parts, was more complex but no. It took two years to make a single compound bow. You could make a crossbow in a week.

            Some historians claim that Europe was too moist for the compound bow. Compound bows were in danger of delaminating in the rain. But Europe also had poor lands West of Hungary for the large strings of horses that horse people needed. Attila was warned off invading Italy by Leo partly because of disease but probably also because of the lack of forage. Of course the only record we have of their conversation is in the second act of Verdi’s opera where Leo mentions neither sickness nor hay.

            • MawBTS says:

              Re: Europe being too moist for composite bows, it’s an interesting point.

              The Mughals were said to have used composite bows. Monsoon season in India was especially dreaded, because it cause their precious bows to delaminate like you described. Apparently they were able to mitigate the problem somewhat by completely covering the bows in leather or lacquer. And later they used steel bows.

              I think that if Genghis Khan had lived, he would have made it far into Europe. The terrain and climate wasn’t ideal for his army, but neither was Samarkand’s.

          • Anonymous says:

            Everyone used composite bows, as GC mentions in another comment. The English longbow has its name because the English were unique in using this primitive tool. They used it because composites fell apart in the damp.

          • Patrick Boyle says:

            In the Tyrone Power adventure ‘The Black Rose’, his partner Jack Hawkins is a long bowman. They leave England and travel to China to meet Orson Welles playing Kubla Kahn (I guess). Hawkins astounds the Mongols with the power and accuracy of the English long bow. But they don’t adopt it as their standard weapon for horse back archery.

            The long bow of course is a ‘self-bow’. It is simply a carved from a good baulk of yew split longitudinally with half heart wood and half sap wood. So it would be much cheaper and simpler to make than a composite bow. It was not only intended only for the infantry – it was restricted to the tall infantry. It was best handled by men over six feet.

            Recent scholarship suggests that most engagements were not the ‘hail of arrows’ depicted in Olivier’s ‘Richard V’ or ‘Braveheart’. Longbow men did fire from massed ranks occasionally but such tactics were too wasteful of arrows to be used routinely. Most of the time the archers shot from only a few feet away. At five feet a bodkin tipped arrow could pierce a breastplate. Neither of these methods of engagement require a lot of ‘Robin Hood-like’ accuracy. The principal requirements of an archer were power and stamina.

            The Mongols in contrast hunted with their composite bow from horseback. They learned how to do this as children or else they went hungry. Mongol bowmen could – I’m told – hit a marmot on the run. So a relatively small group of accurate horse archers were nearly invincible in raids against unwarlike agriculturalists. It was like that for a long, long time.

      • Jim says:

        Unlike the Mongols the Comanche had no interst in conquering and ruling over those they raided. They were interested primarily in cattle and other loot. The Comanche were certainly willing to fight hard when necessary but pitched battles with those they raided were not really what they were interested in. They really didn’t want to wipe out or drive away the Spanish/Coahuiltecans They loved the Spanish/Coahuiltecans. They loved to steal cattle from them.

        • Laban says:

          Sounds like the Sudanese Arabs :

          “Then the Arabs started coming down from beyond the River to the north, and panic spread and grew with every raid over the plains, and the Dinkas fled before the Arab horsemen thundering over the hard burnt soil and took refuge on the fringe of the forest to the south. Poor, gentle, timid Dinkas, they just ran and ran till where the plains met the forest. The Arabs used to ride down like lightning from their country beyond the River, spearing anyone they met on their road who offered resistance, and recrossing the river with a mob of raided cattle driven before them and lithe naked Dinka girls strapped on to their great saddles behind them.”

        • John Hostetler says:

          “There is no hunting like the hunting of man, and those who have hunted armed men long enough and liked it, never care for anything else thereafter.”

          Perhaps the Comanche were, in a sense, cultivating opponents. Sad indeed for them when the fun ended.

        • Patrick Boyle says:

          Campesino above tells me that the atlatl was invented long before the bow. I thought so too. But in fact I have never actually done any field work on ancient artifacts – except for some digging for Indians articles when I was an teenage Explorer scout. I’ve found plenty of dinosaur remains but not humans. So I rely on books.

          I have been reading Michael H Hart’s Understanding Human History which seems reliable. It reports the bow as being invented first. BTW Henry Harpending is cited often inside and has a review printed outside.

          I don’t really know. I’m just a reader not a digger.

          There has been some discussion about firearms and mounted bowmen. Let me just add that in the Comanche experience it was not firearms per se that doomed their raiding but rather rifles, repeaters and modern ammunition. Smoothbore muskets were considered accurate enough if they could hit the target at fifty yards. The target was a rectangle fifteen feet high and ten feet wide. This was the approximate size of a mounted man on horseback. Of course if you missed you were in trouble. It took a while to reload muzzle loaders.

          That’s why soldiers with muskets fought in massed lines not as individuals. Pioneer farmers out on the prairie had no militia musketeers handy so they were very vulnerable to the ‘murderous Injuns’. That was before the Civil War. By 1860 breach loaded repeaters like the Henry and the Spencer were becoming cheap enough to doom mounted Indians unless they were similarly armed.

          You simply can’t defend against as few as even two or three mounted Indians with a musket. That was the situation up until perhaps 1850. Cap and ball revolvers and then lever rifles changed all that.

          There was a period of about fifty years that revolutionized firearms – and then there have been no major changes since then. We today still use weapons whose designs date from the late nineteenth century. That half century turned the horse from being a powerful battlefield asset into just a toy for the wealthy.

          • JB says:

            Patrick, I’d be interested in reading Harpending’s review of that book, which I have also read. Do you have a link? I did some Binging but am not coming up.

          • harpend says:

            To JB:

            I don’t remember reviewing Michael’s book but I might have. At any rate I don’t have any record of it on my PC, no surprise given the turnover rate of hard disks around here.

          • Patrick Boyle says:

            To JB and harpend (Henry Harpending)

            I didn’t make it up. The reason I probably bought the book (Understanding Human History) years ago was because it was endorsed by Jensen, Harpending and Rushton. I read when I got it (I think) but I ran across it in a bookshelf the day before yesterday and started reading it again. I find that if I had read it I didn’t remember much. You said:

            Hart gives us an insightful no-nonsense summary of human history from the first appearance of our species about 50,000 years ago. He acknowledges without blinking that there are large differences in average cognitive ability among human groups and he shows that these account nicely for many of otherwise puzzling phenomena in our species’ history. His arguments are compelling and no honest historian nor social scientist will be able to ignore them.

            He cites Gregory Cochran too.

          • Campesino says:

            I have been reading Michael H Hart’s Understanding Human History which seems reliable. It reports the bow as being invented first.


            Well, he’s an astrophysicist and I’m an archaeologist.

            I wouldn’t presume to write about astrophysics

      • Duke of Qin says:

        The primary advantage of horses for the steppe nomads wasn’t tactical, but strategic. By having your entire force mounted and your society mobile, you could dictate the terms of any engagement. Meet a superior force on the field? Simply leave and fight another day, since the pursuing force is not fast enough to pursue. The further a traditional infantry army marches into the steppe, the greater the logistical burden and cost and the weaker the men get as time drags on. It is near impossible for infantry armies to force steppe nomads into battle since they had no strong points to defend, no fields to raze, and really nothing to pillage. They would simply move their herds and people and while this wasn’t painless, it was nothing compared to the costs of supplying the cost of an army.

        The times that the Chinese were able to subdue the nomads came at much greater expense than the effort warranted. Think of how America has spent trillions of dollars fighting the war on terror against an adversary who doesn’t need more than ten thousand to pull off a successful attack. When the Chinese were able to successfully fight the steppe nomads was to fight like steppe nomads, not an easy task since most of China is not prime horse raising territory and the source of most of China’s horses came from the Central Asia and trading with the nomads themselves. Basically they bought a lot of horses, levied an obscene tax burden on peasants to pay for the large cavalry army and the supplies to feed them, and launched massive raids into the steppe to fight the nomads like other nomads do. By bringing an equally mobile army and taking the fight to their families, you could force steppe armies into battles on your terms. The Han and Tang adopted this strategy, but it was ruinously expensive. So most other Chinese dynasties decided to pay the one cent of tribute rather than spending the million on defense.

        Most of the times the steppe threat didn’t amount to more than nuisance raiding (at least for the Emperor, not so much for sedentary peoples living on the frontier), it is only with the advent of hybrid steppe/sedentary civilizations like the Liao and Jin that they become truly dangerous because they combined the mobile warfare advantage of the steppe with the organizational and bureaucratic advantage of the plains (need them for siege warfare). The Mongols biggest advantage under Genghis advantage wasn’t so much tactical as it was political. The steppe nomad originating polities are naturally tribal and fractious. When one tribe gains preeminence it always creates enemies and the tribal coalitions are unsteady. When you study the course of the decades long war between the mongols and the Jin, time after time you see betrayal by subordinates ostensibly loyal to the Jin leading to disaster. The Mongols were able to keep up their coalition building longer than most, but like all the steppe empires that came before and after, disintegrate into clannish blood-letting.

      • incognomen says:

        You don’t actually have to practice mounted warfare to benefit from horses. The viking wars in Saxon England were a good example. The Vikings used ships and stolen horses to dictate the time and place of dismounted infantry engagements to great effect. Without an Alfred to build and man the burhs (and without the remains of roman castras as a blueprint) this was an invincible tactic.

    • Jim says:

      The final end of Comanche power came at the Battle of Palo Duro in 1874.

    • Jim says:

      Patrick Boyle – Yes, after the mid 19th century the reaction from the bewildered Comanches was “You guys ain’t no fun anymore”.

  9. Peter Lund says:

    “[…] joined up and road south […]”

    Hummer nims.

  10. Matt says:

    The Comanche did all that on the plains, not somewhere heavily forested or with rugged terrain.

    Their horses IIRC were long bred domesticates.

    Does that make any difference?

    Also how spread out and thin in numbers were the frontier farmers compared to the LBK?

    On Corded Ware, it is a population who seems to have replaced the LBK with a form of life which was mixed agricultural and pastoral. Is that what a raider group would do out of raiding their prey to extinction, or at least to the point where they all wanted to live elsewhere (perhaps the LBK went somewhere more congenial)?

    On armies, I wonder if there was anything more like an army in the Atlantic Megalithic zone, where the Corded Ware expansion stops? How much would it even have to be like one?

  11. dave chamberlin says:

    It is a fascinating wide reaching subject, how the domestication of the horse allowed dominance of one people over another. How a relatively small group of mobile horse riding folk from out Siberia way left their gigantic footprint on the DNA of Europeans is one way, how the Mongols did it is another way and how the Comanche did it is yet a third. The Polish winged hussars kicked ass for a century more than in European conflict going into battle with a pair of flapping wings on their backs. The wings weren’t all for show, they actually prevented wounds to the backside, but who cares, gimme a horse charge from a bunch of gallant wing flapping men on horseback over a drone attack any day.

  12. Greying Wanderer says:

    I think that’s how it happened.


    As mentioned above steppe armies (eventually) had lancers too so the horse archers could take out anything except foot archers and light cavalry and the lancers would deal with those.

    Interesting really how the northern tribes went from mostly shield wall type infantry armies to what were effectively steppe lancers (but not the steppe archers).

    As you say I think terrain is critical. You need wide open spaces for horse archers to dominate physically and I’d also say logistically

    1) “Each warrior took three or four horses with him.”

    In a 10,000 strong horde that’s a lot of grazing and water needed hence (imo) why steppe hordes never fully swept into Europe in one go – too many forests – not enough grazing (except Hungarian plain).


    2) I think the big advantage is not just horse archery in itself but time in the saddle. On the steppe both the warrior elite and the “peasantry” might spend 10 hours a day in the saddle because their food-getting revolved around that whereas off the steppe only the warrior caste could be spared to spend that long in the saddle (via hunting).



    “This scenario works for the Balkans, and is supported to some degree by archeology. Parts of the eastern Balkans were apparently depopulated for a thousand years after the first Kurgans showed up there.

    But North Central Europe, where the temperate version of Yamnaya (ie. Corded Ware) pushed in, was probably a different story. Several different archeological groups existed side by side there for many generations, often filling specific niches and trading with each other. I forget exactly which niche the Corded Ware filled but it was the one where their cows liked to graze in.”

    My guess would be population density.

    In the forest zone the population was less dense allowing infiltration migration whereas in the south it was densely settled farmers so couldn’t be budged directly and had to be a gradual weakening process of hit and run raiding.



    “I wonder who was the first person to ride a horse, and why he decided to do it.”

    I’d bet any money it was to impress a girl.

    • Steve Sailer says:

      Judging from modern skate punks, I’d guess the first human to successfully ride a horse was a wiry, agile teenage boy.

      It was probably a colt he had raised.

      • Bruce says:

        Too bad no one with a video camera was around to record him falling and crushing his balls like the skate punks do all the time.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        yes, a hand raised animal would be easier

      • Kate says:

        “In person the cowboys were mostly medium-sized men… quick and wiry. Their average age was 24.” Teddy Blue Abbott.

        It’s not a direct comparison obviously, but maybe, without stirrups, mastering a horse would be easier for a young man with fully developed leg and back muscles?

        • TWS says:

          My grandfather caught and broke horses for a living when he was a young man. He was short but broad shouldered and muscled like a gymnast. His father was disabled so he was the breadwinner from the time he was 13 working as a cowboy. He spent so much time in the saddle as a boy that he actually was bowlegged when he walked.

      • TWS says:

        My guess that the first person to ride a tame horse would be the child set on its back of the family’s tamest mare by its mother and father and led around their wagon or yurt or whatever for grins. Or maybe because mom was tired of lugging a three year old around and sat him on the horse dragging the travois or whatever they used.

      • MawBTS says:

        Did they know how to ferment stuff back then? Could have been history’s first “hold my beer” moment.

  13. Rum says:

    A Texian Ranger from the Early Days once said that if there ever had been, in fact, 1000 commanchee warriors in one place at one time they would have won any fight and gotten all the way to Austin too. The Texian meant it as a honest compliment,.

  14. dearieme says:

    The early Viking raids were rather like cavalry raids, except boat-borne.

    • John Hostetler says:

      Thanks. Exactly the point I wished to make in reply to Matt in the Satem/Centum thread: there was direct genetic and cultural continuity from Steppe raiders settling Europe, eventually reaching high population density (for them) in places like the plains of southern Sweden, overflowing from there as raiders and warriors out over the vast remnants of the Roman Empire and a little later still, sailing their longboats west to Newfoundland and east to the Volga. The only significant difference between a Goth, an Angle and a Viking was technology. The genes, mentality and strategy were the same.

      The sea is the greatest plain of all.

      • Matt says:

        Well, the Vikings may have gone to their piracy because of an ancient call from steppe raiding, or perhaps just from circumstances.

        Greg and Henry have written before about vast behavioural genetic changes from Ashkenazi Jews from Rome to the Middle Ages, from the Amish and for selection for farming. I wonder how much of a spirit of the Corded Ware or the early Indo-Europeans might be left in East Europeans under selection for grain farming for a few thousand years (and at the same time, in many arid regions you have people under selection for a basically pastoral way of life, despite having a lot of genetic legacy from early farmers).

        Btw, Greg, any thoughts on who the “sea peoples” of the ancient Near East were?

        Also, strikes me that in Central Asia, it seems like the modern day pre-Turkic populations tend to be closer autosomally to people from Afghanistan than North Europeans…

        Take out what we know is Northeast Asian from a Uyghur and what’s left doesn’t look much like a North European, but more like a person from the Iran to Afghanistan to Pakistan region. The R1a “golden family” is still going strong, but autosomally… Wonder how that happened, how much of is pre-Islam.

        Do the same for a Kazakh and you get something more Northeastern European, but still with a strong West Asian flavor.

        Maybe arid landers out of Southcentral Asia moving into central asia?

  15. Campesino says:

    Anyone interested in understanding the Comanche should read “The Comanche Empire” by Pekka Hamalainen. It won the Bancroft Prize IIRC.

    Hamalainen shows that the Comanche were militarily so powerful, after the mid-1700s, they could have driven the Spanish colonies completely out of Texas and New Mexico if they had chosen to do so. He demonstrates that they made a deliberate choice not to do so, because it would cut off their supply of European trade goods. They pursued a strategy of alternate raiding and trading to get the goods that they wanted and needed.

    He says that the history of the Comanche stands the conventional paradigm of white-Indian relations on its head. The Comanche treated the Spanish and their Pueblo allies as subsidiary peoples, keeping them around to take European trade goods, agricultural products, horses, women, etc. at their choice. Hence the choice of the book title. The Spanish thought they were in control, but they were only kept around at the sufferance of the Comanche.

    They kept this up until defeated in their home territory at Palo Duro Canyon in the 1870s. The only reason that the US Army was able to defeat them, was that buffalo hunters had mostly wiped out the great Southern Bison Herd, and eliminated the Comanche food source. They starved them out.

    • gcochran9 says:

      In 1870, the US was capable of defeating the Comanche any time we felt like it, with or without the buffalo herds.

    • Jim says:

      The Comanches never had any desire to get rid of the Spanish. They loved the Spanish. Some Apaches did join the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 but the Apaches in general were even more dependent on the Spanish then the Comanches. The Comanches had the buffalo as well as the Spanish. The loss of the Spanish would have meant starvation for many of the Apaches.

      The Spanish had few illusions about being in control of the Apaches let alone the Comanches. With their Pima allies and with some occaisional assistance from the Comanches they tried to hack away at the Apaches with some sporadic success. I don’t think the Spanish ever attempted any serious offensive against the Comanches.

      • Campesino says:

        Well they did have one successful offensive against them in 1779. Juan Bautista de Anza led a force of Spanish soldiers and Indian allies against the Comanche led by a chief named Cuerno Verde (Green Horn). They fought a series of battles in southern Colorado where the Comanche were defeated and Cuerno Verde was killed. There is a Green Horn Mountain named for him there.

      • Jim says:

        Sometimes the Apaches became so bold that they rounded up cattle in broad daylight in full view of terrified townspeople. They were confident no one wuold come forth to challenge them. The regular Spanish soldiers sent up from Mexico were pretty useless in fighting against the Apaches. The Pima were much more useful. The Pima loved the Apaches. They loved to kill them. The Comanches were the most effective fighters against the Apaches but they demanded a high price for their cooperation.

  16. Richard Sharpe says:

    Were you trying to make us understand the differences between stationary bandits and roving bandits?

  17. Anonymous says:

    People talk alot of the Mongols and Genhghis Khan bit what about the Turks, it was the Turks in Asian Minor that made the Byzantines call the Western help leading to th First Crusade in the 11th century.

    • MawBTS says:

      I wish there had been a few more big pitched battles in the First Crusade (other than Dorylaeum), so we could see who had the tactical edge. Mostly it was lame sieges, skirmishes, massacres, occasional cannibalism, etc. Hard to tell how the Seljuk horse archers fared unit for unit against the European knights.

      • Greying Wanderer says:

        “I wish there had been a few more big pitched battles in the First Crusade (other than Dorylaeum), so we could see who had the tactical edge.”

        That might imply neither did?

    • athEIst says:

      The West never helped Byzantium. The First Crusade was occasioned by the Fatamid conquest of Jerusalem (from the Abbasids) in 1087. By the time the FC got there(and slew everyone(Muslims and Jew(infidels) and non-Latin Rite Christians(heretics)) the Abbasids had retaken it and pilgrims were coming in by sea which the Fatamids had prevented.

      • gcochran9 says:

        All wrong. The Fatimids had controlled Palestine for some time: they lost Jerusalem to the Seljuq Turks in 1073, regained it in 1098. The Abbasids were powerless puppets.

                And the strongest cause was Manzikert, the Dark Day, as every child knows.
        • CBurd says:

          While the siege of Jerusalem certainly ended in a massacre, it is not true that all the inhabitants were slain. About 5000 muslims surrendered and were released, and there appear to have been other survivors. It is likely all or almost all the remaining Christians in Jerusalem had left to escape persecution or been expelled some years earlier. The Crusaders’ victory was of enormous help to the Roman Empire at Constantinople, which regained much of the Antolian coast in its wake.

          • MawBTS says:

            According to Thomas Asbridge’s The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land, perhaps only as few as 3,000 were killed at Jerusalem.

            Neither Latin nor Arabic sources shy away from recording the dreadful horror of this sack, the one side glorying in victory, the other appalled by its raw savagery. In the decades that followed Near Eastern Islam came to regard the Latin atrocities at Jerusalem as an act of crusader barbarity and defilement, demanding of urgent vengeance. By the thirteenth century, the Iraqi Muslim Ibn al-Athir estimated the number of Muslim dead at 70,000. Modern historians long regarded this figure to be an exaggeration, but generally accepted that Latin estimates in excess of 10,000 might be accurate. However, recent research has uncovered close contemporary Hebrew testimony which indicates that casualties may not have exceeded 3,000, and that large numbers of prisoners were taken when Jerusalem fell. This suggests that, even in the Middle Ages, the image of the crusaders’ brutality in 1099 was subject to hyperbole and manipulation on both sides of the divide.

            I don’t cite this as authoritative, but it shows what an retarded clownfuck historical sources can be. You’ve got an upper limit and a lower limit, and sometimes one’s 20-30x bigger than the other.

  18. szopeno says:

    Tatars XV and XVI century. Year by year they were invading Polish-Lithuanian COmmonwealth. They had their favourite tracks too.

    • slovatsav says:

      These Comanches sound just like the nogai horde that prevented the Russians from settling Ukraine for hundreds of years. They harvested cattle and slaves until the Russians and cossacks drove them out in the 1700s.

      Why were the Russians more successful in defeating their frontier nomads than the an americans?

      • gcochran9 says:

        The Americans didn’t take hundreds of years to defeat the Plains Indians, more like 30: they were more successful, not less. But the situation was different. The nomads in America were less numerous, less sophisticated, vulnerable to infectious disease, and technology had turned against them.

  19. This reminds me of Cormac McCarthy’s book Blood Meridian (1985). Here are some quotes:

    “When Glanton and his chiefs swung back through the village people were running out under the horses’ hooves and the horses were plunging and some of the men were moving fast on foot among the huts with torches and dragging the victims out, slathered and dripping with blood, hacking at the dying and decapitating those who knelt for mercy.”

    “The company was now come to a halt and the first shots were fired and the gray riflesmoke rolled through the dust as lancers breached their ranks. The kid’s horse sank beneath him with a pneumatic sigh. (…)

    The following evening as they rode up onto the western rim they lost one of the mules. It went skittering down of the canyon wall with the contents of the panniers exploding soundlessly in the hot dry air and It fell through sunlight and through shade, turning in that lonely void until it fell from sight into a sink of cold blue space that absolved it forever of memory in the mind of any living thing that was. Glanton sat his horse and studied the adamantine deep beneath him. A raven had set forth from the cliffs far below to wheel the croak. In the acute light the sheer stone wall wore strange contours and the horseman on that promontory seemed very small even to themselves. Glanton looked upward, briefly, as if there were anything to ascertain in that perfect china sky, and then chucked up his horse and they rode on.”

  20. gothamette says:

    The best book about the Comanche is by Fehrenbach. Empire of the Summer Moon is mostly a dumbed down version of Fehrenbach’s book:
    I read it a while ago, but I think he refers to them as runty. He also unapologetically calls them savages, but is very sympathetic to their misery in defeat. He was a proud Texan but he thought they (we) were sore winners and could have been kinder to the Comanche. He’s also tough on Euro civilization for being so nasty to the civilized tribes.
    Quanah Parker was tall because his mother was white. Are height genes X-linked? I don’t know.
    The original spec script of Dances With Wolves was about the Comanche, but Hollywood changed it to Lakota, because Hollywood.

    • Toddy Cat says:

      T.R. Fehrenbach also wrote one of the best books on the Korean War, according to a lot of guys who were over there. A very under-rated writer.

    • John Hostetler says:

      ‘Savage’ need not be pejorative. In Veblen’s sense, it simply means ‘hunter,’ just as barbarian means herder and civilized means farming.

      Still, as herders-turned-raiders were the natural masters of the world from about 6,000 ybp to 1,000 ybp, and the Comanches were raiders, it is an insult of sorts.

      OTOH, they never even needed much of a herding stage. They went almost straight from hunting wild quadrupeds to hunting upright primates and their herds.

    • tommy says:

      Very late to comment, but Fehrenbach’s book is indeed very good. I didn’t get the vibe that he despised the Comanches. His basic stance was that the destruction of Indian cultures was inevitable and he’s unapologetic about it. There was no serious alternative to the way history developed. He’s also coolly realistic about the realities of both Indian and Anglo culture. Nobody is an angel and nobody is a demon in Fehrenbach’s account. His is a counterbalance to the whole Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee approach to the Indians.

      Fehrenbach doesn’t shy away from perfectly appropriate terms like “primitive” in describing the Comanches. Nevertheless, he’s still sympathetic to the plight of a tribe caught in a historical quandary. He clearly and quite rightfully has much more respect and sympathy for the US military than the Anglo settler when it came to responding to the Comanche.

  21. Greying Wanderer says:

    “I would be very leery of making generalizations about Comanche physical descriptions. The Comanche were probably the most aggressive group on the Plains when it came to adopting captives into the tribe. For example, the famous Comanche chief Quanah Parker’s mother was a white woman captured in Texas. If you look at pictures of him, he looks at least 6 ft tall. His first wife was a Mescalero Apache, by the way.”

    I think that’s one of the most interesting things about a raider culture. If it goes on long enough the raiders eventually transform into the people they raid.

    • Campesino says:

      I think that’s one of the most interesting things about a raider culture. If it goes on long enough the raiders eventually transform into the people they raid.


      “Transform into the people they raid” – do you mean physically or culturally?

      • Greying Wanderer says:


        • Greying Wanderer says:

          As mentioned above it’s only a possibility but imagine a raiding culture where a successful raider might have both a raider wife and one or more captive wives – particularly if the raider culture has one of the standard pastoral patterns where the chief dude has lots of wives and the younger men don’t have any.

          Over time the proportion of raider adna/mdna goes down and captive adna/mdna goes up.

          • Sean says:

            For that not to happen there would have to have been a very definite rule against taking foreign women captive, and it would have to have been enforced for generations. Captives would slow raiders down, so the rule is conceivable. Unlikely though IMO.

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