The New Kingdom Chariot – An Em Hotep Interview with Kathy Hansen
20
Oct

The New Kingdom Chariot – An Em Hotep Interview with Kathy Hansen

   Posted by: Shemsu Sesen   

Categories: New Kingdom

NKC - 000You have seen the ancient depictions of the pharaoh alone in his chariot with his bow drawn, the horses running in lockstep, as the battle raged around him.  And if you are like me, you have wondered if these are historical depictions or artistic license.  Few people know the specifics of New Kingdom chariots like Kathy Hansen, who appeared as one of the experts in the NOVA special “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot”.  Last Spring Kathy took some time to answer these questions and others for Em Hotep.  After some delays (all of them my fault) we are finally able to bring the results to you…

Ramesses II at the Battle of Kadesh. Note that the reins are tied to his waist, we shall return to that subject shortly... (Photo in the public domain)

Ramesses II at the Battle of Kadesh. Note that the reins are tied to his waist, we shall return to that subject shortly… (Photo in the public domain)

This interview has its genesis in an email discussion I had with Dr. Philip Femano, an independent researcher and writer in the field of Egyptology.  We had both recently viewed the NOVA special “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot” (2013) and Phil had some questions.  He noted that in Egyptian art chariots are depicted (usually) with the horses running in lockstep—both horses put the same leg forward at the same time.  He also noted that archers were often depicted firing their bows from chariots without a driver handling the chariot for them.  Phil and I wondered if these were examples of artistic license, or if these depictions represented real life.  Phil was also fascinated by the innovative spoke technology of the chariot wheel.  It was a great conversation, but we had assumed it would probably end there.

But then we learned that Kathy Hansen, one of the “stars” of, and a primary expert on, the NOVA special on New Kingdom chariots was to be a speaker at the American Research Centers in Egypt 2013 Annual Conference.  Additionally, Kathy would be leading an excursion to the International Museum of the Horse where she would give an extended presentation on the New Kingdom chariot these on which she had worked.   It struck me at that point that there just might be an interview opportunity here, so I contacted Jeff Novak (ARCE, North Texas) who was coordinating the event, who put me in touch with Kathy Hansen who agreed to make some time for me at the conference.  Thus, an interview was planned!  (To my fellow bloggers, take note—it never hurts to ask for some face time!)

I think Phil might have been even more excited than I was!  After some back and forth we hammered out what questions I would ask Kathy, and I think the end result is a fine interview with some surprising answers to our questions.  I want to take this space to both acknowledge and thank Phil.  He made this interview happen in ways too numerous to mention, and it is with all sincerity that I say this interview is as much his work as mine.  Thanks, Phil.  Sorry about all the delays, and I hope you enjoy it!

 

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Em Hotep:  Before we get to chariots, I have to ask which came first for you, horses or Egyptology?

 

Kathy Hansen:  The horses came first.  I was born and raised on a cattle ranch, so I rode practically before I could walk.  And we had farm horses, so I drove very early.  I became interested in the history of the American buggy, which is designed for strength through flexibility, and when you go back through the history of utilitarian vehicles you end up with the chariot in Egypt.  So when I was able to go to Egypt, I wrote a guidebook about it, and got to help Natnadia Lokma put Tut’s chariot back together at the Cairo Museum.

 

The decorative harnesses on the horses pulling the recreated New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse have been painstakingly reverse engineered from artistic depictions themselves dated to the New Kingdom era. (Photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

The decorative harnesses on the horses pulling the recreated New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse have been painstakingly reverse engineered from artistic depictions themselves dated to the New Kingdom era. (Photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

Em Hotep:  It could be said that the opening act of the New Kingdom was the expulsion of the Hyksos by Ahmose I.  Were chariots a part of what turned the tide against the Hyksos, and with the chariot, were the Egyptians using one of the Hyksos’ own weapons against them?

 

Kathy Hansen:  One of the really big advantages that chariots give in warfare is a raised, centered command post.  So you don’t have people running around trying to chase down who is in charge; there is no question where the command post is.  Now whether that was enough of a difference from the Hyksos to really give a decisive advantage, I don’t know.  My gut feeling is that the advantage that the chariot gave developed over two to three hundred years during the New Kingdom.

I’m not really sure of how immediately successful it was and even if it was brought in by the Hyksos.  So where did it come from?  I’m sure it came from the East, and the earliest Egyptian chariots appear to have had four spokes and other qualities of early design.  The Egyptians did not originally have sidelines like we see later in the New Kingdom, so I think the chariots gradually developed over time into the design we see in the Ramesside Period when they became very effective for the type of warfare for which they were used.

 

Ramesses III with bow in one hand and sword in the other. In this case he seems to be holding the reins in his hands, but in the scene from which this is adapted Ramesses was in a procession leading captive slaves, so by this time the battle was already over, thus no need for free hands. (Jean-Francois Champollion, public domain)

Ramesses III on his mobile command platform. (Jean-Francois Champollion, public domain)

 

Em Hotep:  When you were looking for horses to pair with the recreated chariots your team built for the NOVA documentary, “Building Pharaoh’s Chariot”, I imagine you using ancient Egyptian eyes.  In other words, I see you putting yourself in the place of your ancient counterparts who were pairing horses up for chariots that would enter the battlefield.  What sorts of things were you looking for that you think the ancients would have been looking for as well, and how do you think the process might have been different for the ancients than for your team?

 

Kathy Hansen:  Well, the first thing we were looking at was, of course, the physical characteristics.  You want them to be about the same size and stride because you are harnessing them under a yoke.  Any time you are harnessing horses under a yoke they have to be similar physically.  We were looking for small horses because the chariots were small.  But the most important thing I was looking for was temperament because we had a month and a half to break two teams to harness, hitch them to the chariots, and train them to go.

And the horses we found were absolutely incredible.  They gave us their all and were easy to work with.  Of course, part-Arab horses are very smart and very cool, and if you treat them right they are very quick to learn.  As a matter of fact, you have to keep them very well focused on work because they are very creative.  If they start to get bored they will start creating problems.

So basically the most important thing for us in selecting horses was temperament.  But as for how this might have differed from the ancients, the ancients could afford to take 200 stallions and raise them together.  Then they could look at them and say “That one goes to market, I’m not messing with him, but these two seem to work well.”

 

Pairing the right horses for a chariot team could mean the difference between success or failure on the battlefield. (Photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

Pairing the right horses for a chariot team could mean the difference between success or failure on the battlefield. (Photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

Em Hotep:  In much of the ancient Egyptian art showing chariots, the horses are depicted running in phase—in lockstep.  Do you think that is artistic convention or do you think the horses were actually trained to run in phase?

 

Kathy Hansen:  No, I don’t think they were trained to run that way, they tend to do that on their own in pairs.  When they have a yoke across their necks, even in the looser modern harnesses, when they are in draft they find out very early on that it’s easier to work together.  In some pairs you will see that both inside legs go together, with some pairs you see that both outside legs go together.  In the looser harness that I am most familiar with as a driver they go with the inside legs together.

What we found with the chariot was that, because they were inexperienced, they would run together sometimes, other times they would drop out of step, but the more we drove them the more they came together.  But it was not something they are trained to do, and I don’t think it is just artistic convention that they are shown running with their legs together.  When I did all of this research I trusted the Egyptian artists.

 

Chariot teams shown running in phase (Jean-Francois Champollion, public domain)

Chariot teams shown running in phase (Jean-Francois Champollion, public domain)

 

Em Hotep:  Another common depiction in Egyptian chariot art is the image of a single warrior or archer in the chariot without a separate driver.  Do you think it would be possible for an archer or warrior to be able to drive the chariot with his hands free for wielding weapons, or was this artistic license?

 

Kathy Hansen:  When a warrior or archer is shown without a separate driver the reins are shown knotted behind his back.  We did not try this, but we probably could have because it would have taken very small shifts of the hips to steer the horses.  What we discovered, and we expected this from Greek texts, was that when you shorten the inside horse and extend the outside horse you could turn the chariot on one wheel.  Our driver said that he was able to turn them with just slight movements of his fingers.

So a single person driving with his hips would have been possible.  Whether or not you would want to do it for very long is different; I’d rather have somebody else in the vehicle with me.  The one thing you learn about dealing with horses is that whatever can go wrong will.  So whether or not that was an artistic thing or whether they actually did hunting that way, who knows?  But it would be possible to do.

 

NKC - 002  Ramesses the Great making use of his mobile command platform against the Hittites

 

Em Hotep:  Judging from tomb paintings, it seems that the chariot wheels originally had four spokes, which then developed to eight spokes, but then they seem to have compromised with a six spoke wheel.  The reason for the six spoke wheel given in the documentary was that it was stronger than the four spoke but lighter than the eight spoke, and therefore easier to accelerate.  Could another reason have been because of the difficult angle they had to bend the v-shaped spokes to fit eight inside a wheel? 

 

Kathy Hansen:  I think so.  We used steam bending but I think the Egyptians wet bent.  You can still get a good angle with wet bending.  I live in Redding, California, which has very hot and dry summers and very wet winters.  If you walk into a lumber yard after a wet winter and the wood has not been tied down you can see 2 x 4 boards bent at angles on their own.  But in my own experimenting with wet bending the best I could get without fractures was about 60 degrees.

 

Four spoke chariot designs illustrated by Jean-Francois Champollion (public domain)

Four spoke chariot designs illustrated by Jean-Francois Champollion (public domain)

 

Em Hotep:  So the six spoke wheel may have had as much to do with the limits of the bending methods as with the acceleration aspect?

 

Kathy Hansen:  I would think so, but others on the team do not necessarily agree with me.  But we were definitely in agreement on the four spoke design.  I also think the four spoke chariots were used more for racing.  Some of the tombs show four spoke chariots being pulled by what have been labeled as mules, but I don’t think they were mules, I think they were onagers, which are faster than mules.  So the four spoke wheels were an earlier design that ended up being used for racing.  I know I wouldn’t use the four spoke design on the battlefield.

 

The four-spoke wheel on the New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

The four-spoke wheel on the New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

Gallery

Some additional photos from the New Kingdom Chariot display at the International Museum of the Horse at Lexington, Kentucky

 

The harness, bridle and blinders, based on the New Kingdom depictions, on the horses drawing the chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

The harness, bridle and blinders, based on the New Kingdom depictions, on the horses drawing the chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

Right front flank of the New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

Right front flank of the New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

Right rear flank of the New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

Right rear flank of the New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

View of the inside and floor of the New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

View of the inside and floor of the New Kingdom chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

View from the left rear of the New Kingdom Chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

View from the left rear of the New Kingdom Chariot at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

Detail of the harness on the horses in the New Kingdom chariot display at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

Detail of the harness on the horses in the New Kingdom chariot display at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

Detail of the bit and bridle on the horses in the New Kingdom chariot display at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

Detail of the bit and bridle on the horses in the New Kingdom chariot display at the International Museum of the Horse (photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

Kathy Hansen and the New Kingdom chariot she helped reconstruct at the International Museum of the Horse (Photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

Kathy Hansen and the New Kingdom chariot she helped reconstruct at the International Museum of the Horse (Photo by Anne Snyder Payne)

 

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Copyright by Keith Payne, 2013.  All rights reserved.

All photography by Anne Snyder Payne is copyrighted and may not be reproduced without expressed permission.  But Anne is pretty cool, so if you just ask she will probably let you use it.

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This entry was posted on Sunday, October 20th, 2013 at 8:51 pm and is filed under New Kingdom. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

7 comments so far

Richard O'Neill
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 1 

awesome! now i want a chariot!

October 20th, 2013 at 9:25 pm
Philip Femano
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 2 

Thanks for that acknowlegement, Keith!

Modern horse trainers often deny that horses can run in lock step. They claim they’ve never seen it. They cite video after video that shows such synchrony does not happen. However, one good look at those videos along with an understanding the back story reveals that more often than not, very little effort is taken to ensure that all horses in the rigging are matched physically or even practice together in the same configuration so that such synchrony can develop. There is no reason to believe that an older, short, stout, male horse will lock step with a younger, tall, thin, female horse, and yet we often see such mismatched horses in those videos that supposedly “prove” such lock step is not possible.

My contention, first spurred on by the vast majority of archeological depictions of battle scenes, is that the Egyptian military horse trainers and weapon designers were simply more savvy to how horses work, and they designed their war machines accordingly. The harnesses and relatively delicate, light-weight wooden rigs they designed depended on the horses being physically matched, their stride being synchronous, the same way that our weapon designers today must ensure the left and right engines of fighter jets are matched. So those ancient yokes and reigns may seem inadequate to us today, but perhaps that is because we do not understand how the military training protocol took advantage of the interdependence between the rigs and the behavior of the horses that were connected to them.

We must realize that the archer/horse/chariot combination was considered a state of the art war machine back then. It is not unreasonable to assume that those ancient military trainers understood full well how delicate and sensitive horses are to the slightest tug on the reigns and, therefore, how important it was to make sure multiple horses were properly matched. And so they designed a yoke on the chariot and a reign mount on the archer that allowed him to single handedly (hippedly?) drive that chariot similar to how we train fighter pilots to delicately but effectively drive our own state of the art war machines today.

Kathy Hansen confirmed that the difficulty the Nova team had in reproducing a properly functional yoke and rigging that was based on the archeological model was largely due to the behavioral asynchrony between horses. Not surprisingly, in the Nova video the horses were hardly matched physically, and perhaps because of production deadlines in the Nova video, those horses did not have the opportunity that the ancient trainers had to ensure the horses “trained” together repetitively enough, day in and day out, to develop the required behavioral synchrony that is required in battle and that is depicted widely in the ancient carvings and paintings.

October 21st, 2013 at 11:49 am
david caldecoat
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 3 

Wow i think that the work and research that has gone into this project is turly amazing
i have a copy of the DVD Building Pharaohs
chariot it is one of the best documentaries that i have seen.

October 21st, 2013 at 11:34 pm
Susi Smith
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 4 

Do we know what type of leather the bridals and such were made from? What type of animal?

October 22nd, 2013 at 3:23 pm
Deborah Cantrell
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 5 

Why are the nose bands positioned so low? Won’t they will interfere with breathing when the reins are pulled? I can not imagine allowing this position on a riding or driving horse today.

October 23rd, 2013 at 9:27 am
Philip Femano
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 6 

Deborah, in my view the more distal noseband offered the ancient military several advantages over today’s more conventional placement, including:

1. It allows the horse to relax its jaw and not be preoccupied with the bit.

2. It prevents fatigue of the masseter muscle which is an important consideration during a lengthy battle,

3. Placing the noseband farther away from the skull/neck angle (basically, coincident with the bit) allows a more sensitive, accurate, and precise control of the horse via the reins affixed to the driver’s hip,

4. It deters horses from jumping, which is important consideration when they’re pulling chariots,

5. Such rigging could indeed potentially place pressure on the nose, and such a design could be intended to prevent horses from breaking into a gallop, which is an important consideration to optimize delicate control and agility during battle, especially during the excitement of battle.

November 10th, 2013 at 3:53 pm
Deborah Cantrell
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 7 

Philip, perhaps, but I am not convinced that cutting off air to the nostrils would not have the opposite effect of panic and loss of control. There are no bits or nose bands strong enough to control a panicked horse. However, I agree with you that the ancient horse trainers knew more about harnessing and training chariot horses than we moderns ever shall.
Second question is why show the tails flying in danger of being ensnared in the reins with disastrous results. The tails of the Assyrian chariot horses shown on the reliefs in the British museum are braided or tied to prevent flying into the reins or wheels. Surely the Egyptians solved this problem also.

December 15th, 2013 at 6:24 am

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