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"Horse colours in the ancient world" Topic

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colkitto01 Jun 2020 1:45 p.m. PST

Apologies if this has been asked before; I have rummaged about a bit without much success.

Coming from the Napoleonics boards, I expect horses in a unit to be roughly the same colour, and almost certainly a shade of brown. Was that broadly the same in ancient times or would horses have been much more diversely coloured? I half expect the latter to be the case, not least because I imagine a lot of the time the horse would have belonged to the man, but the lazy painter in me is hoping that brown horses were prized and that they'd actually all have ridden bays or chestnuts.

I'm thinking Romans, Carthaginians, Greeks mainly.

GurKhan01 Jun 2020 2:47 p.m. PST

Start with link and the Nature article it references:"The ancients loved spots…"

Also link "Good colours are bay and grey; the worst, white and dun" (Pliny)

For the Greeks,"Homer's horses are conventionally described as xanthos, the colour of fair, or perhaps brown, human hair, in horses probably chestnut…" Anderson at link

Skeptic01 Jun 2020 2:56 p.m. PST

The first link is broken…

GurKhan01 Jun 2020 2:58 p.m. PST

Fixed now.

robert piepenbrink Supporting Member of TMP01 Jun 2020 3:24 p.m. PST

I have seen references suggesting that there were still striped horses--not zebras--as late as Roman times. I am, of course, ignoring the idea myself.

Skeptic01 Jun 2020 3:36 p.m. PST

That is interesting, albeit focused on the European context. What might the story have been in Central (and East) Asia?

aynsley68301 Jun 2020 6:33 p.m. PST

All depends on the breed basically.

And would also depend if a general wants to be easily identifiable, grey horses being easy to see and rare'ish depending on breed , is good for ones own troops but also makes for a very identifiable target for the enemy to aim at.

Martin Rapier01 Jun 2020 11:48 p.m. PST

Tbh, I've never really though about it! My Ancient horses are various shades of brown (I mix them up a bit more than Napoleonic). I think my Numidians are on dappled horses.

Generals, Princes and Kings get white hoses. They aren't Generals otherwise.

colkitto02 Jun 2020 5:24 a.m. PST

OK, well, I am disappointed that it's not going to be "uniform brown" – but those links are fantastic GurKan, especially the article – thank you very much indeed.

GurKhan02 Jun 2020 7:51 a.m. PST

That is interesting, albeit focused on the European context.

Well that was, more or less, the question :-)

What might the story have been in Central (and East) Asia?

I refer my honourable friend to the points raised previously by the learned Swampster TMP link

In addition link is one of several papers that mantion the coat colours of the Altai nomads' horses at Pazyryk and elsewhere:

Our excavation at Berel' revealed bay coats (chestnut with a black mane and a black tail), similar to those found in Pazyryk, which were either entirely chestnut or bay. On the other hand, it is difficult to determine to what extent other types of coat existed at the time and therefore to evaluate the degree of choice involved.

Martin R:

I think my Numidians are on dappled horses.

You're a fan of Greek hunting-poetry, then? To wit:

The dappled breed of Moorish horses are far the best of all for extended courses and laborious toil.

(Oppian, Cynegetica, link )

Dagwood02 Jun 2020 12:18 p.m. PST

Oh no !! I'll have to repaint all my Numidian horses !!

Swampster02 Jun 2020 1:08 p.m. PST

" I am disappointed that it's not going to be "uniform brown""

Really? The variation in horse colour is, to me, one of the attractions!

Might the references to 'striped horses' be an exaggeration of the 'zebra stripes' found on e.g. duns. This is a small area of striping sometimes found on legs.

For the OP's original area of interest, Spanish horses are often shown in medieval pictures as duns, grullos and similar. I think there is evidence that these were also common in the ancient period. Sorraias and Lusitanos are likely descendants.

For Italian horses, I would use the various Italian tomb paintings for reference a nice range of colours. See link for various links. There are also some links to Thracian tombs which give further ideas.

williamb03 Jun 2020 6:40 a.m. PST

Alexander the Great's horse is described as black with a large white star on his face. Other Macedonian horses are shown as chestnut. Alexanders father, Phillip, is depicted on a white horse. The Persian King of Kings received 360 white horses as tribute each year from one of the provinces. The horses of Darius' chariot are shown as black on the Alexander Mosaic. Belisaurius is described as riding a white faced bay. Ancient Greek horse color is called "Xantho" the color of fair human hair (dun or chestnut). Bays and greys are also known. The Indian "Mahabharata" mentions dark grey, "pigeon colored", ivory white, piebald, and bay. Oppian says Moorish horses were dappled as mentioned previously.

Source "Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars" and "Armies and Enemies of Imperial Rome" for Belisarius.

colkitto03 Jun 2020 1:53 p.m. PST

"Really? The variation in horse colour is, to me, one of the attractions!"

Nah – I hate painting horses, but having to do lots of different ones, or patterned ones, is my idea of purgatory. I'm not good with irregulars either.

However: I suppose it's not impossible that in MY units, the CO decides that all the brown horses should be in one place – or that the non-brown ones should be dyed/painted to match …

TMP showing yet again what a knowledgeable and helpful bunch you all are!

Swampster03 Jun 2020 11:51 p.m. PST

I don't like painting horses much (though the bridles etc are the thing I most dislike).
I paint 15mm and as far as possible I batch paint horses. I put them on sticks of four and usually all four will be the same colour. I might do 4 sticks bay, 4 sticks chestnut and so on. I use a wash over the base colour and using lighter or darker shades adds more variation if I want it.

As an aside, if I have lots of irregular infantry or riders to do, I often treat each stick as if it is regular. All will have the same colour cloak, trousers, tunic. Not only does it save frequent opening and closing of paint pots but I am less likely to miss doing highlights.

Shields might be two or three different colours on a stick but with similar patterns.
When I do the basing, the figures are jumbled up so it is unlikely that two similar figures are together.

Martin Rapier03 Jun 2020 11:54 p.m. PST

I just did most of my horses in one of three browns, light, medium, dark then gave them a brown ink wash and mixed up the manes and white splodges. Fairly easy but they end up looking quite random.

I also hate painting horses, almost as much as Irregular units. Don't get me started on Gallic Cavalry.

Give me some nice, neat Romans any day.

catavar07 Jun 2020 3:50 p.m. PST

I usually use just one brown for most of my horses. I then mix in a few lite brown/chestnut and grey/black ones. My generals get either a white or a grey/black horse.

I leave the mane/tail black (I use black primer) or dry-brush it brown (unless the horse is white of course). I'll put white above some of the horses hooves and noses.

I think that cuts down on some of the work and still gives a nice over-all look.

Personal logo oldbob Supporting Member of TMP14 Jun 2020 11:15 a.m. PST

Foundry has a 4 page Horse painting guide,general info, but a good guide written by the man himself K.Dallimore. If possible go look at real horses very useful, if unable to do that go to a used book store and hunt down a horse book.

wballard20 May 2021 4:06 p.m. PST

Horses from the same area I might expect to be similar from local breeding preferences or bloodlines.

I've spent just enough time around horses to think of "identical" coloring to mean someone dyed something. Lots of shades of color in a bloodline naturally.

"Matched" might belong to general's bodyguard but my cavalry won't have two horses exactly the same. Base colors and washes are easy ways to get slight color variations.

Find a cheap book on "Horses of the World" or similar with lots of color pictures. Then have fun.

Erzherzog Johann16 Jun 2021 4:54 p.m. PST

I've found the "Loki's Great Hall" series on painting horses really useful. He takes the viewer through his method (and Vallejo paint choices) for liver chestnut, chestnut, grey, black, white, various other browns. I wondered when I painted a 'gold chestnut' horse using his method if it was too orange, but then I went for a walk . . .

Erzherzog Johann25 Jun 2021 2:41 a.m. PST

As people may have figured out, I attempted to post a picture of an orangy looking golden chestnut horse. For some reason, a week later, Imgur still isn't letting me re-upload the picture and put it here . . .


Caedite Eos28 Jun 2021 11:41 p.m. PST


Erzherzog Johann03 Jul 2021 7:43 p.m. PST

Imgur still isn't working so I've done this through postimages

‌"TMP link

Not that far from the Vallejo Orange Brown I used as the final coat.

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