Horses and chariots in ancient warfare (Exodus 14)

The use of horses and chariots revolutionized warfare in the ancient Near East. Scholars generally agree that the horse was introduced into the area during the late third millennium B.C. and had become prominent in Canaan by the arly second millennium.

The develoment of the chariot soon followed, but scholars disagree about the history of its invention. Horses and chariots are mentioned in the Mari tablets (eighteenth century B.C.), and the Kassites and the people of Mitanni (seventeenth century B.C.) were renowned for both horse breeding and chariot technology. In fact, the Kassites developed specialized and precise vocabulary for chariot components, and the Mitannian maryannu comprised a group of chariot experts.

In all likelihood foreigners introduced horses and chariots to the Egyptians (mentioned in chapter 15) during the Hyksos period (eightenth to sixteenth centuries B.C.). During the subsequent New Kingdom period (sixteenth through eleventh centuries B.C.) horse-drawn chariots were often used in warfare and religious processions – ans sometimes even served as portable thrones. Reliefs and paintings from Egypt portray boh Seti I and Rameses III standing in chariots, drawing their bows against enemies. Chariots have also been found among relics in Eighteenth-Dynasty tombs, such as those preserved with relation to King Tutankhamen.

The early chariot’s design permitted two people standing abreast – a driver and an archer – to occupy the small platform. The axle was made of wood, and rawhide held the frame together. Wheels were fastened to the Axle with linchpins of wood or bronze. The draft pole extended to the rear of the chariot was secured with rawhide bindings and was attached to the horse’s yoke with straps.

Since horses were primarily used in ancient times to pull chariots, the term rider mentioned in Exodus 15:1 probably refers to the chariot driver. The song’s boast that the God of Israel had hurled the horse and charioteer into the sea dramatically portrays the manner in which the power of God had bested the most technologically advanced tool of warfare available during that time.

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