A Glimpse of Medieval Arab Horsemanship

Illustration of a horseman with a sword in his hand and his sleeve wound over his hand

The riders depicted in the manuscript use the 'saif' (sword), spear, lance, javelin and bow. This work formalised the proper techniques for the use of each and connected them to the warrior code of furūsīyah - comparable to the Christian notion of knightly chivalry

The manuscript's fine watercolour illustrations pay close attention to the details of the riders' clothing and weaponry. The equivalent of a Christian knight was a 'Faris' (related to 'faras': horse). Famously, they fought without the heavy armour worn by Crusader knights: relying instead on the speed, skill and rapid attacks they could make while unencumbered.

The horses in many of the illustrations have their tails knotted to prevent tangles. Proper horse care was a major element of furūsīyah and included elements that might be seen as the roots of veterinary medicine.

The addition of flowers and plants to almost all of the illustations performs a decorative function and shows off the artist's talents. However, Islamic scholars were also making great advances in botany during this period: it is likely that individual species are being depicted with reference to the landscapes horsemen would have been riding in.

It was common for the decorative plants and flowers to be added by junior artists in the workshop of the master that painted the main subject.

Unsurprisingly, the horse tack and equipment is illustrated in detail. The high stirrups and short reins would have allowed for fine control and a solid platform for attacking but would have required high levels of fitness and stamina from the rider.

Illustration of a horseman performing a sword exercise

Illustration of a horseman with the edge of the sword under his right armpit, the hilt in his left with the reins