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The Heavenly Horses of the Han Dynasty

Flying Horse of Gansu.  Source: Wang Lei (2008) The Heavenly Horses of the Han Dynasty The most well-known part of the Silk Road are the so-called northern routes of the overland Silk Road. These routes linked Xi’an in China, with Lanzhou, Dunhuang, Turfan and Kashgar. Traditionally the “opening” of this branch of the Silk Road is attributed to the military and commercial missions of Emperor Wudi, who ruled from 157 to 87 BC during the Han Dynasty. Although silk is often considered to be the main commodity exchanged, but what really kick started the trade over these northern routes was the Chinese demand for horses, and in particular ‘heavenly horses.’ But, as you may wonder, what were heavenly horses? Where did they come from? And what were the motives behind the desire for horses in Han-period China?  The Discovery of Heavenly Horses Unfortunately, the breeds of horses associated with these ‘heavenly horses’ are extinct today, but archaeological discoveries can provide u

Flying Horse of Gansu

Source: Michael Gunther Gansu Provincial Museum The Flying Horse of Gansu, Bronze Running Horse ( 铜奔马 ), Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow ( 马踏飞燕 ) Eastern Han Dynasty (25 - 220 AD) Bronze/ 34.5 ╳ 45.6 cm Excavated in 1969 from the Leitai Tomb belonging to General Zhang of Zhang Ye, Wuwei County, Gansu Province Gansu Provincial Museum, Lanzhou, China This is a realistic, three-dimensional, bronze sculpture of a galloping and neighing horse that has its right hoof treading on a flying bird. It was found together with 38 other bronze horse statues with chariots, of which some where inscribed with the name of General Zhang of Zhang Ye. Similar images of horses in full gallop have been found in other Eastern Han tombs and were painted on stone and brick reliefs. Before and during the Han Dynasty horses as were status symbols and greatly desired by the Han elite and military society. Archaeologists believe these horses might represent the "he

Episode 1: It All Started with a Horse

 In this first episode of the Silk Road Talk podcast, we will talk about horses, and in particular ‘heavenly horses’ of the Han Dynasty. The demand for these horse kickstarted the trade over the northern routes of the overland Silk Road. What were heavenly horses? Where did they come from? and what were the reasons for their popularity? More info: Article: The heavenly horses of the Han Dynasy The Flying Horse of Gansu Source:  Michael Gunther , Gansu provincial museum Galloping Horses discovered in Eastern Han Tombs Source:  He Zhiguo. 2008. Study and Comparison of the Chronology of the Bronze Galloping Horse excavated at Leitai, Wuwei City, Gansu Province (甘肃武威市雷台出土铜奔马年代考辩). Kaogu 4: 86 Eastern Han Ceramic Prancing Horse Source: Flickr ( ellenm1 ) Han Bronze Horse with Lead Saddle Source:  Wikimedia ( PericlesofAthens ) Tang Dynasty Ceramic Horse Source: Flickr ( Forever Wiser )