From Publishers Weekly
This dense but readable scholarly study summarizes the chariot's history from its disputed origins in Europe and Asia more than 4000 years ago to its continued life on the wide screen. British scholar Cotterell (The Minoan World) reveals the workings of a vehicle that was, throughout its history, primarily a platform for archers (although halberds and spears were not unknown). In its mature form, it required three developments—the spoked wheel (lighter than the solid one), the powerful compound bow and the domesticated horse (faster than oxen, more powerful than the ass). As it developed, it also represented some of the most sophisticated Bronze Age technology—some Egyptian chariots are known to have weighed less than 60 pounds—and the charioteer was one of the earliest examples of a warrior elite selected for skill rather than birth. The author is cheerfully discursive about chariots in the Homeric and Hindu epics, and has provided a lavish array of illustrations so that practically nothing mentioned is left undepicted; it's not light reading at any point but informative throughout. The eventual demise of the chariot (more or less paralleling the decline of Rome), he shows, arose from improved infantry weapons, tactics that could cripple, or at least deter, horses, and cavalry that could move on rougher ground. (June)
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Narrating the development and disappearance of the world's first war machine, this book reminds readers that much of the power of ancient empires was two-wheeled and horse-driven. Harnessed to other historians' broad-spectrum research on the causes of the end of the Bronze Age, Cotterell argues that, much like the later introduction of the stirrup, chariot technology dramatically recast battlefield strategy across the ancient world. Egyptians employed chariots as all-purpose fighting machines, while Roman chariots were more ceremonial, and Indian troops used theirs as archery platforms; Chinese engineers developed more efficient harnesses, permitting heavier cars. The author's comparative approach broadens the appeal of what would otherwise seem a narrow topic, but this account nevertheless behaves as a detailed military history. Particularly interesting for such scholarship, the author also discusses the chariot as a vehicle for modern popular culture; it aims to dispel the notion that chariots were simply horse-pulled tanks. Scholarly yet accessible, and not just for Ben Hur fans. Brendan Driscoll
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