Because horses are by nature sensitive, fearful of danger, and prone to spook or bolt, they are not ideal candidates for military action. Therefore, they require intensive training to become desensitized and capable of engaging in physical combat on a noisy, chaotic battlefield. Raising, exercising and fielding a cavalry corps was an expensive and timeconsuming undertaking and required an arena or parade ground for daily drills. Young horsemen (ippeis) were trained by the cavalry officers and even learned to race up and down hill according to Xenophon. They were called to action in corps pulled from the ten Attic tribes established by the democratic reforms of Kleisthenes.

Horses came to play a key role in military engagements, but exactly when Athens established a permanent cavalry remains a question. The laws of Drakon and Solon both mention hippeis, but whether they mean soldiers fighting on horseback, or simply hoplites who are conveyed to the battle via their mounts is not clear. A small troop of such hippeis almost certainly served as a border patrol for Attica in the 6th century BCE. In the mid-fifth century the cavalry grew to 300 and eventually 1,000 at the beginning of the Peloponnesian Wars (431 BCE.). In addition, there were 200 archers who rode on horseback (hippotoxotai). This enlarged cavalry served the Athenian state throughout the Peloponnesian Wars, but declined in importance afterwards.

Our best evidence for the Athenian cavalry comes from the excavations in the Athenian Agora and the Kerameikos. Wells there have produced discarded objects such as clay tokens stamped with the names of hipparchs, small lead tablets listing identifying information about each horse, and lead tokens depicting pieces of armor which were distributed to members of the cavalry. Given the location of these discards, we can surmise that the office of the cavalry commanders, the hipparcheion, was located in the northwest corner of the Agora. It was in this vicinity that the cavalry horses were subject to an inspection (dokimasia) to determine if they were fit for action.



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