Heavenly horses

Heavenly horses of Ferghana

In 104 BC the Chinese cavalry of 60,000 was sent to Davan by Han Emperor Wu-ti. The war was caused by argamaks – “heavenly horses of Ferghana” as they are called in all sources.These horses had great power and endurance and “sweat blood” that the Chinese regarded as a sign of their divine origin. They saw them as “heavenly horses”, which could be astraddled to the “land of immortals”. The Chinese Emperpor Wu-ti was especially craving for celestial horses as a way of becoming immortal. “Heavenly horses” became the object of worship in China, even the poets have composed odes about them. But the secret of the strangeness of those riding horses and their “sweating blood” was explained by parasite which burrowed under the skin by causing such an unusual effect.

However, it was found out only in the 20th century, and in the 2nd century BC riding horses were turned into the subject of worship. After the defeat in 104 BC, the Chinese again attacked Davan, but this time Ferghana had to compromise: they committed to supply the Chinese emperor with 300 horses for his army annually.

Until now, the issue of the origin of these horses remains open. This is what the Chinese traveler and imperial envoy Zhang Qian writes: "Davan owns high mountains. There are horses in these mountains that are impossible to get: this is why five colored, i.e. bright dams are chosen and let out at the foot of the mountains to mate with the mountain stallions. The colts out of those dams “sweat with blood» and therefore called celestial breed of horses”.

The importance of “heavenly” origin of argamaks should not be underestimated, but it should be noted the main reason for owning these horses was fostered by the war against the Huns, who at that time caused great harm to the border with China. The Huns, like all nomads, had perfectly armed horsemen named cataphract which the Chinese horsemen on smaller and less hardy horses could not resist. Therefore, the Chinese had such an urge to get Central Asian riding horses, which at that time were acknowledged as among the best breeds.

According to some estimates, as of today, the Akhal-Teke horses of Turkmenistan, reckoned as one of the best breeds in the world, might be descendants of those “heavenly horses”.