#Shelfie Sunday: Horses, Oxen and Technological Innovation: The Use of Draught Animals in English Farming from 1066 to 1500

Horses, Oxen and Technological InnovationJohn Langdon, Horses, Oxen and Technological Innovation: The Use of Draught Animals in English Farming from 1066 to 1500 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

Review by Jordan Claridge

Now more than thirty years old, John Langdon’s Horses, Oxen and Technological Innovation: The Use of Draught Animals in English Farming from 1066 to 1500, still stands as not only one of the most influential historical monographs about horses, but also as a broad window into the economy and society of medieval England.

Langdon’s foray into the world of medieval horses was not through any of the ‘usual’ channels, as he was neither an historian nor an equine enthusiast. Originally trained as a chemical engineer, Langdon abruptly changed careers in his late thirties, moved to England and tried his hand at writing novels. In the course of writing two books set in the Middle Ages, he developed a taste for research and enrolled in the history PhD program at the University of Birmingham. It was at this point that he discovered a significant gap in the historiography of the medieval English economy: scholars such as Lynn White Jr. had long argued for the theoretical advantages that working horses held over oxen, but this had yet to be tested on any scale with historical evidence. In addition, there was still a strong contingent of historians who claimed that the introduction of the horse to English agriculture was basically irrelevant. So, Langdon set out to basically count the numbers of horses and oxen in England from Domesday Book in 1086 to the dawn of the early modern period.

Langdon’s background as an engineer allowed him to tackle this question with a method relatively novel to the field of medieval history at the time. Most economic and social studies of the medieval period were focused relatively narrowly in time and/or space. Some studies would look at a single manor over a long period of time, others would focus on a broader region, or even the whole country, but at a single point, like the Norman invasion in 1066 or the Black Death in 1348. Langdon endeavoured to take a national data sample that covered as much of medieval England as possible and to do this for most of the Middle Ages. Looking back on this from 2018, the amount of work required to assemble his data sample is impressive. This was before the technological advents of digital photography or even Excel spreadsheets. Langdon travelled around the country painstakingly reading medieval Latin manuscripts and tabulating the numbers of horses and oxen by hand.

The results were impressive. Langdon looked closely at the numbers of oxen and horses employed on both demesnes (the lord’s own farm with the manor, as opposed to the lands allocated to his or her peasant tenants) and peasant farms in medieval England. He found that, between the Domesday survey of 1086 and the end of his study in 1500, horses had largely superseded oxen as the choice for animal power both on the roads (as cart animals) and in the fields (as plough beasts). The proportion of working horses increased from about 30 percent in 1086 to over sixty percent by 1500. So, before 1200, oxen were the dominant work animals, and source of kinetic energy, on both farms and roads in England. By the sixteenth century, however, horses had achieved almost total ubiquity in the world of work animals. This had critical implications for the economy of medieval England, as the speed advantage of horses over oxen allowed more work to be done in less time. Horses offered significant premiums over oxen in terms of both speed and power which, in turn, had critical implications for agricultural production, transport and market transactions. The introduction of working horses allowed goods to be transported with greater efficiency while also helping improve agricultural output through increasing the speed at which essential tasks such as ploughing and harrowing could be completed. Improvement across all of these areas, facilitated by the introduction of working horses, was a key ingredient of England’s economic development.

Langdon also found that the change from oxen to horses was not uniform. Especially in the case of plough animals, for example, Norfolk, the Chiltern Hills and eastern Kent embraced all-horse plough teams earlier than any other part of the country. Also, while horses were increasingly employed in tandem with oxen in the midlands and the home counties over the course of the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, many demesnes, especially in the West and North, never made the change and stuck exclusively with oxen for plough work. His long durée approach allows readers to appreciate how the evolving dynamic between horses and oxen existed not in a vacuum, but as one consideration that depended greatly on regional topographies, managerial mentalities and a host of other variables.

As Joan Thirsk had done before him, Langdon likened the medieval horse trade to the more modern car trade; with horses available at almost any price point. With this wide range in prices, cheap draught animals were made available to peasants just as the lower-end used car market does for lower-income people today. This led to another key finding: in medieval England, horses were very much a peasants’ animal. While horses had been expensive and prestigious beasts in the Anglo Saxon world, the taboo of eating horse flesh in England meant that older horses, perhaps nearing the end of their productive working lives, had very little market value. As they could not be fattened and sold for meat, an older horse was basically only worth the few pennies that could be fetched for its hide. However, for less demanding work on a small peasant farm, an older horse could be bought for little money and used for a number of years. The wide adoption of horse power by peasants did much to increase the area in which goods could be both bought and sold, allowing individuals access to previously inaccessible markets and thereby increasing the integration of previously disparate locales.

Alongside water and wind power, working animals were one of three essential sources of energy in the medieval economy. By understanding how England was furnished with this power, Langdon helped unlock key insights into how the medieval economy was able to grow during the crucial period of England’s, and indeed Europe’s, demographic and economic development from ca. 1250 to ca. 1350.

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#SourceSaturday: Veterinary Medicine Historical Collection, Michigan State University

By Janice Gunther Martin

The Veterinary Medicine Historical Collection at Michigan State University contains bountiful resources for anyone interested in the history of equine medicine, along with veterinary medicine in general. The collection includes over 1,400 manuscripts and books, dating as far back as the fifteenth century, making it one of the largest collections of its kind in the United States.

Equine-related works are especially well-represented in the Collection. It mainly focuses on books published or written before 1800, with particular strength in eighteenth-century British texts. Highlights include:

  • A fifteenth-century manuscript of Giordano Ruffo’s Libro marischalcie equorum;
  • The only known first edition of Francisco de la Reyna’s Libro de albeyteria (1547);
  • The first illustrated edition of Marcus Fugger’s Von der Gestüterey (1584), on horse breeding.

You can see more examples from the collection in their online exhibit “The History of Equine Anatomy in Veterinary Medicine.”

The Veterinary Medicine Historical Collection is housed in MSU’s Special Collections, recently renovated and in the main library on campus. A partial catalogue of the Collection is available online, also available in PDF form; for all holdings, see the MSU Library Catalogue. It is possible to register and request works to examine before your visit. They are open nearly every day of the week during the academic year.

For more information:

Michigan State Special Collections, East Lansing, MI

Staff Directory

Hours

Francisco de la Reyna, Libro de albeyteria, 1547

Carlo Ruini, Dell’ anotomia et dell’ infirmita del cavallo, 1598


Georg Simon Winter, Trattato nuovo … del far la razza di cavalli, 1672

 

The Compleat Horse Doctor, 17__?

Equine History T-Shirts are here!

   We are raising funds for filing 501(c)3 status and for the EHC Conference travel fund. T-shirts are now available!

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   For the “heads” design, featuring zebra, horse, and donkey heads, order here: https://www.bonfire.com/ehc-equine-heads/ 

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   For the #AndBurros shirt (courtesy of Abbie Harlow, ASU) order here:  https://www.bonfire.com/andburros/ 

Multiple cuts & colors available on both.

   Direct donations can be made here: https://squareup.com/store/equine-history-collective… Please feel free to share!

#SourceSaturday: Recent English-Language Equine Veterinary Histories

By Janice Gunther Martin

During the month of April, the Equine History Collective will be featuring posts related to the history of veterinary medicine. If you are interested in submitting a book review, let us know at equinehistory@gmail.com.

The bibliography below lists recent histories of veterinary medicine in English, with a focus on works at least partially devoted to equids. The list is by no means exhaustive, so if you have found certain books or articles to be especially helpful (including those in other languages), please add your comments below!

Adams, J. N. Pelagonius and Latin Veterinary Terminology in the Roman Empire. Leiden: Brill, 1995.

Alkhateeb Shehada, Housni. “Donkeys and Mules in Arabic Veterinary Sources from the Mamlūk Period (7th–10th/13th–16thCentury).” Al-Masaq 20, no. 2 (September 2008): 207–214. https://doi.org/10.1080/09503110802283424.

———. Mamluks and Animals: Veterinary Medicine in Medieval Islam. Leiden: Brill, 2012.

Brown, Karen and Daniel Gilfoyle, eds. Healing the Herds: Disease, Livestock Economies, and the Globalization of Veterinary Medicine. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press, 2010.

Buell, Paul D., Timothy May, and David Ramey. “Greek and Chinese Horse Medicine: Déjà vu All Over Again.” Sudhoffs Archiv 94, no. 1 (2010): 31–56. http://www.jstor.org/stable/20778426.

Curth, Louise Hill. The Care of Brute Beasts: A Social and Cultural Study of Veterinary Medicine in Early Modern England. Leiden: Brill, 2010.

———. ‘A plaine and easie waie to remedie a horse’: Equine Medicine in Early Modern England. Leiden: Brill, 2013.

Jones, Susan D. Valuing Animals: Veterinarians and their Patients in Modern America. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2003.

McCabe, Anne. A Byzantine Encyclopedia of Horse Medicine: The Sources, Compilation, and Transmission of the Hippiatrica. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007.

Michell, A. R., ed. History of the Healing Professions: Parallels between Veterinary and Medical History. Vol. 3 of The Advancement of Veterinary Science: The Bicentenary Symposium Series, edited by A. R. Michell. Wallingford: CAB International, 1993.

Mishra, Saurabh. Beastly Encounters of the Raj: Livelihoods, Livestock and Veterinary Health in North India, 1790–1920. Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2015.

Mitsuda, Tatsuya. “Entangled Histories: German Veterinary Medicine, c.1770–1900.” Medical History 61, no. 1 (January 2017): 25–47. https://doi.org/10.1017/mdh.2016.99.

Woods, Abigail. “From One Medicine to Two: The Evolving Relationship between Human and Veterinary Medicine in England, 1791–1835.” Bulletin of the History of Medicine 91, no. 3 (Fall 2017): 494–523. https://doi.org/10.1353/bhm.2017.0058.

Woods, Abigail and Stephen Matthews. “‘Little, if at all, Removed from the Illiterate Farrier or Cow-leech’: The English Veterinary Surgeon, c1860–1885, and the Campaign for Veterinary Reform.” Medical History 54, no. 1 (January 2010): 29–54. https://doi.org/10.1017/S0025727300004300.

 

CFP: Horses, Moving, September 25-27, Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger

The conference seeks to address the movement and motility of horses from a wide array of perspectives, from prehistory until historical times. The Museum of Archaeology, University of Stavanger and the Høgskulen for landbruk og bygdeutvikling would like to invite you to “Horses, moving” a cross-disciplinary conference on the symbolism and relevance of horses in human societies throughout history, as well as the dynamics of human-horse interactions. Keynote speakers are professor Lynda Birke, University of Chester and professor Anita Maurstad, University of Tromsø. We would like to invite prospective participants to submit abstracts outlining their topic. Presentations may come from any field, archaeology, anthropology, ethnography, human geography, history, linguistics, folklore studies, equine studies or animal behavioral studies, to name but a few. Abstracts should be no more than 300 words and must be submitted by June 30. For further information or to submit an abstract, please contact Sean Dexter Denham, sean.d.denham@uis.no.

#ShelfieSunday: War Horse: Mounting the Cavalry with America’s Finest Horses

warhorse

     War Horse started as a project by two horsemen to uncover the relationship between pedigree and confirmation, especially pertaining to soundness and athleticism. It became an immense tome on the short lived but massively influential U.S. Army Remount Service breeding program. Livingston and Roberts, in their search to quantify the pedigrees of the best horses, discovered that they unerringly traced to Remount stallions, regardless of breed. While the majority of remount stallions were Thoroughbreds, Arabians, or Morgans, they had a lasting effect on nearly every American breed.

    The authors begin, unsurprisingly, with a brief overview of warhorse history. This chapter is far more thorough than average, including both pre-Medieval and non-European sections. However, it is in places problematic, including references to a cumbersome great horse and suggesting that the Roman Empire employed war chariots in a widespread fashion. However, these are issues within the historiography they were relying on, and do not reflect the overall quality of the book. They then move quickly through the early years of the Remount services during the Civil War, not yet involved in breeding, through the massive equine casualties (riding, draft, and pack horses and mules) in several wars up through World War I. The overall scarcity of horsepower following World War I, coupled with the need for consistent quality, led to the establishment of the breeding program the Remount is now known for.

    The bulk of the book is concerned with the day to day running of the Remount breeding program, from stallion selection and placement to enlistment of Remount offspring. The book benefits from a large number of photos and excerpted letters and documents from breeders as well as Army personnel. The final chapter includes detailed pedigrees and accounts of the most influential Remount stallions. This section is largely concerned with the stockhorses- mostly Quarter Horses and Paints- the authors original sought to analyze, though other breeds are represented in the body of the work. At the end are several useful appendices, including a timeline and a list of known Remount personal and stallions. In all, War Horse tends towards the romantic but is nonetheless of incredible use to historians of modern cavalry or American breeding practices.

“The Perfect Horse” Book Talk

     Agriscapes and the Horse Center at Cal Poly Pomona will be hosting a talk by Elizabeth Letts on her research on the daring U.S. mission to rescue the priceless stallions kidnapped by the Nazis.” Along with the Lipizzans, there were Arabians: these ended up at the W. K. Kellogg Arabian horse ranch, now the site of Cal Poly Pomona. Come listen to, and walk in, a bit of history.

Tickets (free, but RSVP required) are available here.

Letts-lecture