Kikkuli

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

We know very little about this mysterious character, whose name, however, is remembered for being the author of the oldest text dedicated to the care and training of the horse reached down to us. He lived in the thirteenth century BC.

Horses groomed and watered.
Stone panel from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal (northern Iraq), 883-859 BC .
© Trustees of the British Museum

«Thus speaks Kikkuli, master horse trainer of the land of Mitanni», so begins his manual for training war horses. Despite being at the service of the Hittite king Suppiluliuma, Kikkuli was in fact a “stranger.” Mitanni or Mitani was the name of an empire on the left bank of the Euphrates, south of the Taurus, which included northern Mesopotamia and in the period of its greatest expansion (fifteenth century BC), the western part of Assyria. Mitanni was probably the capital of the kingdom, although the sources are also called the capital city Washshuggani. The population of this kingdom was of Hurrian origins. The Hurrians spoke their own language, such as that spoken by the Mitanni was nothing more than a dialect. They lived in Armenia, in the eastern provinces of the empire of the Hittites in Asia Minor, in northern Mesopotamia, and mixed with other populations, in Assyria, Babylon, Syria, and Palestine.

Fragment from the north-west palace.
© Trustees of the British Museum

Early in its history, the main rival of Mitanni was Egypt. The rise of the Hittites, however, pushed the Mitanni rulers to form an alliance with their old enemies, sealed by several marriages between Egyptian pharaohs and Mitanni’s princesses. Probably as a result of a conspiracy, which led the disorder in the empire of Mitanni, the Assyrians invaded the south-eastern Mesopotamia. The situation prompted the Hittite king Suppiluliuma to intervene on behalf of Mattiwaza, one of the princes of Mitanni, who was fighting for the succession. He gave him an Hittite princess as wife and put him on the throne as a vassal of his reign. Shortly after, however, Adad-nirari I of Assyria (1310-1281) won the country’s major cities and the kingdom of Mitanni passed to Assyria.

The Kikkuli text has a particular importance for philologists. According to Kammenhuber, who has studied all the fragments of the text, the four tablets were recorded by four different scribes, probably of Hurrian origin. Each one shows a different level of expertise of the Hittite language by the writer. It can be deduced from the text that Mitanni horse trainers, as Kikkuli, and their Hittites counterparts used common words, Hurrian and Hittite, but also technical terms derived from different languages spoken in Asia Minor, such as Sumerian, Akkadian, Hittite,Luvian, Hurrian and Indo-Aryan.

The lion hunt (detail)
Stone panel from the North-West Palace of Ashurnasirpal II
© Trustees of the British Museum

Bibliography:

FURLANI, Giuseppe, Mitanni, in AA.VV., Enciclopedia Italiana, Roma, Istituto dell’Enciclopedia Treccani, 1934.

RAULWING, Peter, The Kikkuli Text. Hittite Training Instructions for Chariot Horses in the Second Half of the 2nd Millennium B.C. and Their Interdisciplinary Context 2009.

SESTILI, Antonio, Cavalli e cavalieri nel mondo antico, Roma, Società Editrice Dante Alighieri, 2012.

Further informatiom about the pictures pubblished in this page may be found folowwing this links:  Horses groomed and watered / Fragment from the North-west Palace / The lion hunt

The oldest text dedicated to the care and training of the horse

Fourth tablet of Kikkuli Texts – Berlin, Vorderasiatisches Museum

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

If the oldest image of a domesticated horse can be traced back to the Sumerian civilization, the earliest written text dedicated to the care and training of the horse is the one by Kikkuli, squire of the king of the Hittites Suppiluliuma, dating back to a period between 1375 and 1335 BC. It was found engraved on five clay tablets in cuneiform characters, among the thousands brought to light during the excavations conducted by Hugo Winckler in the site of Boghaz-Koy, in Central Anatolia, in 1906.The text is a kind of a manual for the care and training of the chariot horses of the Hittite army. At that time, in fact, the cavalry was still relatively unknown to the civilizations that flourished around the Mediterranean. The text describes a detailed training program, lasting 184 days. For each of these days were prescribed the rations of feed, the number of watering, the workouts and the periods of rest. The horses were yoked to the chariot and trained up, walking, ambling and cantering. They were also walked wearing blankets to make them sweat and taken to the river to bathe and swim. The diet consisted of grass, clover, straw, barley and mashes of cooked cereals, but the program included as well days of complete fasting. The horses were initially selected subjecting them to quite intense efforts in the first days, then they were moved on to a progressive work, coming to travel up to sixty miles a day, at different paces. They were trained in pairs, as they were usually joined in pairs. Generally chariots carried three people: a charioteer and two warriors, one armed with a bow and a spear and the other on with a spear and a shield.

Neo-Hittite war chariot – Museum of Anatolian Civilizations – Ankara

The author, although was serving a Hittite king, said that he belonged to the people of Mitanni, a kingdom located in northern Mesopotamia, which reached its peak in the late Bronze Age and was defeated by the Hittites. Its inhabitants were famous for their ability in taming horses.

The text of Kikkuli has recently been translated in English and has inspired a training method for endurance horses, that’s based on his instructions.

Bibliography

NEYLAND, Ann, The Kikkuli method of Horse training, Mermaid Beach, Smith and Stirling, 2008.

RAULWING, Peter, The Kikkuli Text. Hittite Training Instructions for Chariot Horses in the Second Half of the 2nd Millennium B.C. and Their Interdisciplinary Context, 2009.

SESTILI, Antonio, Cavalli e cavalieri nel mondo antico, Roma, Società Editrice Dante Alighieri, 2012.