Heavenly horses of Ferghana

In 104 BC, a 60,000-strong Chinese cavalry was sent to Dawan on the orders of the Tang Emperor Wu-Di. The reason for the start of the war were the Argamaks¹, the “heavenly horses of Ferghana“, as they are called in all sources. These horses possessed great strength and endurance and “sweated blood”, which for the Chinese was a sign of their divine origin. They regarded the horses of Ferghana as “heavenly horses” on which one could ride “to the land of immortality”. The Chinese emperor Wu-Di, who was looking for a way to become immortal, especially coveted the heavenly horses. “The celestial horses became an object of veneration in China and were even the subject of poems by poets. However, the secret of the Argamaks’ peculiarity and their ability to “sweat blood” was that their skin was eaten away by parasites, which caused this unusual effect.

However, all this was elucidated in the twentieth century, and in the second century BC the Argamaks were the target of a certain cult. After their defeat in 104 BC, the Chinese attacked Dawan again, but this time the people of Ferghana had to compromise: They undertook to supply the Chinese emperor with 300 horses each year for his army.

The question of the origin of these horses is still open. Thus, the Chinese traveller and diplomat Zhang Jian wrote: “In the Dawan Empire there are high mountains. On these mountains there are horses that are hard to get: Therefore the coloured mares are selected and brought to the foothills of the mountains to mate with the mountain stallions. It is from these mares that the bloodstained foals are born, which is why they are called “foals of the heavenly horse breed”.

One cannot deny the importance of the “celestial” origin of the Argamaks, but it should be noted that the main reason for possessing these horses was the need to wage war against the Huns, who at that time were causing much damage on the borders with China. Like all nomads, the Huns had an excellent, armed cavalry force – the Cataphracts – which the Chinese horsemen on small, less robust horses were no match for. Therefore, the Chinese needed the Argamaks from Central Asia, who were considered one of the best breeds at the time.

According to some reports, the descendants of these “Heavenly Horses” are now Turkmen Akhal Teke horses, rightly considered one of the best horse breeds in the world.

¹Argamak → Uzbek: Arg’umoq / Arghumoq

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