EVEN if this picture may appear quite self-explanatory when one looks at the swift-running horses, it still offers a useful and interesting exposition, giving us occasion to recall to mind various ceremonies of the northern folk and neighbouring nations. In ancient times this practice was observed with loyal devotion and even now it is faithfully maintained in just the same way. There was at one time a custom among the ancient Gotar in winter, towards the end of December (a period when, owing to the snow and cold, lakes, pools, and land everywhere were shackled by the powerful grip of ice), to assemble all the best and most handsome horses in separate provinces for the purpose of giving public shows. They were moved to do this by two particular motives: first, that whichever horse or horses they picked out as excelling all the rest in speed, they should without fail present for sacrifice to the divine powers, as a gift of the highest value to be immolated at the altar or burnt; for they thought that by such an offering they would prove superior to all their enemies according to the degree that the sacrificial victim was in faultless and unblemished condition. Herodotus gives us similar information about the Massagetae on the last page of his first book, and indeed Strabo does too in Bk X about those early ancestors of the Massagetae who believed that the sun was God and slaughtered a horse in his honour. 1 The second purpose was that they should offer to the royal prince or to his emissaries their fastest horses with which, by means of speedy couriers, they might investigate uprisings, wherever they threatened within the kingdom or on the boundaries, and fight them off. Although each has the same sort of quality, in those days they thought more highly of strong horses than the fast ones which we prefer, because of the heavy lances, or pikes, and the thicker covering of armour they had to carry (I shall say more of this in the proper place). 2 At no time is there any lack of very swift horses and riders to guard the kingdom’s ports, whenever they are needed.

Ancient custom

Purposes of horse-racing

The stronger not the swifter

Bk VIII, Ch. 13