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Horse transports in the Middle Ages

File:Bremen Hansekogge RolandvonBremen.JPG
Trade-cogs were the main transport vessels of Northern Europe.

Horse transports in the Middle Ages were boats used for effective means of transporting horses over long distances, whether for war or general transport. They can be found from the Early Middle Ages, in Celtic, Germanic and Mediterranean traditions.


Early and High Middle Ages

Icelandic horses were transported by Norse ships to Iceland by settlers in the 9th century.

The Romans had developed efficient methods of sea transport for horses, which were improved by the Arabic nations in the Early Middle Ages; these transports became common in Europe from the 10th century.[1] Small boats (often referred to as tarides) could be powered by oar (or sometimes by sail), and were able to be loaded and unloaded directly on a beach, using doors as loading ramps; these could carry up to 20 horses.[2] Later boats were larger, capable of carrying over 1,500 men, but could not land men or animals directly.[2] The merchant roundship was often adapted for warfare, and in the 13th century, two- and three-deck ships could carry 100 horses (or 600 men).[3] However, the need for fodder and water probably restricted the number of horses that could be carried; in the 14th century, ships transporting horses between Scotland and Ireland never carried more than 32.[4] Adapting a ship for horse transportation required the installation of wooden stalls or hurdles, probably with supporting canvas slings.[5]

Records of cavalry transportation abound throughout the period, reflecting the changes in warfare. For example, the Scandinavians had adapted the horse-transport technology by the 12th century as part of their move away from the traditional Viking infantry.[6] The first illustration displaying such horse-transport in western Europe can be found in the Bayeux Tapestry's depiction of the Norman conquest of England.[7] This particular military venture required the transfer of over 2,000 horses from Normandy.[8]

The development and building of horse transports for use in war meant it remained easy to transfer horses for breeding and purchase during peacetime. After William of Normandy's successful conquest of England, he continued to bring horses across from Normandy for breeding purposes, improving the bloodstock of the English horses.[8] By this time, the Normans had already been transporting horses around the Mediterranean,[5] and in 1174 an Italo-Norman force attacked Alexandria with 1,500 horses transported on 36 tarides.[9] By the time of the Hundred Years War, the English government banned the export of horses in times of crisis.[10]

File:Bayeuxtapeten, Norrmannerna landstiga på Englands kust och tåga mot Hastings, Nordisk familjebok.png
This section from the Bayeux Tapestry shows William the Conqueror's invasion of England in 1066. He brought over 2000 horses with him across the Channel.[8]


  1. Nicolle (1999) p 271
  2. 2.0 2.1 Nicolle (1999) pp 271-4
  3. Bennet et al., p 226
  4. Prestwich, p 271
  5. 5.0 5.1 Prestwich, p 270
  6. Nicolle (1999) p
  7. Wilson, p 227
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 Hyland, p 99
  9. Nicolle (1999), p 274
  10. Nicolle (2000), p 22


  • Bennet, Matthew; Bradbury, Jim; DeVries, Kelly; Dickie, Iain; Jestice, Phyllis G. (2005) Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World: AD 500-AD 1500, London: Amber Books ISBN 1862272999
  • Nicolle, David (1999) Medieval Warfare Source Book: Warfare in Western Christendom, UK: Brockhampton Press. ISBN 1860198899
  • Nicolle, David (2000) Crécy 1346: Triumph of the longbow, Osprey Publishing Paperback ISBN 9781855329669
  • Prestwich, Michael (1996) Armies and Warfare in the Middle Ages: The English Experience, New Haven: Yale University Press ISBN 0300076630
  • Wilson, David M. (1985) The Bayeux Tapestry, London: Thames and Hudson

See also

  • Medieval ships


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