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This blog is a behind the scenes look at the Roman Baths in Bath. We hope you enjoy reading our stories about life surrounding the Roman Baths.

Wednesday, 4 April 2018

Gallop through History

The ability to complete hard jobs with minimal effort is an apt way to describe most technological innovations ever created by man.  For science week the decision to delve into the technology surrounding animal husbandry, in particular the Equus (horse in the language of the Romans: Latin.)

Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said: “The substitution of the internal combustion engine for the horse marked a very gloomy milestone in the progress of mankind.” 

This is certainly true, and although the day of the horse as the centre of many of our technological innovations is long past, I hoped to in some small way honour the creature that I consider man’s second best friend. 

When we first domesticated the horse, around 3500BC, it became quickly apparent that the creature would need proper treatment if it was to perform the heavy labour that was required of it.  Just as an army must have good boots to march many miles, the horse must also be provided with premium footwear.  Working in poor conditions caused horses to become lame, which was solved by the horseshoe; a sheet of metal hammered into the hoof to form a protective lining.  I hear all ye animal lovers cry out in indignation, but fear not!  The shoe, when fitted properly, only goes through the horse’s equivalent of a fingernail. 

Medieval Guildhall type horseshoe (left), post-medieval horseshoe (right)

Above you can see the evolution of the horseshoe from a medieval Guildhall type shoe to a later 17th century style.  The style changes to better fit the horse, the inner arch point disappears with time.  A further point of interest is the overall greater size of the medieval shoe, likely for a draft horse (a horse that would have pulled a heavy wagon.) 

17th-18th century rowel spur

Another noteworthy object in our beautiful collection is a 17th- 18th century rowel spur (albeit missing the rowel - the circular spinning part.  When the horse became a practical way for our ancestors to get around, and even later sit atop and charge battle, the spur was developed so that the rider could communicate more complex manoeuvres to his mount.  At first the ‘prick spur’ did little more than to jab the horse but later the rowel spur was developed to be more gentle. 

Through my journey into the Roman Baths Collection I have only deepened my already considerable respect for the horse and those who mastered it, as Churchill said, for the “progress of mankind.” 


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