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Desultor

ἀποβάτης, μεταβάτης). A word literally meaning “one who leaps off,” and applied to a

Desultor. (Bas-relief at Verona.)

person who rode several horses or chariots, leaping from one to the other. As early as the Homeric times, we find the description of a man who keeps four horses abreast at full gallop, and leaps from one to another, amidst a crowd of admiring spectators ( Il. xv. 679-684). In the games of the Roman circus this sport was also very popular. The Roman desultor generally rode only two horses at the same time, sitting on them without a saddle and vaulting upon either of them at his pleasure ( Orig. xviii. 39). He wore a hat or cap made of felt. The taste for these exercises was carried to so great an extent that young men of the highest rank not only drove bigae and quadrigae in the circus, but exhibited these feats of horsemanship (Iul. 39). Among other nations this species of equestrian dexterity was applied to the purposes of war. Livy mentions a troop of horse in the Numidian army, in which each soldier was supplied with two horses, and, in the heat of battle and when clad in armour, would leap with the greatest ease and celerity from that which was wearied or disabled upon the back of the horse which was still sound and fresh (xxiii. 29).

The following illustration shows three figures of desultores—one from a bronze lamp, published

Desultores. (From an Ancient Lamp and Coins.)

by Bartoli (Antiche Lucerne Sepolcrali, i. 24), the others from coins.

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