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EPHI´PPIUM (ἐφίππιον,--ειον στρῶμα, strata, perhaps ἀστράβη), a saddle-cloth or pad. The saddle with a “tree” was unknown till the 4th century, although the pack-saddle (figs. in Ginzrot, Gesch. d. Fahrw.) seems to be of much earlier occurrence. (Cf. Ed. Diocl. 10.3, “parammas mulares cum flagello;” 11.4, 5, 6, “sagma burdonis, s. asini, s. camelli.” ) Among Greeks and Romans alike there were two methods of riding, bare-backed and with a saddle-cloth; or, in the language of Xenophon, ἐπὶ ψιλοῦ, ἐπὶ τοῦ ἐφιππίου. But neither the Greek writer nor any other ancient author hints at a true saddle (de Re Equ. 7.5; Hipparch. 8.4: cf. Varro, R. R. 2.7; Caes. Gal. 4.2; Hor. Ep. 1.14, 43). The meaning of ἀστράβη is difficult to determine: in Demosthenes (in Mid. p. 558.133; cf. Lys. pro Inval. § 11) it probably signifies a mule (so Harpocr. s.v. Hellad. in Phot., Suid., &c.), whence ἀστραβηλάτης; although the Schol., with a corrupt reading, explains it as εἶδος καθέδρας. Becker-Göll (i. p. 200) thinks there was a kind of saddle (ἀστράβη) which, like the φορεῖον, was used by women and invalids. Another meaning of the word was a piece of wood fastened to the saddle-cloth, grasped in mounting (τὸ ἐπὶ τῶν ἐφίππων ξύλον, κρατοῦσιν οἱ καθεζόμενοι, Suid. s. v.), or a step to support the feet (Isidor., “astraba, tabella in qua pedes requiescunt ;” and vase from Daphne, in British Museum, representing a person riding sideways on a dromedary with feet resting on a board).

In the absence of stirrups (later staffae, stapides, &c.), which are not mentioned till the Emperor Maurice (602 A.D.), there were several ways of mounting, as jumping with or without the aid of a lance-shaft, with the assistance of others (ἀναβολεῖς), or from steps (ἀνάβαθρα). The last were set up, according to Plutarch, along the main roads by C. Gracchus. Or, the horse was taught to kneel at the word of command, as in the illustration below from a lamp found at Herculaneum (cf. Strab. iii. p.163; Sil. Ital. 10.465).

In the more ancient art the horse is represented ridden bare-backed; so in numerous vasepaintings, bas-reliefs, and equestrian statues. Later, saddle-cloths, often double or with pads beneath, and fastened with one to three girths, appear with increasing frequency (cf. sarcophagus from Clazomenae, in British Museum). The most elaborate trappings of this kind are seen on Scythian antiquities of the 4th century B.C.: Amazon, as usual, astride on a skin fastened by girths, Compte Rendu de la Comm. Imp. Arch. St. Pétersb., 1862, pl. 4.4; ib. 1864, pl. 3.1, on Nikopolis vase, pad-saddle, double bordered housings; ib. 1866, pl. 4.1, ditto; ib. 1868, pl. 2.4, star-spangled cloth; ib. 1874, p. 184,

Ephippium, saddle. (From an ancient lamp.)

housings with scales square or fish-like; ib. 1872, Scythians (oblong cloths), Getae (none), Sarmatians (none), Parthians (chabraques), Panticapaeans (round, with hanging ornaments). The pad and pendent cloths are seen in the annexed coin of Labienus.

The use of trappings was originally regarded as effeminate by the Romans (Varro in Cato, de Lib. educ.; cf. Caes. l.c.), but they were used in pomps. Their development

Ephippium, saddle. (Coin of Labienus.)

may be seen by a comparison of the examples appearing on the columns of Trajan, Antonine, and Theodosius (v. reff. under COLUMNA), the arch of Constantine, &c. On the first and second, and in the equestrian statue of M. Aurelius, are to be seen cloths alone, and pads filling up the hollow of the horse's back with and without cloths. It is only on the Theodosian Column (e. g. the figures of Theodosius and Gratian) that the true saddle, with bow behind and before, appears for the first time. The innovation is still more apparent from the fact that the saddle is placed over the most elaborate triple housings of the old type, ornamented with metal scales, bells, and borders. (Cf. Scythian examples above; and, on same column, the scale-housings of the Scythian leader. For Persian origin of saddle: sella, s. equestris, cf. Veget. 4, Veterin. 6, Sidonius 3, Ep. 3.) Moreover, a new word (sella) seems to emphasize the new fashion. ( “Lx libras sella cum frenis, xxxv vero averta non transeat,” Cod. 12, 51, 12; Cod. Theod. 8, 5, 47; “s. equitatoria,” Jornandes; “sedile,” Nazarius; of doubtful meaning, “scordiscus militaris,” ed. Diocl. 10.2; “sc. malacum,” C. I. L. 8.4508; cf. [p. 1.743]Zonaras' account of Constans dragging his brother's body out of his saddle, A.D. 340: “sella deturbavit.” )

The above view, although agreeable to older opinion (e. g. Pancirolus, Rer. Memorab. ii. tit. 16), was opposed by Ginzrot (Gesch. d. Fahrw. vol. 2.100.26). But the evidence he cites from Egyptian and Oriental usage is irrelevant, and his pictures from Herculaneum and criticism of classical authors misleading.

In the Compte Rendu (1863, 5.3) is a representation of Dionysos reclining and Ariadne seated sideways (as with women generally, with the exception of Amazons) on a sofa with turned legs, placed on the back of a mule.


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  • Cross-references from this page (2):
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 4.2
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.14
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