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IE Studies 2, Requirement 5

Describe and compare the connection between horse and sovereign in two cultures. (100 words for each culture)

Probably the most impressive of all Vedic rituals is the asvamedha, the horse sacrifice. Beginning in the spring and dedicated by a king as representative of his warriors, a horse would be set free, followed by an army, and eventually killed. The king's wife would then have sex with the dead stallion. (Mallory, 135) This ritual is designed to leave the king sinless, victorious, and glorious, turning a raj- into a samraj- and consecrates the king who performs it as a great king. (Puhvel, 272-273) Horses were clearly important to the Vedic peoples, as there are several hymns in the Rgveda to various horses, including four to one Dadhikara. It is clear that this particular horse is connected with the first function and that he bestowed many of the advantages of the asvamedha on his own. (Maurer, 323)

An interesting theme in Norse mythology is the taking of sovereignty by stealing a horse: this is seen in both a story about Olaf Tryggvason, who rides off on a stallion slated to be killed in honour of Freyr (and showing the supremacy of Christianity over paganism by stealing Freyr's horse); and the saga Hrafnkell's Saga, where Freyfaxi, sacred to Freyr and whose only rider may be Hrafnkell, is ridden by a boy and this brings about the ruin of Hrafnkell (and the horse is sacrificed as an expiation). Each of these two stories reflects aspects of sovereignty and the importance of horses to the maintainence of power. (Davidson, 97-98)

The horse, being a traditionaly first Dumezilian function animal (associated with priests and kingship in all IE cultures) plays a very important role in sovereignty regardless of time or location.


  • Davidson, HR Ellis. Gods and Myths of Northern Europe. London: Penguin. 1990
  • Enright, Michael J. Lady With a Mead Cup: Ritual, Prophecy and Lordship in the European Warband from La Tene to the Viking Age. Portland, OR: Four Courts Press. 1996
  • MacDonnell, A. A. Vedic Mythology.
  • Mallory, JP. In Search of the Indo-Europeans.
  • Maurer, Walter. Pinacles of India's Past: Selections from the Rgveda.
  • Puhvel, Jaan. Comparative Mythology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins. 1987


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