Revised Paper : Mongolians and the Saddle: A Nation Built on Horseback

Historians consider the Mongols one of the most horse-dependent societies in history. Their widespread use of the horse has been largely credited to the saddle, which went through many stages and developments to become a powerful tool. The earliest saddles emerged in nomadic cultures in Central Asia, estimated between 500 and 300 BCE, and consisted of little more than simple cloth or animal hide.[1] Although basic in design, these early saddles allowed easier horse riding and set the stage for further innovation. As the saddle became more widespread throughout Asia, societies using the new-found technology began to make them sturdier and more practical. The development of wooden frames, an innovation that dated around 100 BC, gave the saddle a more defined shape and the rider a better seat.[1]

The stirrup, a considerable addition to the saddle, changed the way of life and warfare for the Mongols. First developed in China around 100 CE, the invention of the stirrup gave the rider more stability and the ability to move in the saddle.[2] Prior to the stirrup, soldiers faced difficulties during cavalry-type warfare; the rider would have to use weapons and balance on the horse simultaneously. With a stirrup, warriors could primarily focus on fighting, being able to stay on the horse with little effort. They also had greater mobility, allowing them to maneuver themselves for battle and striking. The development of the stirrup allowed the exploitation of horses in warfare and gave an advantage to those using horses. The Mongols, a prime example, became a society known for fearsome warriors.

The saddle, and horses in general, allowed the Mongolians to develop a long-lasting nomadic culture, while growing an empire and becoming feared enemies of many. While the majority of countries at the time still used chariots and lacked the ability to fully exploit horses, the Mongols could traverse across harsh landscapes, including rugged mountains, that many cultures used as a natural barrier. The Mongols attacked from unexpected angles, giving them an advantage. Their early incorporation of the stirrup also strengthened their troops, giving them the ability to fight on horseback, pursue fleeing armies, and continue to fire arrows while retreating.[3] The widespread use of horses also allowed the unification of Mongolian tribes, as renowned leader Genghis Khan could communicate with them in a relatively short amount of time.[4] With the combination of efficient travel, improved warfare, and accessible communication, the Mongols became a large nation while sticking to their nomadic roots, keeping horses alongside every step of the way.


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(4) n.d. Article: The Horse in Mongolian Culture. Accessed October 19, 2018.

Clauson, Sir Gerard. 1965. “Turkish and Mongolian Horses and Use of Horses, An Etymological Study.” Central Asiastic Journal 161-166.

(3) 2017. Giddyap! How the Stirrup Revolutionized Horseback Riding and Helped Build Empires. September 23. Accessed October 19, 2018.

Inglis-Arkell, Esther. 2017. The Mongols built an empire with one technological breakthrough. May 9. Accessed October 19, 2018. .

Taylor, William. 2017. Precision chronology sheds new light on the origins of Mongolia’s nomadic horse culture. April 11. Accessed October 19, 2018. .

(2) 2017. The Stirrup Has Guided The Course of Human History. May 18. Accessed October 18, 2018.

(1) Tkačenko, Irina Dmitrievna. n.d. Riding horse tack among the cattle-breeders of Central Asia and Southern Siberia in the first and second millennia CE. Accessed October 18, 2018.

Winston, George. 2018. The Stirrup: Genghis Khan’s Deadliest Weapon. June 10. Accessed October 19, 2018.

Ferguson “The Origin of the Steam Engine”

One of the most popular and heavily discussed historic inventions was the steam engine. However, the invention of the steam engine is mistakenly credited to James Watt. In reality, the development of the steam engine took place over many years and was approached by many people. Thomas Survey and Thomas Newcomen are two examples of those involved with innovating the steam engine during the 18th century. During this time, the concept of the steam engine was being explored for use in creating pumps that could drain water from mines.

Thomas Savery was able to obtain a patent for his pumping technology, but his mechanisms were never put to use in mines, as they were not powerful enough to drain them. Instead, Savery’s technology was used for small scale applications, such as in fountains. Thomas Newcomen, however, was successful in created pumping technology that could be used in mines.

Newcomen’s technology, which was powered by a steam engine, included many elements, including a boiler, piston, piston rod, and vertical lifting pump. One of the main aspects of his pumping mechanism was a beam, which was pulled down on one end to “lift” water from deep in the mine. Although the concept of steam engines was being approached by many people at the time, Newcomen was able to able to create an inherently new system that would be used and improved upon for years to come.

Two generations later, James Watt was able to develop his steam engine technology by drawing inspiration from Newcomen’s technology. From here, Watt was able to increase the efficiency and speed of steam engines. Watt kept the multiple components of Newcomen’s design, especially the beam, but incorporated two new ideas: a double-acting engine and straight-line linkage. The double-acting engine used two steam cylinders that alternated in direction, which lead to the ability of automatic control. Watt’s straight-line linkage combined two previous technologies, a straight linkage with a parallelogram-style linkage. In addition, unlike Newcomen, Watt powered his steam engine through an electric motor. From his improvements, Watt was able to control the speed of pumping using centrifugal force. His innovations also lead to the eventual invention of self-regulating pumps.

By improving upon Newcomen’s technology, Watt was able to create a pumping mechanism that was two times as efficient. However, all of Watt’s aspects were not invented by Watt himself. For example, there are examples of dual-cylinder pumps in Newcomen steam engines. This alludes to the belief that, based upon the amount of people working on steam engines and mine pumps, someone would have created the technology at some point, even if Newcomen or Watt had not.

The steam engine is a prime example of a technology that was not approached by a single person, but instead came about from continuous innovation and varying needs of a society. The steam engine went on to be used in many different aspects of life, not just for mines. The technology went on to be incorporated into factories and transportation, including trains and ships. Many historians even credit the Industrial Revolution to the multi-useful steam engine. Regardless of the actual inventor, the affects of the steam engine expanded years after its invention and spread to many different applications.


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Picture: Watt Steam Engine Pump

Watt’s Steam Engine

Kailey Deane – Chapter 7 Gimpel’s “The Medieval Machine”: The Mechanical Clock

Chapter 7 of The Medieval Machine, by Jean Gimpel, illustrates the innovations that lead to the mechanical and astronomical clock, as well as the Medieval society that allowed for such work to take place.

The Middle Ages, although considered to be a dark period for humanity, set the stage for invention and innovation. Unlike earlier times, progress was seen as a positive and normal part of life. Inventors during this time were known for being bolder and less worried about the traditions of prior societies. This mindset allowed for the invention of many useful technologies, including eyeglasses. One of the most influential inventions that emerged during this time was, and still is, the mechanical clock.

Prior to the invention of the mechanical clock, time was kept in unequal and unreliable ways. One of the main time indicators was church and town bells. However, the divisions of time were based upon equal dark and light times of the day. This was not a correct system, as night and day are typically not equally divided, and the hours of daylight changes during various times of the year. Even clocks that were invented were unreliable; the water-powered clock could not be used during the winter, as the water would freeze.

The invention of the mechanical clock was not done overnight and was developed by multiple people. One of the earlier examples was seen in China during the 11th century, with a complex astronomical clock created by Su Sung. However, astronomical devices at the time were strictly watched by the government, limiting the knowledge known about the machine, and the clock did not survive once later dynasties took charge.

The quest to design a mechanical clock was not seen until later in Europe. Inventors began trying to find a more reliable clock design around the latter half of the 13th century; one of the earlier tested designs involved replacing the water in water-powered clocks with mercury. Eventually, the mechanical clock emerged, which is hypothesized to be a result of astronomical clocks. The exact date is argued, but manuscripts and illustrations signify that the mechanical clock was established by the 14th century.

Abbot Richard of Wallingford was an earlier pioneer of innovating astronomical clocks, who spent many years working in a monastery. He created the Albion, which could predict the position of the planets and was influential for later astronomical devices, and the Rectangulus. The amount of time that he devoted to these devices and their manuscripts earned him the disdain of others; he was even reprimanded by King Edward III. However, the detail that he put in to his manuscripts helped pave the way for later devices and later recreations of his own.

Giovanni Di Dondi created the astrarium in the 14th century, which incorporated elements of the mechanical and astronomical clock. This device, made of brass and bronze, included a twenty-four-hour time keeping system, a calendar of important religious dates, and the position of multiple planets at any given time. His clock included the sun and moon, along with Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury, and Venus. Unlike most clocks at the time, which was set in sync with the sunset, Giovanni used noon to set the astrarium. Along with this astronomical clock, he wrote and illustrated a detailed manuscript. This manuscript allowed for the spread of his invention; the manuscript was printed repeatedly, catching the attention and admiration of many. His design was even copied by Leonardo da Vinci.  Giovanni’s manuscript was specific in such a way that exact replicas have been made in recent years. The main astronomical components of the astrarium, versus the smaller mechanical aspects, have led Gimpel and others to believe that the mechanical clock was a “by-product” of the astronomical clock.

The mechanical clock, and even an equal division of time itself, changed society. Bells in towns and churches were made more reliable, and people were able to align to the same schedule. King Charles V even required that all clocks match his, creating an established system for everyone to follow. The Roman Church incorporated the clock into their churches. Overall, the clock spread, and a reliable system of timekeeping was received in a positive manner. However, the Greek Orthodox church opposed the clock up until the 20th century, as they considered timekeeping to be unimportant when considering eternity. The East did not adopt the same timekeeping methods as the West for many years, either.

The complexity of the astrarium, especially for it’s time, is further explained in this article (click link). The design worked by a verge and foliot system, unlike most clocks at the time. There were numerous dials and 107 wheels in the machine. The clock was able to tell the viewer the position of planets using longitude. The sun and moon’s orbit could be seen. There was a built-in calendar system, which showed important dates for the church. Even dates that changed each year, such as Easter, could be set accurately. Although the original astrarium fell into disrepair, all of these details are known as a result of Giovanni’s excellent manuscript.


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Clarke “The Stirrup” – Kailey Deane

The stirrup, one of the seemingly small innovations of the ancient world, was one that changed the face of warfare and expanded the exploitation of horses in defense. The article by Colin Clarke offers an in-depth discussion of how the stirrup lead to different forms of warfare, weapons, and social structures.

Prior to the introduction of the stirrup, the use of horses in warfare was not fully exploited. The Greeks used mounted troops for raids and to chase retreating armies, as well as locating and observing enemy troops, but did not use them in battles. The Persians, who were feared enemies of the Greeks, were believed to have hired Asian horsemen, skilled in the “War of Horse and Bow”, to aid them in battle, giving them an advantage over most armies at the time. Some ancient legions, such as the Romans and Germans, would ride into battle, but dismount before they began fighting. Although saddles were prevalent in Rome, the design limited fighting abilities and mobility.

The stirrup first emerged in nomadic cultures in Siberia and the Altaian Mountains during the 5th century. The Chinese began to use this technology soon after. From here, the stirrup expanded into Western Europe; the exact time is uncertain, but it is estimated to have been in use between 500 and 750 AD, when they began to be depicted in artwork. As time progressed, the stirrup grew widespread and were made shorter to allow for more bend in the knee. As the stirrup was used more, weaponry in Western Europe changed, allowing for the use of bigger weapons, including spears and lances.

It is undeniable that the stirrup changed warfare, as it increased stability and comfort in the saddle. Stirrups made cavalry more useful, allowed the use of bigger weapons, and gave the rider greater mobility. The height, speed, and weapons of mounted troops gave then an advantage over ground troops. Many historians consider the stirrup one of the most influential inventions, ranking them among clocks and the steam engine.

However, the direct effects tend to “stirr-up” argument among historians. Some historians, such as Lynn White, link the use of stirrups to widespread cavalry use, bigger weapons, and the emergence of feudalism. Evidence from cultures beyond Western Europe suggest otherwise, instead supporting that culture had more to do with the effects of the stirrup than the invention itself. Although the Japanese adopted a form of feudalism, they continued to use the bow and arrow, instead of the lances in Europe. At the time, the “War of Horse and Bow” was an honorable martial art; the skill associated with this type of warfare was considered superior to using lances and spears. The Mongols, who had a culture that was heavily dependent on horses, never developed a system of feudalism. Even after the introduction of the stirrup, they continued their nomadic lifestyles. As with most technologies, the effects of the invention were dependent on the society that it was used in.

The Stirrup Controversy,” by John Sloan, provides further arguments against Lynn White. Many of White’s supporting statements have been proven wrong since he first published of his hypothesis in “Medieval Technology and Social Change,” including when stirrups were being used by different armies. Part of his thesis also seems to contradict itself, as some examples provided, such as the Gothics and French, were known to have had a powerful cavalry before stirrups emerged. Sloan also argues that much training and development had to take place for each army; the stirrup did not suddenly appear and automatically make everything better. As time progresses, more evidence is uncovered that goes against White’s theory and other historians are developing varying beliefs, including the idea that feudalism was a defense mechanism against the Vikings.

In short, the introduction of the stirrup did have many advantages and changed the face of warfare. However, the social impact of the stirrup is widely argued, and the effects were not solely dependent on the technology itself. As with anything else discussed involving the history of technology, the use and development of the stirrup was influenced largely by culture and the people that used them. Technology is not an isolated concept. In addition, the study of a technology requires looking beyond Western Europe.


Word Count: 715

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