Stirrup – One of the most important inventions of Human History


The Most Important Invention Before Gunpowder

How many riders would know that the simple and humble looking piece of iron that they use every day was the most important invention in the history of warfare before ‘Gun powder’?


As per Lynn White "Few inventions have been so simple as the stirrup, but few have had so catalytic an influence on history". Though initially it appears to be an exaggeration but once you dig deeper, you realize that he had  compelling evidences to support his take on the subject. Humans had domesticated horses as early as 4500 BC to compensate for their restricted mobility and endurance.  However, for a considerably long period of time they could not make use of this added advantage in wars and battles as the back of the horse didn’t allow them required stability for the use of weapons and execution of  required manoeuvres.  This was something for which they had to wait all the way till 1- 5 AD. Though there is no  dearth of theories that claim that the invention of stirrup happened earlier, like the carvings in Sanchi, Madhya Pradesh in India or the one sided ‘mounting' stirrup extensively used  in china, but concrete evidences of existence of a proper stirrup emerge only during 1- 5 AD.


Technical Glitch in Invention of the Stirrup

There is a reason why it took centuries for the stirrup to come into existence. Invention of stirrup in itself was easy, but what kept humans guessing for a long time was a method to distribute the weight borne by the stirrup evenly throughout the back rather than just the point of contact.  Finally, the puzzle was solved by invention of a solid tree, with a void in between, around which the saddle was constructed. It was akin to the chassis of a car. This tree ensured even distribution the weight all along the back of a horse and kept the withers unmolested. In absence of such a tree, the wight used to create abnormal pressure points there by making the horse sore.

Effect of Stirrup on Civilizations 

The reason why this invention is considered so important is because due to the stability provided by the stirrup, finally the warriors could use the speed, mobility and endurance offered by the horses in active warfare. It also became possible for them to use saber, sword and lances from a higher platform which gave them a huge advantage over a regular infantry soldier. This sudden shift in the warfare combined with newly acquired speed and endurance allowed various civilizations to spread far and wide. Had it not been for this change, the world probably would not have been in the shape it is today.

So next time when you use this humble piece of iron for a leg up, do remember that it is much more than just a piece of iron.


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