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Horse Warriors


Two or three class periods



World History

Peter A. Adams, social studies teacher, Prince George's County, Maryland.


Students will:

1. compare and contrast characteristics of given civilizations

2. understand some similarities of feudal warrior societies

3. understand the evolution and basis of social classes in the medieval world


For this lesson, you will need:

computer with Internet access
resources on the Roman Empire, medieval Europe, and feudal Japan

1. Present to the class the following quotation from the Roman historian Ammianus Marcellinus: “The nation of the Huns ... surpasses all other Barbarians in wildness of life.... And though they do just bear the likeness of men ... they are so little advanced in civilization that they make no use of fire, nor any kind of relish, in the preparation of their food, but feed upon the roots which they find in the fields and the half-raw flesh of any sort of animal. I say half-raw, because they give it a kind of cooking by placing it between their own thighs and the backs of their horses....”

2. Ask the students whether they would be willing to live this type of life. Encourage them to consider the advantages that living such a life might offer.

3. Ask students to think about the following question: “What equipment was essential for a horse-mounted warrior?” Write their suggestions on the board. What type of riding gear would have been necessary? Define the stirrup of a saddle, providing a picture if possible. How would the stirrup have helped a horse warrior? Explain that it would have been nearly impossible to fire a bow, swing a sword successfully, or attack an opponent with a lance if not for the stirrup.

4. Divide the class into three groups.
- Group 1: The first group should research the evolution and use of the stirrup. It should provide a history of its use and its changing impact from the earliest period. Tell the students in the first group that they will be responsible for providing a historical overview with illustrations to the rest of the class.

- Group 2: Explain to the second group that the head of all warriors in Japan held the title Sei I tai shogun(sometimes simply called shogun), which means “barbarian-reducing general.” The government of feudal Japan was called the Bakufu, or “tent government.” Give students the following 17th-century account describing the role of the samurai: From the ancient times the people have been divided into four classes: samurai, farmer, artisan, and merchant. Each class has its own vocation. The farmers devote themselves to agriculture; the artisans promote industry; and the merchants are engaged in trade. All three ... contribute to the good of society. What then, is the use of the samurai class? Its only vocation is to preserve righteousness. The people of other classes deal with visible things, while the samurai deal with the invisible, colorless, and intangible things.Have the students research the samurai of Japan. Encourage students to read about the code of Bushido (“the way of the warrior”) to discover what a samurai's duties entailed. What do those individuals reveal about Japanese society from the 12th to the 19th centuries? Students should note that medieval Japan produced codes predicated upon a rigid hierarchical ordering of society. Have students complete a chart showing the various levels of medieval Japanese society and providing descriptions of the responsibilities assigned to each class.

- Group 3: Inform the third group that the term chevalier—given to the medieval Norman knights of Europe—literally means “horseman.” Most medieval knights were eventually bound by a code of behavior called chivalrythat stressed loyalty and fair play. Have this group review the role of medieval knights. Have students complete a chart showing the various levels of society in medieval Europe and providing descriptions of the responsibilities assigned to each class.

5. Have each group present their information to the class. Compare and contrast the different cultures of horse warriors.

Adaptation for Younger Students

Divide students into three groups with each group researching horsewarriors in either Ancient Rome, Medieval Europe, or feudal Japan. Givestudent groups clear topics and historic periods in which to conducttheir research. For instance, Roman horse warriors from 250 B.C. to 50A.D., English knights from the 800s to the 1100s, or Japanese samuraifrom the 1300s to 1600s. Have the groups prepare and present illustratedreports with emphasis on the role of the horse in the warriors'conquests. Remind students to include details about any equipment suchas saddles and stirrups that were in use during the historic period theystudy.

1. Debate the effectiveness of an equine warrior society. Could an army such as the one led by Attila sustain itself for an extended period?
2. Analyze possible reasons for the Huns' defeat by the forces of Rome at the Battle of Chalons. If they were so powerful, how were they defeated?
3. Criticize the traditional wisdom that the stirrup was instrumental in the development of effective horse warfare. Consider that the Native Americans mounted successful attacks using neither stirrups nor saddles.
4. Analyze the strengths and weaknesses of rigid hierarchical society.
5. Compare and contrast the warriors of medieval Japan and Europe. What characteristics did they share? What made them different from each other?
6. Each feudal society limited participation in the warrior class. This was eventually formalized by rules and conventions imposed by those in power. Hypothesize whether other factors limited participation in the warrior class before the formal rules came into existence.

Students should write essays in which they consider the following question: How did medieval society use or improve technology to make horse-mounted warriors more effective? Provide three examples that show (1) how the warrior's weapons changed, (2) how the use of the horse changed, and (3) what new technologies and/or cultural changes led to the decline of the knight.

If You Could Only Meet Them

Explain to students that in A.D. 452, Pope Leo held a meeting with Attila after which Attila peacefully departed, sparing Rome further devastation. In 1972, a Japanese World War II soldier, Sergeant Yokoi, was found hiding in the jungles of Guam. He had survived there for 28 years, refusing to surrender. Have students consider both scenarios and then plan three separate interviews—one with Attila, one with Pope Leo, and one with Sergeant Yokoi. Suggest that they prepare a list of questions that an interviewer might ask each of the three men, focusing on their intentions and motivations. They might, for example, ask Pope Leo why he agreed to meet with the barbarian leader and what he said to him. They could ask Attila, for example, “What did the Pope say that convinced you to withdraw?” It would be interesting to speculate whether it was his samurai heritage that kept Sergeant Yokoi motivated to continue his efforts and not surrender. Given the background information contained in this lesson, have students suggest the answers each man might give.

Reporting Live from the Battlefield

Have students use a variety of resources to research the Battle of Crecy (1346) and the Battle of Agincourt (1415). Suggest that they use the information they find to create and present a “newscast” providing a description and explanation of the causes of each battle. Audience members should then present a mock dinner-table discussion held at the time of one of the battles. Encourage students to talk about “the good old days,” citing how traditional values are disappearing and society is falling into ruin.

Ancient Horsemen of Siberia

Janet Buell, Twenty-First Century Books, 1998.

This book reveals new details about the world's first horsemen based on the discovery of a frozen body in a Pazyryk burial mound over 2500 years old near the junction of the borders of Russia, Mongolia, China, and Kazakhstan. Their entire society revolved around the horse, and they were considered the finest warriors of their time.
The Mongol Empire

Mary Hull, Lucent Books, 1998.

The Mongols led by Genghis Khan invaded China on their horses and ruled there for over two hundred years. Photographs, period illustrations, and maps detail their reliance on the horse in battle and in peace.

The International Museum of the Horse

A chronological history of humans and their relationship with the horse.

The Huns

Great Explaination of who the Huns were.

The Land of Genghis Khan

A map of his travels, a time line of his life and times plus links to Mongolian resources


Development of the chariot form 3500 BC on is described in Encarta.

A brief history of the Samurai

With a brief historical overview of the Samurai and listing of some terms this site offers a good introduction.



A member of a people considered by those of another nation or group to have a primitive civilization.


The barbarian warriors used fear and intimidation against those on whom they declared war.


Extreme ruthlessness or cruelty.


The Vikings' vicious attacks on England convinced the rest of Christendom of their complete brutality.


A group or class of persons or a member of such a group or class that enjoys superior intellectual, social, or economic status.


Samurai warriors in medieval Japan composed an elite group that controlled society.


A follower of a polytheistic religion, or belief in more than one God.


After the Vikings settled in Normandy and converted to Christianity, they were no longer considered pagans.


Superior strength, courage, or daring, especially in battle.


Samurai warriors exhibited their prowess by their expert swordsmanship and their willingness to die.


A source of widespread, dreadful affliction and devastation such as that caused by pestilence or war.


Roman Christians who feared Attila referred to him as the “Scourge of God.”


The surrounding and blockading of a city, town, or fortress by an army attempting to capture it.


Once the commander realized his army could not penetrate the castle's walls, he decided to lay siege to the fortress.

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands the imperial crises and their aftermath in various regions from A.D. 300 to 700.


Understands political and social elements during the decline of the Roman and Han empires and the rise of the Byzantine Empire (e.g., the strengths and weaknesses of the eastern and western Roman empires and the factors that enabled the Byzantine Empire to continue as Rome fell; how Constantine selectively supported aspects of western rule with eastern institutions to create a new, independent Byzantine state in the 4th century A.D.; the links between military, social, and economic causes for the decline of the Han and Roman empires; the impact of barbarian movements on the regions of Europe, China, and India by the end of the 7th century A.D.; and the life of Germanic peoples and society, including the status and role of women).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands the maturation of an interregional system of communication, trade, and cultural exchange during a period of Chinese economic power and Islamic expansion. Benchmark:


Understands different social classes and gender roles in Japanese society (e.g., the influence of Buddhist sects on the samurai class and the role of social class, area, time, and age in determining women's experiences).

Grade Level:


Subject Area:

World history


Understands the redefinition of European society and culture from A.D. 1000 to 1300.


Understands the social elements of feudalism (e.g., the daily lives of serfs, knights, and lords as feudalism developed late in the first millennium A.D.; how their lives and duties were interrelated; and what diverse sources illustrate about these lives and this time).


Copyright 2001 Discovery.com.

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