Equestrian statuette of Charlemagne, 9th century
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Bronze statuette from the Cathedral in Metz, 24 cm high, Musée du Louvre, départemant des objets d’art, OA8260
This statuette was made in the ninth century and shows many interesting details of the horse and the style of riding of that time. The saddle does not yet have stirrups. These gradually came into use in Europe in the 8th and 9th century. Stirrups originated in China around the year 400 and it took more than 400 years before they became common in western-Europe. Apparently they had not yet arrived in the stables of Charlemagne. It should also be noticed that the rider does not use a real saddle, but only a saddle cloth. Saddles were, however, available in that time, since the Romans already had them. There is no girth and the saddle cloth has been fixed by means of a breast-band and a crupper. The horse is small and its small size makes it somewhat easier to ride on a saddle cloth without stirrups. The bridle and snaffle bit are simple and in contrast to the large curb bits used later by medieval knights. The absence of decorations on the bridle and saddle cloth are striking, all the more since the rider wears the attributes of a king and emperor: crown, sphere and staff (the staff has disappeared). Altogether this originally gilded statuette shows a remarkable contrast between the simplicity of the harness and horse, and the importance of the rider.