Unsung Inventions: Buckles

As mentioned in my June 20, 2013 post, I’ve been reflecting on humble yet revolutionary inventions that ancient Greek horsemen lacked, and today’s focus is on buckles.

Hardly anyone would think of a buckle as an invention nowadays. They’re so ubiquitous it seems as if they’d been with humankind always. But they haven’t. The first buckles came during the time of the Romans. A development in armor, the first buckles were expensive so only the military and the rich could afford them. It wasn’t until the 15th century that a cheaper way of manufacturing them made general use of buckles possible.

Ancient Greek horsemen, however, were completely without buckles. Consider that and then consider how many buckles are used by horsemen. I don’t know the last time you passed a stable, but buckles are everywhere. On bridles, saddles, harness… They not only make it easy to secure tack onto a horse, they allow different animals to share equipment fairly quickly. I was at a horse show in Norco, California, where two animals were using the same harness and cart for the same course. The owner only had a few minutes to switch out the horses, and I was impressed by the speed at which she swapped them out.

But without buckles, what would you have?

In ancient Greek world, the answer was knots. Lots of them. Saddles weren’t an issue because, as mentioned in my previous post, riders went bareback. Securing a bridle properly, however, was critical, especially given the type of bits the Greeks used (more on that later). As such, every bridle was fitted specifically to one horse. None of the straps could be undone or adjusted except for the throatlatch, which was a secured by a quick release knot on the near (right) side.

I’m the type who considers tying shoelaces a chore. I can only imagine how time-consuming it was to tie and retie and adjust all those knots to harness up a chariot team.

So to all you horse folk out there, next time you tighten a girth or lengthen your stirrups leathers pause a moment and hail that handy bit of technology called the buckle.

Next time: bits

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