Celestial Horses of Ferghana

History of appearance of the “celestial argamaks”



As the Arab poet once said, "The West was still covered in ice when in the East they were already producing music". Mankind first bred specialized types of horses in the East. In ancient papyrus and Assyrian bas-reliefs, we already can see slim, light-legged, horses which cannot be called simple or purebred. The breeding and training of warhorses achieved a very high level amongst the Hittites, Assyrians, and Egyptians.




However, at the beginning of their development these great civilizations of antiquity were "horseless". Horses appeared from the East in the second century B.C. An analysis of all historical sources suggests that Central Asia should be considered as an ancient centre for horse-breeding. The horse played a very big role in life of those nations: it was a religious animal and white horses were sacrificed to the Sun God. Amongst these peoples were the origins of horse-breeding culture which later spread to the Middle East and Mediterranean, and North Africa, already improved by centuries of selective breeding into a light, quick, horse for chariots.


In the seventh and sixth centuries B.C., ancient Persia became a potent power and opponent of both Greece and Rome. From that time historians and poets started to refer to horses from Central Asia, (popularly called Nisean), as the best in the world, surpassing all others with their height, strength, speed and beauty. "In Medea there is a wide plain called Nisea, where there are majestic horses", is how Herodotus wrote about them. It is possible that the name "Nisea" is connected to the ancient capital of Parthia, Nisoi, the ruins of which are located under Ashkhabad. Also, in the descriptions of Alexander the Great's trips there is a reference to the Nisean horses, that "there are no such horses anywhere in the world; they're passionate, very fast and enduring, of white and rainbow color, and the color of morning dusk".


As the agricultural regions of Margiana, Sogda and Bactria developed and were becoming rich, the culture of horse breeding spread further to the East. The ancient Chinese chronicles tell of the amazing horses of Fergana.  About two thousand years ago, in the vicinity of what is now Kokand, was a country which the Chinese called Davan. It has inhabited by an agricultural people of Iranian origin, "skilled in horse breeding". The Davanians had a small and exclusively valuable breed of horses, about which Chinese chronicles record: "They have bloody sweat, and they descend from celestial horses".  To obtain some of these "celestial argamaks", the Chinese emperor sent two military expeditions to Davan.  Pictures of these horses, amazingly resembling modern ahaltekinese horses, were discovered by soviet archeologists on rocks in the south-eastern part of the Fergana Valley.

The famous Nisean horses marched in the processions of Persian, Parthian and Bactrian kings. Sycthian riders won competitions against previously undefeated Persian warriors. At the same time, Central Asian racers were also appearing in the east - under the saddles of the chieftains of tribal associations of the Altai (Pazyryk) and Tuva regions. Images of them were struck in sacred places of Yenisei and Fergana. According to ancient commentators, Bactria "with golden horses" produced "wonderful horses of an excellent breed. There are no horses similar to them anywhere in the world. They are very fast and hardy, of white and iridescent colour, and also the colour of the morning dawn" - ancient authors were saying.

Perhaps the closest descendant of the Celestial Horses is the Ahaltekin horse. The appearance of this breed is exotic in that it completely contradicts the common idea about how a horse should look whilst at the same time amazes with its unusual and unearthly beauty fashioned over the centuries. Its genealogy goes back to the antiquity of central Asian oasis, past greatness of Nisa and Merv, as well as to the "celestial" horses of Fergana. 

The n
ame given to the Ahalteke breed comes from the Akhal oasis and the Turkmen Teke tribe, which bred them. At the beginning of the twentieth century Teke horses from Ahal were called ahal-teke. The Tekinese would keep one or two horses in the yard or near their yurt. A foal would grow up as a family member, lavished with attention and love – the Ahaltekinese differ from other breeds in their devotion to their owner and suspicion of strangers, reacting keenly to a change of riders. A Turkmen was not simply raising for himself not a working horse, but a horse-friend, that wouldn’t let him down either in a fight, in racing, or on a long journey crossing through desert sands. Often the life of a warrior depended on such a horse. “These beautiful animals stand all the efforts spent on them … Indeed, they are amazing creatures, valued by the sons of the desert more than wives, children, and even their own lives” – said the traveler Vamberi about Turkmen horses.

Kings and heroes have sunk into oblivion, merciless time has turned threatening fortresses and rich cities into ruines, but it appears powerless against these living statues of a famous past - the Akhaltekin horse.

Sources used:



1. Елена Волкова, "Ахалтекинцы", журнал "Конный мир", №1, 2000 г., http://www.horseworld.ru/?article=16

2. Бичурин Н.Я. (Иакинф), "Собрание сведений о народах, обитавших в Средней Азии в древние времена", том II, М., Л., 1950 г., с. 149

3. Хабиб Абдуллаев, "Небесные кони древней Ферганы", информационное агентство Фергана.Ру, http://www.ferghana.ru/ancient/ershi.html

4. Вера Ковалевская, "Быстроаллюрные кони древности - Ахалтекинцы", Ахалтеке-Информ 2003, официальный сайт селекционно-племенного центра Международной Ассоциации Ахалтекинского Коннозаводства, http://www.maak.ru/inform.php3?id=105 


5. Г.М. Мухатова, "Золото Ниссы", журнал "Кони Петербурга", №2 (11), 2001 г., http://www.maak.ru/inform.php3?id=77

6. "Конный спорт в Казахстане", http://horsesport.info/articles.php?lng=ru&pg=328, 13/11/2005