The Horse, the Wheel, and Language : How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World, Paperback Book

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language : How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World Paperback

4 out of 5 (2 ratings)


Roughly half the world's population speaks languages derived from a shared linguistic source known as Proto-Indo-European.

But who were the early speakers of this ancient mother tongue, and how did they manage to spread it around the globe?

Until now their identity has remained a tantalizing mystery to linguists, archaeologists, and even Nazis seeking the roots of the Aryan race.

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language lifts the veil that has long shrouded these original Indo-European speakers, and reveals how their domestication of horses and use of the wheel spread language and transformed civilization.

Linking prehistoric archaeological remains with the development of language, David Anthony identifies the prehistoric peoples of central Eurasia's steppe grasslands as the original speakers of Proto-Indo-European, and shows how their innovative use of the ox wagon, horseback riding, and the warrior's chariot turned the Eurasian steppes into a thriving transcontinental corridor of communication, commerce, and cultural exchange. He explains how they spread their traditions and gave rise to important advances in copper mining, warfare, and patron-client political institutions, thereby ushering in an era of vibrant social change.

Anthony also describes his fascinating discovery of how the wear from bits on ancient horse teeth reveals the origins of horseback riding.

The Horse, the Wheel, and Language solves a puzzle that has vexed scholars for two centuries--the source of the Indo-European languages and English--and recovers a magnificent and influential civilization from the past.


  • Format: Paperback
  • Pages: 568 pages, 3 halftones. 86 line illus. 16 tables. 25 maps.
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press
  • Publication Date:
  • Category: Historical & comparative linguistics
  • ISBN: 9780691148182

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Showing 1 - 2 of 2 reviews.

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Describes the various tribe-like groups in and around the Black Sea and southern Russia around 20,000 years ago.

Review by

In short, this is the prequel to Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond (to which the author refers in the text and in the title trifecta). Maybe this book is a bit more technical in its archeological descriptions, and less forceful in formulating a central thesis, but I found it just as fascinating.Why did the Indo-Europeans come to dominate the larger part of the Eurasian land mass (thereby extinguishing at least three pre-existing language groups, of which no trace remains, except in river names and a few other language fossils)? How and where did they originate, and how did they split up to form the various main language groups, from Celtic, Germanic and Italic over Greek, Armenian, Iranian to Sanskrit and faraway Tocharian?The descriptions of what was found exactly in which tomb are a bit tedious, but they are compensated for by the author's research into language evolution and horse domestication as proofs alongside the physical evidence. And there you have it: Troy and the Iliad don't suddenly appear out of nowhere, as our classical education had us believe until recently, but fit firmly in this narrative, as do the Assyrians and their urban civilisations. Suddenly our earliest history gains a new sense by the identification of this Indo-European tribe in their steppes above the Black and Caspian seas, linking old civilisations in Anatolia, Mesopotamia and Iran to the earliest Chinese states, and finally dominating many of them with their horses, their chariots and indeed their languages.