A tool for war from the 3rd millennium BCE, the horse has always accompanied men into the heart of battle. First harnessed to lightweight and easy-to-drive chariots, the horse began to be used in war from the 1st millennium BCE, when the horse was ridden by warriors. Later, the animal was also used to supply troops and transport the wounded. It was not until World War I that the time for these comrades-in-arms would be gone forever, as the cavalry had no weight or impact against armoured cars and heavy artillery (machine guns, bombs, etc.). In fact, at least 900,000 horses perished in that conflict.
Many horses reached legendary status: Bucephalus, a faithful ally of Alexander the Great, and Napoleon’s Marengo and Cirus.
In times of war, horses were often the first victims of hunger and thirst. They could also suffer from harness injuries and fatigue. Nonetheless, they were valuable allies for soldiers. They thus experienced the same fate, the same war wounds and the same killings. Encouraged by the fury and the will of their riders, horses were required to exhibit great courage and a certain amount of submission to face the onrush of fighting. Trust and understanding between man and beast was required to launch into the fray at full gallop. Many horses thus reached legendary status: Bucephalus, a faithful ally of Alexander the Great, and Marengo and Cirus, to name but a few of Napoleon’s famous mounts. The Emperor also particularly liked small Arabian horses, quick and sure-footed horses to lead the assault. To commemorate this, the Army Museum in Paris housed a naturalised horse with the insignia of the Emperor branded on its side. It could be Vizir, one of Napoleon’s favourite horses.