From Academic Kids
- For other uses of the word stirrup, see Stirrup (disambiguation).
The stirrup is a ring with a flat bottom, usually hung from each side of a saddle to create a footrest for the rider on a horse or, much less often, another animal. It greatly increases the rider's ability to control the horse, making this animal a useful tool in communication, transportation and warfare. It is considered one of the basic tools used to create and spread modern civilization. Some argue it is as important as the wheel or printing press.
The stirrup was invented surprisingly late in history, considering that horses were used for bareback riding and to pull carts or war chariots since the fourth millennium BC. The true stirrup was apparently invented in northern China in the first few centuries AD, although a simple loop through which the rider placed his big toe was already to be seen in India either by 4th century BCE (Desmond Morris, Horse Watching1998), or the 2nd century BCE  (http://www.ucalgary.ca/applied_history/tutor/oldwrld/armies/stirrups.html)
It was invented at first as a single mounting stirrup only used in gaining the saddle; the first dependable representation of a rider with paired stirrups is in a Jin tomb of about AD 322. The stirrup was spread throughout Eurasia by the great horsemen of the central Asian steppes. It is uncertain when it was first adopted by the nomads the first attested use is by the Alans. Some historians believe the Huns must have used them to enable their conquests.
Stirrups reached Sweden in the 6th century, leading to the establishment of mounted Thegns during the Swedish Vendel Age. From this period have been found rich graves of mounted elite warriors, which include stirrups  (http://www.historiska.se/sture/vendeltid/). The importance of the horse during this time is reflected in the later Norse sagas, where the 6th century Swedish king Adils is said to have been a great lover of horses and to have had the best horses of his days. Interestingly, all accounts of this king's warfare describe him as fighting on horseback, although the later Vikings never or rarely did so. To add a 6th century source, Jordanes claimed that the Swedes had the best horses beside the Thuringians, reflecting the importance of the horse during this time (see also the Battle on the Ice).
Although, they reached Scandinavia early, stirrups were first only indirectly documented in Central Europe during the reign of Charles Martel in the 8th century, when verbs scandere and descendere among the Franks replace verbs denoting "leaping" upon a horse. A pair of stirrups have been found in an 8th century burial in Holiare, Slovakia.
Advantages of stirrups
In the use of the horse in warfare, the stirrup was the third revolutionary step, after the chariot and the mounted horseman. Stirrups changed the basic tactics of mounted warfare and made cavalry more important. Braced against the stirrups, a knight could deliver a blow with a lance that employed the full weight and momentum of horse and rider together. Reacting to a sudden and urgent demand for cavalry, Charlemagne ordered his poorer vassals to pool their resources and provide a mounted and armed knight.
Lynn White Jr., in Medieval Technology and Social Change (1966) suggested that the rising feudal class structure of the European Middle Ages derived ultimately from the use of stirrups: "Few inventions have been so simple as the stirrup, but few have had so catalytic an influence on history. The requirements of the new mode of warfare which it made possible found expression in a new form of western European society dominated by an aristocracy of warriors endowed with land so that they might fight in a new and highly specialized way."
Types of stirrup
There are two basic types of stirrup. The long stirrup was that used in Medieval Europe and in recreational horseback riding. A long stirrup allows the rider the stretch their legs out fully, placing them over the middle of the horse. This is the most comfortable position and provides a sturdy base for the use of lance or sword. A short stirrup requires the rider the keep their knees bent. This places them above the horse's shoulder, which is a more comfortable position for the animals and allows for greater speed. Jockeys thus use this type of stirrup. The horsemen of Central Asia, such as the Mongols, also used this type of stirrup as it allowed them to rise up and fire their bows from greater height.
- Albert Dien, "The stirrup and its effect on Chinese history" (http://www.silk-road.com/artl/stirrup.shtml)
- John Sloan, "The stirrup controversy" (http://www.fordham.edu/halsall/med/sloan.html)da:stigb°jle