Rig Vedic Aryan migrants brought with them two new instruments of combat bringing about a qualitative change in the nature of warfare in the whole of north India. These were horse drawn chariot and composite bow. The ‘war chariot’ with ts the belly and whole of the neck of each one of the two horses first appeared in two spoked wheels and system of harness consisting of a padded collar band circling the Assyrian civilization and from there travelled to the steppe land of eastern Iran where migrating Aryans were then (1700 BC) located. Introduction of horse drawn chariot, according to one estimate, enhanced the movement of Aryan warriors ten times as compared to that of their opponents using ox-transport or moving on foot. If an Assyrian base-relief is taken as a guide, in this early phase each chariot carried two cavalrymen, one shooting with his composite bow and the other holding reins of horses.6 The composite bow being shorter in length was more suitable for use by cavalrymen. It was made of strips of wood and of animal horns glued together by elastic animal tendon.7 Aryan infantry fought in close lines of groups identified with localities and tribes wearing brazen coats of mail and headgears. Besides shooting poisoned metal or horn tiped arrows they also fought with spears, axes, lances and slings. But it is significant that ‘swords’ are missing from the list of arms they used; these evidently came into vogue only with the spread of iron technology.8


By the time of Alexander’s invasion (BC 326), the armies of Indian rulers had come to posses, in addition to chariots and infantry, considerable number of cavalry and in some cases war elephants as well. Earliest recorded use of cavalry and elephants by an Indian ruler come from the pen of a Greek writer (Q. Curtius Rufus). According to him, Poru’s 85 elephants and behind them 300 chariots were stationed at regular intervals in the lines of his 30,000 strong infantry. There were also present approximately 12000 horsemen who fought along with charioteers. Indian cavalry like those of their Greek adversaries were yet without stirrups and proper saddles. Possibly they had not yet acquired the skill of using bow from horseback. This cavalry was, however, expected to make in conjunction with the charioteers some effect against the Greek phalanxes. The Indian chariots on this occasion were pulled by teams of four horses. Each chariot carried six warriors, of them two were archers, two shield bearers and two charioteers ‘who in the stress of battle were wont to drop the reins and ply the enemies with darts’.9 The chariot, in-any-case, was the most important instrument of war in India during this time and it continued to be so down to the end of Moryan times (324 BC – AD 320). This is reflected in the portrayal of distinguished warriors in the great epics as maharathis (great charioteers).10


From Gupta period (AD 320-495) onwards emphasis started shifting from charioting to combat from horse-back.11 This was, possibly, a direct outcome of improved supply of war horses resulting from local breeding in the north-western parts of the subcontinent and also of gradual improvement in the skills primary to horsemanship. Some of these skills possibly came with intruding Central Asian groups, Sakas, Yavanas and Pahalavas, who came after the fall of Moryan authority (200 BC – AD 300) and the socalled Huns who came during the decline of the Guptas (AD 467-544). Skills like the use of stirrup made of leather or wood12 as well as those of classifying and treating horses and breeding them on an appreciable scale13 would have contributed to a situation by the time of Harsha (AD 606-646) where chariots tended to become redundant while cavalry came to represent the most important component of the army organization.14