My Goodreads Review of ‘The Horse, the Wheel, and Language’ by David Anthony

The Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern WorldThe Horse, the Wheel and Language: How Bronze-Age Riders from the Eurasian Steppes Shaped the Modern World by David W. Anthony

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book bills itself as an investigation into the Proto-Indo-European homeland — but it so much more than that! Anthony takes the insights of historical linguistics and the reconstructed vocabulary of Proto-Indo-European and sets out to find an archaeological culture that matches it, and then traces the archaeology leading up to that culture and beyond, to the divisions of Proto-Indo-European into some of its branches and the fecund mercantile and cultural exchange between the Steppe and the urban civilisations of the Middle and Near East.

Proto-Indo-European is the ancestor of most European languages as well as Farsi, Hindi, Nepali, and a whole bunch more that I’m too tired to list. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the homeland turns out to be somewhere in the middle — the Pontic-Caspian Steppe, a vast grassland suitable for the pastoralist society that we find reflected by the Proto-Indo-European vocabulary.

Anthony teaches us that from the Steppe come horseback riding and the chariot, two vital developments in the history of human culture. I found these facts of great interest.

Although I am very fond of this book and recommend it to anyone interested in Proto-Indo-European linguistics/culture (the first book on the subject that didn’t bore me to sleep!) or in Neolithic and Bronze Age archaeology/the dawn of civilisations, I withhold one star because I’m not an archaeologist. Like most reviewers here on Goodreads, I found myself skimming large portions of text as Anthony discussed in vivid detail the artefacts from various digs across the Steppe. I believe that these artefacts are undoubtedly essential to the progress of the argument in its details, especially if Anthony is trying to convince fellow archaeologists, some of whom are skeptical. Alas, I am no archaeologist.

My only other concern is the recreation of alleged Proto-Indo-European mythology. This is not necessarily Anthony’s but the linguists’ concern, but I’m still not sold on comparative mythology…

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About Matthew

I am a PhD student in Classics at the University of Edinburgh, Scotland. I do work on Late Antique Christian Latin, with a special focus on Pope Leo I. I also collect stamps and Playmobil Vikings and am fond of ruins.
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