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Cultural Evolution of Pants II
Peter Turchin
Peter Turchin
is a professor of Biology and Anthropology in the University of Connecticut and Vice President of the Evolution Institute | Follow him on Twitter

While classical Greece and Rome produced excellent heavy infantry (hoplites), their cavalry was really pathetic. Yes, some of them (usually, the wealthy) rode horses. Among the Romans the upper class was even called ‘knights’ – equites, from equus, the Latin word for horse, but these ‘knights’ served mostly as officers and perhaps messengers. They never played a decisive role in battle. On the other hand, the greatest enemy of the Romans, Hannibal, knew how to use cavalry. As long as the Numidian horse riders fought on the side of Carthaginians, they trounced Romans, again and again. The Romans only won one major battle in that war, the Battle of Zama, which ended the war. Interestingly enough, the Numidians switched sides just prior to the battle…

The Romans eventually realized that they had to acquire reasonably efficient cavalry. At first, cavalry was an auxiliary force, manned by non-Roman citizens. During the Empire (from the first century AD on), the Romans began to employ cavalry more effectively. But riding a horse while wearing a tunic is not very comfortable. So Roman cavalrymen started wearing pants, or braccae as they called them (borrowing a Celtic term; this word eventually became ‘breeches’). After the collapse of the Roman Empire, Europe fell under the rule of warriors who fought from the horseback – the knights (this transition actually occurred during the Carolingian times, roughly eighth century AD). So wearing pants became associated with high-status men, and gradually spread to other males. By the way, I am talking here about the Mediterranean cultures. In northern Europe, of course, pants were worn by both Celtic and Germanic people at least from the Iron Age on.

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