Last updated
Liu Song dynasty brick-relief of a Tianma Southern Dynasties Brick Relief 10.jpg
Liu Song dynasty brick-relief of a Tianma
Flying Horse, East Han Dynasty.Bronze. Gansu Provincial Museum. Gansu Museum 2007 257.jpg
Flying Horse, East Han Dynasty.Bronze. Gansu Provincial Museum.

Tianma (天馬Tiānmǎ, "heavenly horse") was a winged (perhaps metaphorically) flying horse in Chinese folklore. It was sometimes depicted with chimerical features such as dragon scales and was at times attributed the ability to sweat blood, possibly inspired by the parasite Parafilaria multipapillosa , [1] which infected the highly sought-after Ferghana horse (大宛馬), sometimes conflated with Tianma. Tianma, the flying horse, is clearly connected to Pegasus from the Western Han dynasty artwork [2] and in the Tang dynasty sources, as coming from Hellenized Central Asia. [3]

In the Western Zhou Empire, Tianma referred to a constellation. [4] Tianma is also associated with Emperor Wu of Han, an aficionado of the Central Asian horse, [5] and the famous poet Li Bo. [6] The bronze statue Gansu Flying Horse is a well-known example.

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Tang dynasty</span> Imperial dynasty of China from 618 to 907

The Tang dynasty, or the Tang Empire, was an imperial dynasty of China that ruled from 618 to 907, with an interregnum between 690 and 705. It was preceded by the Sui dynasty and followed by the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period. Historians generally regard the Tang as a high point in Chinese civilization, and a golden age of cosmopolitan culture. Tang territory, acquired through the military campaigns of its early rulers, rivaled that of the Han dynasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Zhou dynasty</span> Chinese dynasty from 1046 BC to 256 BC

The Zhou dynasty was a royal dynasty of China that followed the Shang dynasty. Having lasted 789 years, the Zhou dynasty was the longest dynastic regime in Chinese history. The military control of ancient China by the royal house, surnamed Ji, lasted from 1046 until 771 BC for a period known as the Western Zhou, and the political sphere of influence it created continued well into the Eastern Zhou period for another 500 years. The establishment date of 1046 BC is supported by the Xia–Shang–Zhou Chronology Project and David Pankenier, but David Nivison and Edward L. Shaughnessy date the establishment to 1045 BC.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shang dynasty</span> Chinese royal dynasty (c. 1600–1045 BC)

The Shang dynasty, also known as the Yin dynasty, was a Chinese royal dynasty that ruled in the Yellow River valley during the second millennium BC, traditionally succeeding the Xia dynasty and followed by the Western Zhou dynasty. The classic account of the Shang comes from texts such as the Book of Documents, Bamboo Annals and Records of the Grand Historian. Modern scholarship dates the dynasty between the 16th to 11th centuries BC, with more agreement surrounding the end date than beginning date.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Silk Road</span> Ancient network of trade routes connecting Asia to Europe

The Silk Road was a network of Eurasian trade routes active from the second century BCE until the mid-15th century. Spanning over 6,400 kilometers, it played a central role in facilitating economic, cultural, political, and religious interactions between the East and West. The name "Silk Road", first coined in the late 19th century, has fallen into disuse among some modern historians in favor of Silk Routes, on the grounds that it more accurately describes the intricate web of land and sea routes connecting Central, East, South, Southeast, and West Asia as well as East Africa and Southern Europe.

The Xiongnu were a tribal confederation of nomadic peoples who, according to ancient Chinese sources, inhabited the eastern Eurasian Steppe from the 3rd century BC to the late 1st century AD. Modu Chanyu, the supreme leader after 209 BC, founded the Xiongnu Empire.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Yuezhi</span> Ancient people mentioned in Chinese histories

The Yuezhi (Chinese: 月氏; pinyin: Yuèzhī, Ròuzhī or Rùzhī; Wade–Giles: Yüeh4-chih1, Jou4-chih1 or Ju4-chih1;) were an ancient people first described in Chinese histories as nomadic pastoralists living in an arid grassland area in the western part of the modern Chinese province of Gansu, during the 1st millennium BC. After a major defeat at the hands of the Xiongnu in 176 BC, the Yuezhi split into two groups migrating in different directions: the Greater Yuezhi (Dà Yuèzhī 大月氏) and Lesser Yuezhi (Xiǎo Yuèzhī 小月氏). This started a complex domino effect that radiated in all directions and, in the process, set the course of history for much of Asia for centuries to come.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Kingdom of Khotan</span> Iranian Saka Buddhist kingdom (56-1006)

The Kingdom of Khotan was an ancient Buddhist Saka kingdom located on the branch of the Silk Road that ran along the southern edge of the Taklamakan Desert in the Tarim Basin. The ancient capital was originally sited to the west of modern-day Hotan at Yotkan. From the Han dynasty until at least the Tang dynasty it was known in Chinese as Yutian. This largely Buddhist kingdom existed for over a thousand years until it was conquered by the Muslim Kara-Khanid Khanate in 1006, during the Islamization and Turkicization of Xinjiang.

The recorded military history of China extends from about 2200 BC to the present day. Chinese pioneered the use of crossbows, advanced metallurgical standardization for arms and armor, early gunpowder weapons, and other advanced weapons, but also adopted nomadic cavalry and Western military technology. China's armies also benefited from an advanced logistics system as well as a rich strategic tradition, beginning with Sun Tzu's The Art of War, that deeply influenced military thought.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gaochang</span> Site of historical ruins in Xinjiang

Gaochang, also called Khocho, Karakhoja, Qara-hoja, Kara-Khoja or Karahoja, was a ruined ancient oasis city on the northern rim of the inhospitable Taklamakan Desert in present-day Xinjiang, China. The site is also known in published reports as Chotscho, Khocho, Qocho or Qočo. During the Yuan dynasty and Ming dynasty, Gaochang was referred to as "Halahezhuo" (Qara-khoja) and Huozhou.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Jin (Korean state)</span> Korean state during the Iron Age

The state of Jin was a confederacy of statelets which occupied some portion of the southern Korean peninsula from the 4th to 2nd centuries BCE, bordering the Korean Kingdom of Gojoseon to the north. Its capital was somewhere south of the Han River. It preceded the Samhan confederacies, each of which claimed to be the successor of the Jin state.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ordos culture</span>

The Ordos culture was a material culture occupying a region centered on the Ordos Loop during the Bronze and early Iron Age from c. 800 BCE to 150 BCE. The Ordos culture is known for significant finds of Scythian art and may represent the easternmost extension of Indo-European Eurasian nomads, such as the Saka, or may be linkable to Palaeo-Siberians or Yeniseians. Under the Qin and Han dynasties, the area came under the control of contemporaneous Chinese states.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Ferghana horse</span> Breed of horse

Ferghana horses were one of China's earliest major imports, originating in an area in Central Asia. These horses, as depicted in Tang dynasty tomb figures in earthenware, may "resemble the animals on the golden medal of Eucratides, King of Bactria ."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Europeans in Medieval China</span> Aspect of Chinese history

Given textual and archaeological evidence, it is thought that thousands of Europeans lived in Imperial China during the Yuan dynasty. These were people from countries traditionally belonging to the lands of Christendom during the High to Late Middle Ages who visited, traded, performed Christian missionary work, or lived in China. This occurred primarily during the second half of the 13th century and the first half of the 14th century, coinciding with the rule of the Mongol Empire, which ruled over a large part of Eurasia and connected Europe with their Chinese dominion of the Yuan dynasty. Whereas the Byzantine Empire centered in Greece and Anatolia maintained rare incidences of correspondence with the Tang, Song and Ming dynasties of China, the Holy See sent several missionaries and embassies to the early Mongol Empire as well as to Khanbaliq, the capital of the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty of China. These contacts with the West were preceded by rare interactions between the Han dynasty and Hellenistic Greeks and Romans.

<i>Longma</i> Winged horse in Chinese mythology

The longma is a fabled winged horse with dragon scales in Chinese mythology. Seeing a longma was an omen of a legendary sage-ruler, particularly one of the Three Sovereigns and Five Emperors.

Flying horses are horses that fly.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">War of the Heavenly Horses</span> War fought between the Han Empire and the Central Asian state of Dayuan

The War of the Heavenly Horses or the Han–Dayuan War was a military conflict fought in 104 BC and 102 BC between the Chinese Han dynasty and the Saka-ruled (Scythian) Greco-Bactrian kingdom known to the Chinese as Dayuan, in the Ferghana Valley at the easternmost end of the Greek empire. The war was allegedly instigated by trade disputes compounded by the extended geopolitics surrounding the Han-Xiongnu War, resulting in two Han expeditions that eventuated in a Han victory, allowing Han China to expand its hegemony deep into Central Asia.

Sima is an official post from ancient China that first appears in texts dating from the Western Zhou dynasty and continued to be used during the Spring and Autumn period and Warring States period. Translated literally, it means "administrator of the horses." Owing to the fact that the power and responsibilities associated with the office changed somewhat throughout Chinese history, a variety of English translations for the term have been suggested. The textually closest equivalent is Master of the Horse. Other English terms such as 'marshal' and 'major' have also been suggested, and may be appropriate in different contexts: for example 'marshal' may be appropriate in the Western Han dynasty, when "Grand Sima" was a title granted to high generals, while 'major' may be appropriate as the translation for the lower military position also called "Sima" from the Wei dynasty to the Song dynasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Horses in Chinese mythology</span>

Horses are an important motif in Chinese mythology. There are many myths about horses or horse-like beings, including the pony. Chinese mythology refers to those myths found in the historical geographic area of China. This includes myths in Chinese and other languages, as transmitted by Han Chinese as well as other ethnic groups. There are various motifs of horses in Chinese mythology. In some cases the focus is on a horse or horses as the protagonist of the action, in other cases they appear in a supporting role, sometimes as the locomotive power propelling a chariot and its occupant(s). According to a cyclical Chinese calendar system, the time period of 31 January 2014 - 18 February 2015 falls under the category of the (yang) Wood Horse.

<i>Flying Horse of Gansu</i> Chinese bronze sculpture

The Flying Horse of Gansu, also known as the Bronze Running Horse (銅奔馬) or the Galloping Horse Treading on a Flying Swallow (馬踏飛燕), is a Chinese bronze sculpture from circa the 2nd century CE. Discovered in 1969 near the city of Wuwei, in the province of Gansu, it is now in the Gansu Provincial Museum. "Perfectly balanced," says one authority, "on the one hoof which rests without pressure on a flying swallow, it is a remarkable example of three-dimensional form and of animal portraiture with the head vividly expressing mettlesome vigor."

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Horse coin</span>

Horse coins, alternatively dama qian (打馬錢), are a type of Chinese numismatic charm that originated in the Song dynasty and presumed to have been used as gambling tokens. Although many literary figures wrote about these coins their usage has always been failed to be mentioned by them. Most horse coins tend to be round coins, 3 centimeters in diameter with a circular or square hole in the middle of the coin. The horses featured on horse coins are depicted in various positions such as lying asleep on the ground, turning their head while neighing, or galloping forward with their tails rising high. it is currently unknown how horse coins were actually used though it is speculated that Chinese horse coins were actually used as game board pieces or gambling counters. Horse coins are most often manufactured from copper or bronze, but in a few documented cases they may also be made from animal horns or ivory. The horse coins produced during the Song dynasty are considered to be those of the best quality and craftsmanship and tend be made from better metal than the horse coins produced after. Some horse coins would feature the name of the famous horses they depicted. It is estimated that there are over three hundred variants of the horse coin. Some horse coins contained only an image of a horse while others also included an image of the rider and others had inscriptions which identify the horse or rider. During the beginning of the year of the horse in 2002 Chinese researchers Jian Ning and Wang Liyan of the National Museum of Chinese History wrote articles on horse coins in the China Cultural Relics Newspaper, noting that they found it a pity that the holes in the coins covered the saddles of the horses as this could have revealed more about ancient horse culture. Horse coins from the Song dynasty are the horse coins that are produced at the highest quality while horse coins from subsequent dynasties tend to be inferior compared to them.


  1. Schafer 1985, p. 295, note 19.
  2. "19.07.26.segalen".
  3. Lucas Christopoulos, Hellenes and Romans in ancient China Sino-Platonic papers. n.230, p38.
  4. Rutt, Richard (2002). The book of changes (Zhouyi): a Bronze Age document. Routledge. p. 331. ISBN   0-7007-1491-X.
  5. Kuwayama, George (1997). Chinese Ceramics in Colonial Mexico. University of Hawaii Press. p. 32. ISBN   0-87587-179-8.
  6. Wong, Laurence (2019). Thus Burst Hippocrene: Studies in the Olympian Imagination. Cambridge Scholars Publishing. p. 269. ISBN   9781527526150.