jueves, 13 de febrero de 2014

The sad fate of war horses in Bar-sur-Aube (France)

In 2013 a team of archaeologists conducted an excavation prior to the construction of a new road in the city of Bar-sur-Aube  (NE France).  The modern town was once the ancient Gallo-Roman city of Segessera in the territory of the Lingones.
The archaeologists were looking to verify the presence of a road on the Agrippa map Tabula Peutingeriana (a map of the roads and cities of the Roman Empire dated to the fourth century AD). What they found however was a series of trenches containing the remains of many horses.

Trenches and horses

The excavation revealed the first 45 metres of a  zig-zag trench which extended beyond the limits of the 2013 work, but even within this area the archaeologists found over forty horse carcasses carefully placed one next to the other with each head resting on another’s chest.
The horses must have been dragged to the edge of the trench before being manoeuvred into the improvised pit. The burial of these animals took place within a very short time period of time, given the arrangement of the skeletons. The only artefacts collected from the trenches were horseshoes and a harness buckle. The horses buried in the trench have a strong build and were most likely used as draft animals.

Napoleonic wars and global conflicts?

The archaeologists first thought that the horses may have been from the Napoleonic wars. The Battle of Bar-sur-Aube took place on February 27, 1814 where the French army confronted Bohemian forces (Austrian coalition , Russian and Bavarian) on land located just 1 km west of the excavation, towards Ailleville, and mostly consisted of horse artillery battalions and the Kellermann cavalry division. Around 400 horses were known to have been lost in a single assault against the Russian defences. However, this type of zig-zag trench  does not correspond to the military manoeuvres of the early nineteenth century.
A second hypothesis is based on the presence in Bar-sur-Aube of the headquarters of Marshal Joffre in 1914. The city was secured by lines of fortification and military trenches a few hundred metres in front of the main gates of the city (the Notre Dame door). Injured horses from the front line just a few tens of kilometres to the north, were treated in a veterinary hospital run by the Blue Cross.

Second World War

However, an extensive literary search, the study of the bones and analysis of the soil, favours a third hypothesis. These seem to have been civil defence trenches put in place during the Second World War. There is documentary evidence for the requisition of horses by the occupation troops and the establishing of a German veterinarian hospital in the city.
The trauma suffered by these horses do not correspond to injuries from an exploding bomb, or by euthanasia, but most likely by a fire caused by an incendiary device. None of the inhabitants alive at the time remembers this incident, but during the German occupation, the civilian population of Bar-sur-Aube faced many challenges.

Source: Past Horizons: http://www.pasthorizonspr.com/index.php/archives/02/2014/the-sad-fate-of-war-horses-in-bar-sur-aube

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