As you probably know, horses have played a huge role in the human history, not only as work animals but also as the trusted friends of people throughout the globe. One of the most famous statues in the world is the Equestrian Statue of Marcus Aurelius, who was a popular Roman emperor, a philosopher who practiced Stoicism both privately and publicly, and a lover of horses.

The Stoic philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius in Rome

It is thought by historians that this amazing bronze statue was made about 1,800 years ago, and although you can see it outside in Rome in a place called the Piazza del Campidoglio, this one is actually a replica of the real one. The original was in the open air for hundreds of years, but historians were afraid that it was being damaged by being outside and it was moved into the Capitoline Museum for restoration and to preserve it for history.

Marcus Aurelius was an adherent of a peaceful philosophy called Stoicism, but like many Roman emperors he found himself required to defend the empire in several military campaigns throughout his rule. Stoics generally believe in looking for the good in all people, but when faced with potential attacks from invaders, Marcus Aurelius didn’t hesitate to defend Rome and lead his soldiers on the front lines.

Unlike today, in ancient times a common person who wanted to be an equestrian couldn’t simply find a stable where they could be trained to ride horses. Although horses were commonly used in farming and some transportation, pleasure riding wasn’t something that the average Roman citizen could do unless they were quite wealthy or part of the elite.

In the Roman military, however, horses played a very important (but limited) role for officers and higher-ups. Obviously, being able to ride a horse was much easier than marching and carrying your gear, as the common soldiers had to do. But beyond that, riding on horseback was also beneficial for military leaders because they could have a higher vantage point to see their troops’ movements in battle, move to different areas of the battlefield for observation more quickly, and beat a hasty retreat if they had to.

Especially for an emperor like Marcus Aurelius who was a practitioner of Stoicism and a lover of animals, a horse wasn’t just a useful tool to have but also a friend who could be relied on the road and on the battlefield. Marcus frequently wrote about his feelings on how all living creatures in the world are connected to each other, and it’s easy to imagine how he looked at his horses as companions who deserved respect and care just like the rest of his human soldiers.

You don’t have to be a Stoic philosophy expert or a Roman emperor to appreciate the value and companionship of horses, as many of us already know. Thankfully, horses aren’t used anymore in battle or wars, because the treatment they received from many armies was gut-wrenching at times and they deserve a lot more respect. Horses today are treated as they were meant to be: as beautiful companions who deserve care, love and nurturing from their owners.