Polyglot names of imperial horses
(62nd Annual Meeting, Friedensau, 2019)
Horses were always an important element in the life of the Manchus and their administration – without them they would never have been able to conquer the Chinese empire. Horses also belonged to the Manchu tradition – they served for establishing infrastructures, for hunting, for fighting and for enabling the nomad lifestyle. Small wonder that the Manchu emperors were horse lovers. Some of heir favourite horses were given to them as presents, especially from Mongol dignitaries and vassal rulers, from Afghanistan, Kirghiz (Kazakh) tribes, and Ferghana. The emperor assigned them auspicious names while in some cases the original names were apparently kept, too. Thus some horses had no less than five names, in different languages—Chinese, Manchu, Mongol, Tibetan and Turki (Chagatai). We probably would not know these different names if the emperor had not have his favourite horses painted, almost life-size, by his favourite court-painters, Jesuit missionaries, like Giuseppe Castiglione (1688–1766), Jean-Denis Attiret (1702–1768), Ignaz Sichelbarth (1708–1770), Giuseppe Panzi (1734-before 1812) and Louis de Poirot (1735–1813). The paintings by Castiglione were accompanied by the names in different languages, and in some cases also by imperial poems dedicated to the horses. A few of the names were included in the pentaglot Mirror of the Manchu language (1792).