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Descendants of King Darius's Persian Steed Found in Iran-Proper


02 August 2004



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A Persian Caspian steed thought to be extinct for 1,000 years is alive and well and living in Rutland, US.


Celebrated in the ancient world as a chariot horse for racing and in battle, and presented to kings and emperors as a valuable gift, the Caspian horse was thought to have disappeared in antiquity.


Drawings of the distinctive horse can be seen on 3,000-year-old terracotta plaques in the British Museum and on the seal of King Darius the Great from Persepolis in ancient Persia. They were probably used to pull chariots in the battle against Alexander II the Macedonian warlord in 330 BCE.


In 1965, a small but beautiful horse was discovered in a remote village in Iran on the shores of the Caspian Sea, being used to pull carts. Louise Firouz, an American who was married to one of the Shah of Iran's sons, bought it for her children to ride.


She realised the horse belonged to a unique breed with great qualities of speed and temperament. There were still five pure-bred animals in the village and she managed to buy three. Later other horses were found, including some wild ones in the mountains.


Nearly 40 years later, with the help of the latest DNA technology, enough pure-bred horses of different strains have been found to ensure genetic diversity and the survival of the species.


To celebrate, the president of the worldwide Caspian Horse Society, Pat Bowles, who lives in Rutland with 16 of the pure-bred horses, has organised a conference from August 11 to 13 at which Louise Firouz will be speaking. Caspian enthusiasts from around the world will discuss a further breeding programme and hold a breed show at Castle Bytham, near Oakham, on August 14.


Ms Bowles said that although the Caspians were smaller than modern horses - about 11.3 hands compared with a modern racehorse at 16 - they were as fast. She breeds both.


"They have light frames and thin bones which are incredibly strong. They are not like ponies, which are piggy and can be bloody-minded. They are slim, narrow, elegant and fast."


Pure-bred brood mares are worth between £2,000 and £3,000. There are still wild Persian Caspians in the mountains in Iran and the government has banned their export, fearing that they will be lost to the country. Iranian experts are speaking at the Rutland conference.


There are now 1,300 pure-bred Caspians registered with the society and a further unknown number in Iran. Horses still being found in rural Iran are tested to check if they are pure-bred Persian Caspians, and if so become valuable animals.



Additional info:

In 1965 Louise Firouz went on an expedition on horseback and discovered small horses in the mountainous regions south of the Caspian Sea.. At first glance they appeared somewhat rough from lack of nourishment, and were covered with ticks and parasites. However, upon close inspection, these horses showed distinctive characteristics similar to the ancient artifacts she was familiar with. They had the same large protruding eyes, a prominent jaw, large nostrils, a dished head and a high tail set.


During this first trip Louise rescued 3 horses, which were dubbed Caspians. The former owners of these misused, over-worked horses had no idea of the ancient breeds' near extinction!

Between 1965 and 1968, Mrs. Firouz conducted a careful survey to determine the approximate number and range of the surviving Caspian horses. She estimated that there were only 50 Caspians along the entire southern coast of the Caspian Sea.


Seven mares and six stallions were purchased by Louise to form the foundation stock for a Caspian breeding center in Iran. After Mrs. Firouz' breeding successes, the Iran-Iraq War placed a heavy burden on her endeavors. The Royal Horse Society (RHS) of Iran took over Louise's herd in 1974.


Louise started a second private herd in 1975, consisting of 20 mares and 3 stallions. In 1977, this second Caspian breeding center was forced to close its doors and the RHS declared a ban on all Caspian exports. The RHS collected all remaining Caspians. Sadly, due to the political climate, most of the RHS horses were lost.

Mrs. Firouz once again completely redeveloped a breeding center to save the Caspian from extinction in Iran. This herd is now owned by the Ministry of Jehad and Louise is called upon to assist in management. She has also, in recent years, assisted John Schneider-Merck, a German businessman, in establishing his small private herd of Caspians in Iran.


With Iran's many political upheavals - the overthrow of the Shah, the Revolution, bombing during the protracted Iran-Iraq War, threats of famine, together with the Persian Caspian's close association with royalty, their survival has been precarious. The Persian Caspian's discovery was ever in the balance between political honoraria as a national treasure and the threat of political seizure as wartime food.


Because of her efforts to save the Caspian horses from starvation and slaughter by exportation during the early years of the Revolution, in 1979 Mr. and Mrs. Firouz were repeatedly arrested and detained. During one of these incarcerations, Mrs. Firouz went on a hunger strike in protest. She was successful but left prison weak and emaciated.


The number of Caspians in Iran is still quite small. Additionally, there are only 900 Persian Caspians world-wide. Exportation out of Iran is still extremely difficult. The last exports occurred in the early '90s, with a small shipment arriving in Great Britain, after a tortuous journey through a war-zone where bandits attacked and robbed the convoy.



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