Breeds of Empire

The ’Invention’ of the Horse in Southeast Asia and Southern Africa 1500-1950

by Greg Bankoff & Sandra Swart

  • Published:
  • Pages: 272 pp.
  • illustrated
  • Series number: 42
Available from NIAS Press worldwide

Ships of empire carried more than people and products across the globe. They also brought horses to places not native to that animal. The book deals with the introduction, invention and use of the horse in the Philippines, Thailand and southern Africa as well as its roots and evolution within Indonesia.

Ships of empire carried not just merchandise, soldiers and administrators but also equine genes from as far a field as Europe, Arabia, the Americas, China and Japan. In the process, they introduced horses into parts of the world not native to that animal in historical times. As a result, horses in Thailand, the Philippine Horses, the Cape Horse in South Africa and the Basotho Pony in the mountain kingdom of Lesotho share a genetic lineage with the horse found in the Indonesian archipelago.


This book explores the ‘invention’ of specific breeds of horse in the context of imperial design and colonial trade routes. Here, it focuses on the introduction, invention and use of the horse in Thailand, the Philippines and southern Africa as well as examining its roots and evolution within Indonesia. In addition, it examines the colonial trade in horses within the Indian Ocean and discusses the historiographical and methodological problems associated with writing a more species or horse-centric history.


This is a fascinating study that will appeal not only to scholars but also to the broad horse-reading public interested in all things equine.

author image not supplied

Greg Bankoff is a social and environmental historian of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.  In particular, he writes on environmental-society interactions with respect to natural hazards, resources, human-animal relations, and issues of social equity and labour. 

Greg Bankoff is a social and environmental historian of Southeast Asia and the Pacific.  In particular, he writes on environmental-society interactions with respect to natural hazards, resources, human-animal relations, and issues of social equity and labour. 

Among his publications are Crime, Society and the State in the Nineteenth Century Philippines (Manila: Ateneo de Manila University Press, 1996) and Cultures of Disaster: Society and Natural Hazard in the Philippines (London, RoutledgeCurzon, 2003).  He is also coeditor of Mapping Vulnerability: Disasters, Development and People (with George Frerks and Dorothea Hilhorst, London: Earthscan, 2004). 

Bankoff’s most recent books include a co-edited volume along with Peter Boomgaard, A History of Natural Resources in Asia: The Wealth of Nature (New York: Palgrave-Macmillan, 2007).

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by Nicholas Tarling, New Zealand Asia Institute
From journal:
The Newsletter, no. 52, Winter 2009

This book is full of interest. 

The principal authors comment on the story from many points of view and offer many insights on the relationships of horse and human and also some on the relationships among humans.

This book is full of interest. 

The principal authors comment on the story from many points of view and offer many insights on the relationships of horse and human and also some on the relationships among humans.

by Margaret E. Derry, University of Guelph
From journal:
Agricultural History, vol. 83, no. 3, Summer 2009

Breeds of Empire is a marvelous book about the horses and people of a region that many readers from western countries know little about.

Breeds of Empire is a marvelous book about the horses and people of a region that many readers from western countries know little about.

[It] is a major contribution to a more global perspective on the topic of domestic animals and people.  Science and practice, animal versus human colonization, and animals personifying human values are all dealt with here, on the well-founded assumption that horses are particularlly central to human history and thinking.

by Duncan Stearn
From journal:
Journal of the Siam Society, Vol. 97

Greg Bankoff and Sandra Swart have shone a light into an important, but what they contend is a largely over-looked, connection between the horse and the expansion of trading and political empires.

Breeds of Empire is a worthy addition to that body of scholarship interested in uncovering and expanding the secluded minutiae of history.

Greg Bankoff and Sandra Swart have shone a light into an important, but what they contend is a largely over-looked, connection between the horse and the expansion of trading and political empires.

Breeds of Empire is a worthy addition to that body of scholarship interested in uncovering and expanding the secluded minutiae of history.

by Nicholas Tarling, New Zealand Asia Institute
From journal:
IIAS Newsletter 52, 2009

 This book is full of interest. The geographical and historical core of it may be found in the sub-title.

 This book is full of interest. The geographical and historical core of it may be found in the sub-title. Its chief authors, Greg Bankoff and Sandra Swart, are respectively authorities on the Philippines and Southern Africa: the former discusses the introduction of horses in the Philippines, their role in its colonial history, their impact on and adaptation to the environment; the latter the role of horses in settler South Africa and the emergence of the ‘Besotho pony’ in Lesotho.

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