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Mihr playing polo

Mihr playing polo

From a manuscript of ʿAssar Tabrizi, Mihr u Mushtari, copied c 1550

Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, MS Ouseley Add 21, fols 134v–135r

From antiquity, Persian princes and heroes were expected to be skilled equestrians. Horsemanship was seen not only as a sign of kingship, but also as a necessary skill for popular royal pastimes such as hunting and polo, a game played in Iran since the first millennium BC.

In this illustration of a poem about the friendship between a prince and a courtier’s son, the distinctive goal posts are seen in the lower right-hand corner. Traditionally played by Persians, Arabs, Chinese, Byzantines, Turks and Mughals, polo was taken up by British tea planters in northern India, who formed a club in 1859 and introduced the game to Europeans.