Tag: horseman of the apocalypse

The Four Horsemen (pt. 4)

The Columbian Exchange was great for the Europeans – they received new, nutritient-dense foods, new land, and new people to enslave and abuse.

It wasn’t so great for the Native Americans, who were killed off by the Europeans. They were killed off by a triad of things: squalid working conditions in enslavement, fighting against the Europeans (who had superior war technology), and, most of all, disease.

The native population of the Americas, prior to 1492, is usually estimated to have been around 50 million people. After European influence (around 1650), the native population had been reduced to less than 6 million. Such a high fatality rate leads into our long-awaited final horseman of the Apocalypse: Death.

When the Lamb broke the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, an ashen horse; and he who sat on it had the name Death; and Hades was following with him. Authority was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword and with famine and with pestilence and by the wild beasts of the earth.

— Revelation 6:7-8


After war, after pestilence, after famine, comes death. Thus, I feel it’s only natural to write about Death after having already covered the other 3. Of course, to the reader (Mark?), this will be the first post of the four, as my blog is organized chronologically, with the most recent post at the top.

As always, the traditional Grim Reaper motif is prominent in this design, with the reaping scythe making him the most “authentic” reaper of the 4. In the Book of Revelation, Death and his horse are described as being “pale”. No particular color is attributed to them – in Kaneko’s art here, he decided to make the horse a pale gray, while Death himself has the reaper’s signature skull-face and cloak, matching the other Horsemen in the set. Anyways, Death being described as “pale” is probably due to how the “deathly pallor” that sets in postmortem due to lack of blood circulation.

Kaneko’s Death has a very serious pose. He sits tall and imposing and faces forward, as if slowly approaching the viewer. After all, death is something that affects us all. No matter what we do, we’ll all end up dying someday, which is what the phrase “momento mori” suggests. In his hands, Death holds a reaping scythe. This is significant, as he is the harvester of souls. Thus, a farming scythe, as he is depicted with, is much more of a suitable symbol for him than a war scythe, which is mounted on the pole such that the blade points up, like a spear.

Honestly, I don’t have much more to say here. Let’s enjoy this moment of death, shall we?


The Four Horsemen (pt. 3)

While I dislike Peasant Fires the most out of all of our assigned readings so far, one of the quotes in the book were burned into my mind. This in part is due to our wonderful TA Mark, who brought it up once in discussion. Paraphrased, the quote was:

“Peasants stand up to their necks in water, so that even the slightest ripple will drown them”.

By this, the author meant that peasants lived in constant fear of “drowning”. A peasant lived in a constant balancing act – he had to pay the taxes forced upon him by his landlord, manage his crops and livestock, find the time to pray or be shunned by their peasant community, socialize and haggle with the other peasants, and so forth. If even a single one of those balancing acts were to be disturbed, such as a drought killing off all of their crops, the peasant’s life would be in peril. The peasant wouldn’t be able to feed themself, their family, their livestock, have anything to trade or sell, or pay their landlord with. Thus, drought is an example of one of the “ripples” that can “drown” a peasant.

If a drought were to last long or be harsh enough, it would cause famine. This leads to the third horseman of the Apocalypse: Famine.


“When He broke the third seal, I heard the third living creature saying, “Come.” I looked, and behold, a black horse; and he who sat on it had a pair of scales in his hand. And I heard something like a voice in the center of the four living creatures saying, “A quart of wheat for a denarius, and three quarts of barley for a denarius; but do not damage the oil and the wine.”

— Revelation 6:5-6


In times of famine, staple food crops would be in short supply, but the demand for luxury items would stay relatively the same. This explains the quote above – the prices of wheat and barley were greatly inflated due to famine-related shortage, while oil and wine, being more “vanity” type food items, wouldn’t need to have their prices changed.

Thematically, Famine’s design in the SMT series matches the other two Horsemen already mentioned on this blog. He wears the typical Grim Reaper’s robes, and rides a horse color-coordinated to match himself. A fact that I have not put on the other two is that all of their horses have the same eye color: a striking and unnatural blue.

This detail, along with each Horseman’s skeletal visage, is meant to make the viewer feel uneasy – yes, it is a humanoid figure on a horse, but something about both horse and rider is wrong.

While Conquest’s white horse can be interpreted as the glory of a newly-conquered land and War’s red horse the blood and violence of battle, Famine’s black horse is something much less extravagant. To me, the black color of the horse represents rot. Yes, black is a color typically attributed to Death, but the black of Famine’s horse can be interpreted as representing the ruined crops his arrival had caused.

Famine’s scales represent how the scarcity of food has resulted in higher prices, likely caused by the actions of the previous two Horsemen.

Famine’s pose isn’t quite as exaggerated as War’s. His is much more serious: he rides forward, veering to the side to show off his scales. Unlike the first two Horsemen, he doesn’t sit up tall, but rather leans forward. This detail adds in with how he appears to be riding towards the viewer, spreading his blight across the land.

Again, all art on this blog, unless stated otherwise, is made by Kazuma Kaneko.

The Four Horsemen (pt. 2)

In prof. Stuart’s Jan. 31st lecture, we learned a little about Milan, an aggressive and expansionist state.

Their goal was to expand their territory by conquering the nearby, weaker Italian states that surrounded them. With the amount of military strength they had, they must’ve believed this would be easy.

To achieve that goal, they hired mercenary soldiers. However, mercenary soldiers aren’t always loyal to their contractors…

The most prominent mercenary they hired was Francesco Sforza, who, in the battle against Milan and Venice, betrayed Milan to fight for Venice. After siding with Venice, his forces took over Milan, ruling over them and creating the Sforza dynasty.

In hindsight, Sforza’s betrayal is quite Machiavellian, and exactly the reason why Machiavelli himself, in his work, The Prince, urged princes to not rely on mercenaries. After all, mercenaries, according to Machiavelli, only care about the amount they get paid, and aren’t loyal to anyone other than themselves.

“When He broke the second seal, I heard the second living creature saying, “Come.” And another, a red horse, went out; and to him who sat on it, it was granted to take peace from the earth, and that men would slay one another; and a great sword was given to him.”

— Revelations 6:3-4


War is certainly one of the more “popular” horsemen, and tends to get more time in the limelight than Conquest. Since I’m sure most of the people in this class know what the 4 Horsemen are about already, I’ll just go on about some things about his design.

To start with, his pose is very fitting. Even while dressed in traditional Grim Reaper robes, you can tell that he’s sitting tall and proud on his horse, which is rearing up on its hind legs. To me, it looks as if he’s either doing a victory pose or declaring war on the world. The raised-up sword adds to this, giving his art some extra height and a shiny object that can become the center of attention. Another thing I like is the sinister appearance his hood gives him. Unlike Conquest, who shows most of his skeletal face, War’s face is mostly hidden, making him look more dastardly.

Yet, War isn’t in the midst of action in this art. His depicition in SMT is quite calm — sure, he’s the one who’s going to take all peace away from the Earth, but that doesn’t mean he has to be perpetually angry and irrational.

The Four Horsemen (pt. 1)

In the previous lecture, Prof. Stuart gave us an overview of the Black Death, and the concept of danse macabre.

Being the nerd that I am, my brain went immediately into thinking about a certain group of 4 jolly f(r)iends, who, in the SMT series, are depicted as skeletons.

Now I saw when the Lamb opened one of the seals; and I heard one of the four living creatures saying with a voice like thunder, ‘Come and see.’ And I looked, and behold, a white horse. He who sat on it had a bow; and a crown was given to him, and he went out conquering and to conquer.
—Revelations 6:1-2
SMT’s White Rider is clearly meant to be Conquest, the first horseman of the apocalypse. Many people today know him as Pestilence, but that connotation is something that popped up later, perhaps as conquest became less of a deal in the more modern era.
While him being called “Pestilence” is more of a modern deal, it certainly feels as if it’s something that should tie into the Black Death, as the disease wiped out much of Europe’s population.

The Four Horsemen were mentioned in the Book of Revelations. Conquest’s white horse is usually said to represent one of two things: the conquest brought on via the spread of Christianity, or the Anti-Christ, who deceives all the pious and faithful Christians.

(Personally, I believe that the second meaning is something Christians made in order to feel better because of some of the first meaning’s connotations.)

Now, design-wise, White Rider himself resembles the typical Grim Reaper quite a lot. He’s got the full-body black cloak, and has a skeletal visage. The horse with eyes all over its body, though, is something I think is unique to SMT, and not typical of White Rider or any of the other 4 horsemen.

What I like about White Rider (and the other 3 riders, but they’ll get their time later) is his pose. In this piece of official art by Kazuma Kaneko, he appears to be staring into the distance, perhaps surveying the lands he has conquered, or those about to be conquered. Although his horse is galloping, he seems to be calm and collected, without a care for the mortal lives he has wreaked havoc on.