The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse

The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse are described by John of Patmos in his Book of Revelations, the last book of the New Testament. The chapter tells of a “‘book’, or ‘scroll’, in God’s right hand that is sealed with seven seals”. The Lamb of God, or Lion of Judah, (Jesus Christ) opens the first four of the seven seals, which summons forth four beings that ride out on white, red, black, and pale horses. Although some interpretations differ, in most accounts, the four riders are seen as symbolizing Conquest, War, Famine, and Death, respectively. The Christian apocalyptic vision is that the four horsemen are to set a divine apocalypse upon the world as harbingers of the Last Judgment.

The White Horse
I watched as the Lamb opened the first of the seven seals. Then I heard one of the four living creatures say in a voice like thunder, “Come and see!” I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest. ( Revelation 6:1-2)

The Red Horse
When the Lamb opened the second seal, I heard the second living creature say, “Come and see!” Then another horse came out, a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make men slay each other. To him was given a large sword. ( Revelation 6:3-4)

The Black Horse
When the Lamb opened the third seal, I heard the third living creature say, “Come and see!” I looked, and there before me was a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand. Then I heard what sounded like a voice among the four living creatures, saying, “A quart of wheat for a day’s wages, and three quarts of barley for a day’s wages, and do not damage the oil and the wine!” (Revelation 6:5-6)

The Pale Horse
When the Lamb opened the fourth seal, I heard the voice of the fourth living creature say, “Come and see!” I looked and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine, and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth. (Revelation 6:7-8)


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The four horsemen as featured in the “Bamberger Apokalypse” Folio 14 recto (ca. 1000 AD) – Bamberg, Staatsbibliothek – Source.



“Death on a Pale Horse” (1796) by Benjamin West, Detroit Institute of Arts – Source.



“Four Horsemen of Apocalypse” (1887) by the Russian artist Viktor Vasnetsov – Source.



The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse from the Ottheinrich-Bibel (ca.1530-1532) illustrated by Matthias Gerung, Bayerische Staatsbibliothek – Source.



The Four Riders of the Apocalypse (1498) by Albrecht Durer – Source.



Illustration from the Beatus Facundus (1047 AD), a “Commentary on the Apocalypse” – Source.



Illustration from the Beatus Facundus (1047 AD), a “Commentary on the Apocalypse” – Source.



Illustration from the Beatus Osma (1086 AD), a “Commentary on the Apocalypse” – Source.



Illustration from the Beatus Valladolid (ca. 970 AD), a “Commentary on the Apocalypse” – Source.



(Learn more about the Beatus manuscripts in John Williams’ article for The Public Domain Review, and see more images from the Beatus Facundus here in our Images collection post).







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