Pompeii: First Ever Roman Ceremonial Chariot Discovered in Italy!

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Pompeii: First Ever Roman Ceremonial Chariot Discovered in Italy!

Archaeologists excavating the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii have discovered an exceptional ceremonial chariot that is almost intact. The anci

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Archaeologists excavating the ruins of a settlement north of Pompeii have discovered an exceptional ceremonial chariot that is almost intact. The ancient carriage is made from iron, bronze and tin and contains well-preserved bronze decorations. The discovery is ‘without precedent in Italy’. 

The four-wheeled carriage was found inside a double-level portico near the stables of an ancient villa at Civita Giuliana, around 700 meters northwest of the walls of Pompeii.  Previous findings  at the site made in 2018 include a trough and several horses, one of which was intact with the completed skeletal structure and harnessed with a bit and iron bridle. Between the ears, bronze decorative elements were found which were probably applied to leather elements (since disappeared).

The Pompeii Ceremonial Chariot Source:  Pompeii Archaeological Park

The Pompeii Ceremonial Chariot

The outgoing director of the Pompeii archaeological site, Massimo Osanna, announced in a press briefing that the chariot was the first of its kind discovered in the area. While functional carriages had been found during previous excavations, this is the first ornately decorated carriage to have been found which most likely served a ceremonial purpose. 

“This is an extraordinary discovery that advances our understanding of the ancient world,” Osanna said in a  press statement . “What we have is a ceremonial chariot, probably the Pilentum referred to by some sources, which was employed not for everyday use or for agricultural transport, but to accompany community festivities, parades and processions.”

The chariot is richly embellished with bronze decorative elements, which further allude to its important ceremonial role. 

“The scenes on the medallions which embellish the rear of the chariot refer to Eros (Satyrs and nymphs), while the numerous studs feature erotes,” stated Osanna. “Considering that the ancient sources allude to the use of the Pilentum by priestesses and ladies, one cannot exclude the possibility that this could have been a chariot used for rituals relating to marriage, for leading the bride to her new household.”

Fine Example of a Roman Pilentum

The carriage has been identified as a Pilentum, which was a state four-wheeled carriage with cushions that conveyed Roman matrons and vestal virgins in sacred processions. It would have had a covered roof but was open all round. The chariot would have sat atop high iron wheels connected by an advanced mechanical system. 

A statement by the archaeological park described the carriage as being richly decorated along both sides with alternating engraved bronze sheet and red and black painted wooden panels, whilst at the rear there is a complex and extensive decorative system featuring three distinct registers with a succession of bronze and tin medallions with figurative scenes.

These medallions, set in bronze sheet and surrounded by decorative motifs, represent male and female figures in relief, depicted in erotic scenes.

The bronze sheet is also decorated in its upper section with small medallions, also in tin, which depict cupids engaged in various activities. In the lower section of the chariot there is a small female herm in bronze with a crown.

A bronze decorative motif on the chariot depicting an erotic scene. Source: Pompeii Archaeological Park

A bronze decorative motif on the chariot depicting an erotic scene. Source:  Pompeii Archaeological Park

According to a statement from the park, the excavation around Civita Giuliana is part of a programme aimed at fighting looting in the area by perpetrators who had dug several tunnels in the area.

The chariot had been miraculously spared by the collapse of the walls and ceiling of the room it was found in, and by the illegal activities, with tunnels passing it by on two sides. 

The chariot has been transported to a laboratory of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, where restorers are now working to complete the removal of volcanic materials which still engulfs certain metal elements, and to begin the length restoration and reconstruction of the chariot. 

Top image: The ceremonial chariot discovered near Pompeii. Source:  Pompeii Archaeological Park

By Joanna Gillan

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