CHARIOT (derived from an O. Fr. word, formed from char, a car), in antiquity, a conveyance (Gr. ἅρμα, Lat. currus) used in battle, for the chase, in public processions and in games. The Greek chariot had two wheels, and was made to be drawn by two horses; if a third or, more commonly, two reserve horses were added, they were attached on each side of the main pair by a single trace fastened to the front of the chariot, as may be seen on two prize vases in the British Museum from the Panathenaic games at Athens. On the monuments there is no other sign of traces, from the want of which wheeling round must have been difficult. Immediately on the axle (ἄξων, axis), without springs of any kind, rested the basket or body (δίφρος) of the chariot, which consisted of a floor to stand on, and a semicircular guard round the front about half the height of the driver. It was entirely open at the back, so that the combatant might readily leap to the ground and up again as was necessary. There was no seat, and generally only room for the combatant and his charioteer to stand in. The pole ( ῥυμός, temo) was probably attached to the middle of the axle, though it appears to spring from the front of the basket; at the end of the pole was the yoke (ζυγὸν, jugum), which consisted of two small saddles fitting the necks of the horses, and fastened by broad bands round the chest. Besides this the harness of each horse consisted of a bridle and a pair of reins, mostly the same as in use now, made of leather and ornamented with studs of ivory or metal. The reins were passed through rings attached to the collar bands or yoke, and were long enough to be tied round the waist of the charioteer in case of his having to defend himself. The wheels and body of the chariot were usually of wood, strengthened in places with bronze or iron; the wheels had from four to eight spokes and tires of bronze or iron. This description applies generally to the chariots of all the nations of antiquity; the differences consisted chiefly in the mountings. The chariots of the Egyptians and Assyrians, with whom the bow was the principal arm of attack, were richly mounted with quivers full of arrows, while those of the Greeks, whose characteristic weapon was the spear, were plain except as regards mere decoration. Among the Persians, again, and more remarkably among the ancient Britons, there was a class of chariot having the wheels mounted with sharp, sickle-shaped blades, which cut to pieces whatever came in their way. This was probably an invention of the Persians; Cyrus the younger employed these chariots in large numbers. Among the Greeks and Romans, on the other hand, the chariot had passed out of use in war before historical times, and was retained only for races in the public games, or for processions, without undergoing any alteration apparently, its form continuing to correspond with the description of Homer, though it was lighter in build, having to carry only the charioteer. On two Panathenaic prize vases in the British Museum are figures of racing bigae, in which, contrary to the description given above, the driver is seated with his feet resting on a board hanging down in front close to the legs of his horses. The biga itself consists of a seat resting on the axle, with a rail at each side to protect the driver from the wheels. The chariot was unsuited to the uneven soil of Greece and Italy, and it is not improbable that these nations had brought it with them as part of their original habits from their former seats in the East. In the remains of Egyptian and Assyrian art there are numerous representations of chariots, from which it may be seen with what richness they were sometimes ornamented. The “iron” chariots in use among the Jews appear to have been chariots strengthened or plated with metal, and no doubt were of the form above described, which prevailed generally among the other ancient nations. (See also Carriage.)
The chief authorities are J. C. Ginzrot, Die Wagen and Fahrwerke der Griechen und Römer (1817); C. F. Grashof, Über das Fuhrwerk bei Homer und Hesiod (1846); W. Leaf in Journal of Hellenic Studies, v.; E. Buchholz, Die homerischen Realien (1871-1885); W. Helbig, Das homerische Epos aus den Denkmälern erläutert (1884), and the article “Currus” in Daremberg and Saglio, Dictionnaire des Antiquités.