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[reference] chariots

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It is no secret I love to see more chariots in 0 A.D. I've posted about this in various topics scattered over these forums. While the Greeks and Romans no longer used chariots for warfare, many others (e.g. Celts, Carthaginians, Libyans, Kushites, Persians, Indians, Chinese) still did. However, to be able to better understand chariots, it helps to look at the similarities (and differences) between chariots of various civilizations. Hence this thread.

First a bit of context. Stone or clay tournettes (precursor of the wheel) from the fifth millennium have been found in the Near East; they were . The true potter's wheel probably existed around 4000 BC. Horses were domesticated somewhere on the Pontic–Caspian steppe (the Indo-European homeland: Ukraine and southern Russia), also during the fourth millennium. The first animal-drawn (ox) carts emerged probably around the same time (Bronocice pot). The oldest surviving wheel and axle (Ljubljana Marshes Wheel) is dated to c. 3150 BC, which most likely belonged to a pushcart. The crucial invention, however, was that of the spoked wheel, which was significantly lighter and thus allowed for higher speeds than the massive solid wooden wheels. The combination of horse, spoked wheel, and composite bow enabled the chariot, which existed in the Sintashta culture by 2000 BC, and spread from there throughout Eurasia, dominating Bronze Age warfare.

True cavalry (i.e. troops fighting from horseback), as opposed to mounted infantry (i.e. troops riding to battle on horses, but dismounting and fighting on foot), gradually emerged during the first millennium (1000–1 BC). It did not immediately replace chariotry. True cavalry, mounted infantry, and war chariots continued to coexist for centuries.

Chariots fundamentally followed the same design: a single axle with two spoked wheels, a platform or basket above with space for two to four men, and a central pole with a double yoke attached for a horse on either side. Drawings can be clearer than words or photograps:



The biga (two-horse chariot) was more common than the quadriga (four-horse chariot); the triga (three-horse chariot) is attested as well (Iliad 16.152, Etruscan art, Roman coins), but was probably not as widespread. It's important to realize the chariot itself was the same: only the inner pair was yoked, the outer horses were fastened with ropes.

Chariots with two beams and a single animal (horse, donkey, mule, dog, goat) existed (at least by the 1st C AD) for travelling, but are not known to have been used for warfare, parades, or racing.

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Chariots on Mycenean steles, 16th C BC, now in the National Archaeological Museum in Athens:




Egyptian hunting from a chariot, facsimile of a fresco from the tomb of Userhat, 15th C BC:



Tutankhamun single-handedly smashing the enemy army, from his tomb, 14th C BC:



Ramesses II on a chariot on relief from Abu Simbel, 13th C BC:




Two-horse, three-man Hittite war chariots, drawn from Egyptian reliefs:




Chariot model, Early Iron Age, Eastern Geogia:



Assyrian king hunting lions, relief from Nineveh, 7th C BC:




Assyrian two-horse, four-man war chariot on a relief from Nineveh, 7th C BC:



The Etruscan Monteleone chariot, c. 530 BC, which survived intact, and is now in the Metropolitan Museum in New York (I'd love to see this in game, perhaps for a Roman hero?):



Four-horse chariots depicted on the Greek Vix krater, c. 510 BC:



Darius on a chariot hunting lions, Assyrian-style, seal impression:




Libyan with biga depicted on the Apadana of Persepolis (c. 500 BC):



Persian biga, also from Persepolis (c. 500 BC):



The only two-beam and four-horse yoke example I know of, the Achaemenid gold model of a (ceremonial?) chariot from the Oxus treasure, now in the British Museum:



Four-horse chariots from the Terracotta Army (246–208 BC), China:





Ashoka on a two-horse chariot, as depicted on the southern gateway of the Sanchi stupa in India, c. 1 BC:



(All these photographs are from Wikimedia Commons.)

I'm hoping @Genava55 and will provide some quality images of Celtic chariots, and @Sundiata for the Kushites. Depictions of Carthaginian war chariots (attested in Greek texts) would be more than welcome too!

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No depictions of scythed chariots have survived. However, they are well attested in the works of various Greek historians. Most useful is the description in Xenophon Anabasis I.8.10:


πρὸ δὲ αὐτῶν ἅρματα διαλείποντα συχνὸν ἀπ᾽ ἀλλήλων τὰ δὴ δρεπανηφόρα καλούμενα: εἶχον δὲ τὰ δρέπανα ἐκ τῶν ἀξόνων εἰς πλάγιον ἀποτεταμένα καὶ ὑπὸ τοῖς δίφροις εἰς γῆν βλέποντα, ὡς διακόπτειν ὅτῳ ἐντυγχάνοιεν. ἡ δὲ γνώμη ἦν ὡς εἰς τὰς τάξεις τῶν Ἑλλήνων ἐλῶντα καὶ διακόψοντα.

In front of them were the so-called scythe-bearing chariots, at some distance from one another; and the scythes they carried reached out sideways from the axles and were also set under the chariot bodies, pointing towards the ground, so as to cut to pieces whatever they met; the intention, then, was that they should drive into the ranks of the Greeks and cut the troops to pieces.

— translation by Carleton L. Brownson (Cambridge, MA 1922)

text and translation taken from Perseus

The quality of translations varies. Words to look out for in Greek:

  • τό ὄχημα okhēma: anything that bears or supports; carriage, cart, mule-car → not a war chariot
  • τό ἅρμα arma: chariot, especially war-chariot, also racing-chariot; chariot and horses, yoked chariot; team, chariot horses → chariot
  • ἡ συνωρίς sunōris: pair of horses → biga
  • τέθριππος, -ον tethrippon: with four horses yoked abreast → quadriga
  • δρεπανοφορός = δρεπανηφορός drepanēphoros: bearing a scythe → scythed chariot
Edited by Nescio
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On 13/10/2020 at 4:04 PM, Nescio said:

I'm hoping @Genava55 and will provide some quality images of Celtic chariots

There is a very good article wrote by Raimund Karl on the topic:



Edited by Genava55
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The wheel construction techniques and axle positions, they couldn't be more different when comparing the chinese and middle east versions. very neat...


13:30 min mark - begins to explain the pros and cons between designs (more spokes increases stability, ride comfort and worked as a built-in redundancy in the event of single spoke failure)
"we've explored Assyrian chariots, Egyptian chariots, Hittite chariots" , "the chinese chariots wheels are a third larger than those of middle eastern models"


5 hours ago, Nescio said:

The crucial invention, however, was that of the spoked wheel, which was significantly lighter and thus allowed for higher speeds than the massive solid wooden wheels

"solid wooden wheels" - plenty of demand as a chiropractor back then...

Both documentaries are filled with great resourceful information.

PBS documentary too

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@Genava55, lovely, thanks a lot! (Spoilers would be nice, though. :))

30 minutes ago, Palaiologos said:

The wheel construction techniques and axle positions, they couldn't be more different when comparing the chinese and middle east versions. very neat...


While historic reenactors can occassionally provide valuable insights, popular videos ought to be used with caution. Generalizing and drawing conclusions on the basis of a single sample is a slippery slope. Yes, Egyptian chariots tended to be light and nimble, but equating them to the Middle East goes too far. Just look at some of the examples I posted earlier. Chariots with the axle below the middle of the basket, below the back, or somewhere in between are known from the Near East. Assyrian chariots had rectangular baskets too and crews of two, three, or four. As for the number of spokes, four, six, and eight are common, but seven, nine, ten, and twelve are also known, and probably a few other numbers; if many-spoked wheels were intrinsically better, then surely people elsewhere would have figured that out; the number of spokes appears to be more a local preference, if anything. Wheel diameter wasn't constant either, some had quite small wheels, others were much larger. One has to keep in mind chariots were not mass-produced.

More important than those differences are the more fundament similarities: a single axle with spoked wheels and a single pole with horses on either side.

1 hour ago, Palaiologos said:

"solid wooden wheels" - plenty of demand as a chiropractor back then...

Sorry, I'm not quite sure what you meant. Chariots had spoked wheels, but solid wooden wheels continued to be used, e.g. moveable siege towers.

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11 minutes ago, Nescio said:

popular videos

Sorry about that, did not consider those to be popular videos. Those "popular videos" covered everything and more, quite extensively (to a history noob like me at least)... Was fortunate enough to even discover them on Youtube. They were from a PBS NOVA 3 part series (This long-running, award-winning documentary series focuses on science - the speculation, history and researchers associated with it and its many applications.) on chariots that I watched from 2013 (they were the gold standard when it came to historically accurate documentaries?). First noticed the thread, immediately came to mind and thought would be of help and interest.

1 hour ago, Nescio said:

provide valuable insights

Apologies if it implied being used as a sort of go-to definitive source. :) Agreed 100%.

18 minutes ago, Nescio said:

Just look at some of the examples I posted earlier.

Thanks. Yes, I see what you mean.

26 minutes ago, Nescio said:

One has to keep in mind chariots were not mass-produced.

Only in china?  Too costly presumably, no?

27 minutes ago, Nescio said:

Sorry, I'm not quite sure what you meant. Chariots had spoked wheels, but solid wooden wheels continued to be used, e.g. moveable siege towers

Bad joke. Suppose you've never ridden a highly trained endurance racing horse. :) Wouldn't even want to imagine the physical toll on the body being in a chariot, let alone a solid wood wheeled cart moving at such speeds over even the slightest bumpy terrain. Awful...

1 hour ago, Nescio said:

if many-spoked wheels were intrinsically better, then surely people elsewhere would have figured that out; the number of spokes appears to be more a local preference, if anything

Sure. Rather genius of the Chinese to even consider up-to 38 spokes. Think of the high failure rates of a 4/5/6 + spoked wheel.

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20 hours ago, Nescio said:

I'm hoping @Genava55 and will provide some quality images of Celtic chariots, and @Sundiata for the Kushites.

I'll just copy-past this response from another recent thread, + few additions:


Piye (r. 744 BC–714 BC) himself mounted a chariot in the Great Triumphal Stela of Piye, from the Amun Temple at Napata, Year 21. Ca. 727 BC.

"Off sailed His Majesty northward to the harbor of the Hare Nome [Hermopolis].
His Majesty’s coming forth from the cabin of (his) bark,
yoking with horses and mounting on a chariot.
The awesomeness of His Majesty reached the Asiatics,
every heart trembling at him."

Piye's chariots are not only mentioned in the stele, his chariots are actually depicted in the fragmented reliefs of the Amun Temple of Napata (NE tower of the second pylon):

Kingdom of kush kushite relief span of decorated horses pulling chariots.jpg


Piye's forces capturing Egyptian chariots, from the Amun temple in Napata:

the kingdom of kush kushite relief battle scene war napata gebel jebel barkal spearmen chasing  egyptian horseman and chariots.jpg



Mentions of Kushite horses, chariots and charioteers from Assyrian records:

The Horses of Kush, by Lisa A Heidorn, 


Article on the burial of a chariot puling horse from Tombos, northern Sudan, from the proto-Napatan Nubian Dark Ages (950 BC):



Chariots continue to be depicted in the Meroitic Period. A chariot is depicted in the reliefs of temple M 250, late 1st century BC, in a militaristic context followed by bound captives. Most of the surviving reliefs from this temple depict battle scenes.

The Kingdom of Kush Kushite carving relief of a chariot in precession Meroë temple M250 Sun Temple.jpg


2 chariots from a 1st century BC relief from a kiosk at Napata, possibly a processional scene. 

Kingdom of kush kushite relief king in his chariot double horse span kiosk b 560 napata first century BCE.jpg


Several biblical sources also make a clear association between chariots and Kushites, such as Acts 8:27-28 and 2 Chronicles 14:9.


It should be noted that Kush, as an Egyptian province, was producing and exporting chariots to Egypt since the New Kingdom at least, as they are included in Kushite tribute scenes from Thebes. Tributed chariot on the right, among the other tributes (below the chairs). Note that the Kushite royal lady is also mounted on a cattle drawn chariot, which is also identical to Egyptian designs...

Huy king's son of kush vizier tomb tt40 thebes thevan New Kingdom B.jpg 

Chariot detail Kushite tribute New Kingdom Thebes TT40 Ancient Egypt Nubian_Tribute_Presented_to_the_King,_Tomb_of_Huy_MET_DT221112.jpg


Procession of Taharqa in Napata, with nice example of a Kushite chariot in the left corner:

Pharaoh King Taharqa 25th Dynasty Kingdom of Kush Kushite religious procession Jebel Gebel Barkal Napata Sudan African History Gregory Manchess.jpg

Pharaoh King Taharqa 25th Dynasty Kingdom of Kush Kushite religious procession Jebel Gebel Barkal Napata Sudan African History Gregory Manchess.jpg


Amanirenas' chariot in-game

Kingdom of Kush Kushite chariot Amanirenas 0AD RTS.jpg

Amanirenas chariot 2.jpg

Chariot texture player color.png


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More Assyrian reliefs, all of them now in the British Museum.

A three-horse chariot, from a palace in Nimrud, c. 860 BC:



Two chariots without horses being transported on a boat to cross a river (the Euphrates?); Nimrud, c. 860 BC:



Another lion-hunting scene; only one horse is shown, but the number of reins suggest three; also note the large wheel; from Nineveh, 8th C BC:



Detail from a chariot:



Detail of chariot horses:



 People on a cart drawn by a pair of oxen, from Nimrud, c. 728 C BC:



Assyrian early cavalry, organized as a chariot team; one man, with helmet and body armour, fires a bow; the other, unarmoured, holds the reins of both horses; Nimrud, c. 860 BC:



Assyrian cavalry from over a century later; still a pair, but both men have a lance, helmet, and body armour; Nimrud, c. 728 BC:



Finally, Assyrians on foot fighting two Arabs on a dromedary, one with a stick driving the camel, the other shooting a bow; Nineveh, c. 650 BC:



(All these photographs are from Wikimedia Commons.)

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Three pottery fragments, made in Athens, found in Egypt, now in the British Museum, depicting Greek four-horse chariots and showing only the inner pair was connected to the central pole, the outer two were tied with ropes and could run more freely:




The same is true for (later) Roman chariots, as well as 19th C quadrigae inspired by them (e.g. Brandenburger Tor in Berlin, Arc de Triumph Caroussel in Paris, Wellington Arch in London, Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow).It should be noted Greeks and Romans used chariots for racing, and not on the battlefield.

However, the Chinese war chariots from the Terracotta Army also had four horses, of which only the inner two were fastened to the yoke and central pole (see earlier post).

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As stated earlier, no depictions of scythed chariots have survived. However, we know from (Greek) texts they existed. The Anabasis is Xenophon's account of the journey of the Ten Thousand (401–399 BC), in which he participated.

Another major work by Xenophon is the Cyropaedia, his work on Cyrus the Great, the founder of the Persian Empire; part fiction, part history, part moral philosophy (it was written around the same time as Plato's Politeia (The Republic)—not a coincidence).

Anyway, after conquering Babylon, Cyrus is preparing to invade Lydia, and invents the scythed chariot (Xenophon Cyropaedia 6.1.27–30):


[27] κατεσκευάζετο δὲ καὶ ἅρματα ἔκ τε τῶν αἰχμαλώτων ἁρμάτων καὶ ἄλλοθεν ὁπόθεν ἐδύνατο. καὶ τὴν μὲν Τρωικὴν διφρείαν πρόσθεν οὖσαν καὶ τὴν Κυρηναίων ἔτι καὶ νῦν ἁρματηλασίαν κατέλυσε· τὸν γὰρ πρόσθεν χρόνον καὶ οἱ ἐν τῇ Μηδίᾳ καὶ Συρίᾳ καὶ Ἀραβίᾳ καὶ πάντες οἱ ἐν τῇ Ἀσίᾳ τοῖς ἅρμασιν οὕτως ἐχρῶντο ὥσπερ νῦν οἱ Κυρηναῖοι.

[27] Besides, with the chariots taken from the enemy and with whatever others he could get he equipped a corps of chariots of his own. The method of managing a chariot employed of old at Troy and that in vogue among the Cyrenaeans even unto this day he abolished; for in previous times people in Media and in Syria and in Arabia, and all the people in Asia used the chariot just as the Cyrenaeans now do.

[28] ἔδοξε δ᾽ αὐτῷ, ὃ κράτιστον εἰκὸς ἦν εἶναι τῆς δυνάμεως, ὄντων τῶν βελτίστων ἐπὶ τοῖς ἅρμασι, τοῦτο ἐν ἀκροβολιστῶν μέρει εἶναι καὶ εἰς τὸ κρατεῖν οὐδὲν μέγα βάρος συμβάλλεσθαι. ἅρματα γὰρ τριακόσια τοὺς μὲν μαχομένους παρέχεται τριακοσίους, ἵπποις δ᾽ οὗτοι χρῶνται διακοσίοις καὶ χιλίοις· ἡνίοχοι δ᾽ αὐτοῖς εἰσὶ μὲν ὡς εἰκὸς οἷς μάλιστα πιστεύουσιν, οἱ βέλτιστοι· ἄλλοι δὲ εἰσὶ τριακόσιοι οὗτοι, οἳ οὐδ᾽ ὁτιοῦν τοὺς πολεμίους βλάπτουσι.

[28] But it seemed to him that inasmuch as the best men were mounted on the chariots, that part which might have been the chief strength of the army acted only the part of skirmishers and did not contribute anything of importance to the victory. For three hundred chariots call for three hundred combatants and require twelve hundred horses. And the fighting men must of course have as drivers the men in whom they have most confidence, that is, the best men to be had. That makes three hundred more, who do not do the enemy the least harm.

[29] ταύτην μὲν οὖν τὴν διφρείαν κατέλυσεν· ἀντὶ δὲ τούτου πολεμιστήρια κατεσκευάσατο ἅρματα τροχοῖς τε ἰσχυροῖς, ὡς μὴ ῥᾳδίως συντρίβηται, ἄξοσί τε μακροῖς· ἧττον γὰρ ἀνατρέπεται πάντα τὰ πλατέα· τὸν δὲ δίφρον τοῖς ἡνιόχοις ἐποίησεν ὥσπερ πύργον ἰσχυρῶν ξύλων· ὕψος δὲ τούτων ἐστὶ μέχρι τῶν ἀγκώνων, ὡς δύνωνται ἡνιοχεῖσθαι οἱ ἵπποι ὑπὲρ τῶν δίφρων· τοὺς δ᾽ ἡνιόχους ἐθωράκισε πάντα πλὴν τῶν ὀφθαλμῶν.

[29] So he abolished this method of handling chariots, and in place of it he had chariots of war constructed with strong wheels, so that they might not easily be broken, and with long axles; for anything broad is less likely to be overturned. The box for the driver he constructed out of strong timbers in the form of a turret; and this rose in height to the drivers' elbows, so that they could manage the horses by reaching over the top of the box; and, besides, he covered the drivers with mail, all except their eyes.

[30] προσέθηκε δὲ καὶ δρέπανα σιδηρᾶ ὡς διπήχη πρὸς τοὺς ἄξονας ἔνθεν καὶ ἔνθεν τῶν τροχῶν καὶ ἄλλα κάτω ὑπὸ τῷ ἄξονι εἰς τὴν γῆν βλέποντα, ὡς ἐμβαλούντων εἰς τοὺς ἐναντίους τοῖς ἅρμασιν. ὡς δὲ τότε Κῦρος ταῦτα κατεσκεύασεν, οὕτως ἔτι καὶ νῦν τοῖς ἅρμασι χρῶνται οἱ ἐν τῇ βασιλέως χώρᾳ. ἦσαν δὲ αὐτῷ καὶ κάμηλοι πολλαὶ παρά τε τῶν φίλων συνειλεγμέναι καὶ αἱ αἰχμάλωτοι πᾶσαι συνηθροισμέναι.

[30] On both sides of the wheels, moreover, he attached to the axles steel scythes about two cubits long and beneath the axles other scythes pointing down toward the ground; this was so arranged with the intention of hurling the chariots into the midst of the enemy. And as Cyrus constructed them at that time, such even to this day are the chariots in use in the king's dominions.
He also had a large number of camels, some collected from among his friends and some taken in war, all brought together.

(Text and translation taken from Perseus.)

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