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Encyclopedia > Chariots
For the torpedo-shaped underwater vehicle ridden by two frogmen, sometimes referred to as a 'chariot', see Human torpedo.

The Celts were famous chariot-makers, and the English word car is believed to be derived, via Latin carrum, from Gaulish karros (English chariot itself is from 13th century French charriote, an augmentative of the same word). The iron rims for chariot wheels were probably a Celtic invention.


Some 20 Iron Age chariot burials have been excavated in Britain, dating roughly from between 500 BC and 100 BC, virtually all of them in East Yorkshire, with the exception of one find of 2001 from Newbridge, 10km west of Edinburgh.


Chariots were still used by Celts in battle as recently as the rebellion against the Roman occupation of Britania in 61 CE, though they had long since been relegated to myths, legends, games, and barely understood ceremonies in the other areas.


Chariots play an important role in Irish mythology surrounding the hero Cu Chulainn.


Classical Antiquity

Greece

Greeks had a (still not very effective) cavalry, and the rocky terrain of the Greek mainland was unsuited for wheeled vehicles. In spite of this, the chariot retained a high status, memories of its era were handed down in epic poetry, and they were used for races at the Olympic and Panathenaic Games.


Greek chariots were made to be drawn by two horses attached to a central pole. If two additional horses were added, they were attached on each side of the main pair by a single bar or 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, Greece, in which 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. Greek chariots appear to have lacked any other attachment for the horses, which would have made turning difficult.


The body or basket of the chariot rested directly on the axle connecting the two wheels. There was no suspension, making this an uncomfortable form of transport. At the front and sides of the basket was a semicircular guard about 3 ft (1 m) high, to give some protection from enemy attack. At the back the basket was open, making it easy to mount and dismount. There was no seat, and generally only enough room for the driver and one passenger.


The central pole 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, 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. The reins were mostly the same as those in use in the 19th century, and were 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 to allow him to defend himself.


The wheels and basket of the chariot were usually of wood, strengthened in places with bronze or iron. They had from four to eight spokes and tires of bronze or iron. Most other nations of this time had chariots of similar design to the Greeks, the chief differences being the mountings.


Roman Empire

Enlarge
A winner of a Roman chariot race.

See main article Chariot racing.


The Romans probably borrowed chariot racing from the Etruscans, who themselves borrowed it from the Greeks, but the Romans were also influenced directly by the Greeks especially after they conquered mainland Greece in 146 BC. In the Roman Empire, chariots were not used for warfare, but for processions and for chariot racing. The main centre of chariot racing was the Circus Maximus. Chariot races continued to enjoy great popularity in Byzantine times, in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, even after the Olympic Games had been disbanded, until their decline after the Nika riots in the 6th century.


Russian Tachanka

The chariot was briefly revived during the Russian civil war of 19181920, when the "tachanka", a two- or four-wheeled cart with a machine-gun mounted on it, enjoyed a limited tactical success in the Red Army. Since the gun had to be pointed away from the horses, it operated by firing in a direction opposite or lateral to the direction in which the tachanka was moving. One man drove the horses, while another, or a team of two, operated the gun.


References

  • Anthony, David W., 1995, Horse, wagon & chariot: Indo-European languages and archaeology, Antiquity Sept/1995
  • "The Northern Frontier in Pre-Imperial China", Cambridge History of Ancient China (pp. 885-966) ch. 13, Nicolo Di Cosmo.

External links

  • http://www.hindunet.org/saraswati/chariot.html









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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.
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.
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.
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