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Image:Hittite Chariot.jpg
Hittite chariot (drawing of an Egyptian relief)
Image:Chariot spread.png
Approximate historical map of the spread of the chariot, 2000 –500 BC.

A chariot is a two-wheeled, horse-drawn vehicle. In Latin biga is a two-horse chariot, and quadriga is a four-horse chariot (the word "chariot" itself comes from Latin carrus). It was used for ancient warfare during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and continued to be used for travel, processions and in games after it had been superseded militarily. Early forms may also have had four wheels, although these are not usually referred to as chariots. The critical invention that allowed the construction of light, horse-drawn chariots for use in battle was the spoked wheel. In these times, most horses could not support the weight of a man in battle; the original wild horse was a large pony in size. Chariots were effective in war only on fairly flat, open terrain. As horses were gradually bred to be larger and stronger, chariots gave way to cavalry. The earliest spoke-wheeled chariots date to ca. 2000 BC and their usage peaked around 1300 BC (see Battle of Kadesh). Chariot races continued to be popular in Constantinople until the 6th century.

In modern warfare, the tactical role of the chariot is played by the tank or the armoured personnel carrier. In World War I, just before the introduction of the first tanks, motorcycles with machine-guns mounted on a sidecar and armoured cars constituted mechanized versions of the chariot. It might be said that the Russian tachanka briefly re-introduced horse-drawn chariots, armed with machine-guns but these were much more a light version of the horse artillery which had been a feature of European battlefields for well over a hundred years.


[edit] Early forms

Image:Standard of Ur chariots.jpg
Relief of early chariots on the Standard of Ur, ca. 2600 BC
The earliest depiction of vehicles in the context of warfare is on the Standard of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, ca. 2600 BC. The vehicles depicted are more properly called wagons or carts, still double-axled and pulled by oxen, tamed asses or onagers. Although sometimes mounted by spearsman as well as charioteer, such heavy proto-chariots, covered with skins, may have been part of the baggage train (e.g., during royal funeral processions) rather than vehicles of battle in themselves. The Sumerians had also a lighter, two-wheeled type of chariot, pulled by four onagers, but still with solid wooden wheels. The spoked wheel did not appear in Mesopotamia until the mid 2nd millennium BC.

[edit] Indo-Iranians

[edit] Proto-Indo-Iranians

Main article: Ratha
Image:Andronovo culture.png
The area of the spoke-wheeled chariot finds within the Sintashta-Petrovka culture is indicated in purple.

The earliest fully developed chariots known are from the chariot burials of the Andronovo (Timber-Grave) sites of the Sintashta-Petrovka culture in modern Russia and Kazakhstan from around 2000 BC. This culture is at least partially derived from the earlier Yamna culture. It built heavily fortified settlements, engaged in bronze metallurgy on a scale hitherto unprecedented and practiced complex burial rituals reminiscent of Aryan rituals known from the Rigveda. The Sintashta-Petrovka chariot burials yield spoke-wheeled chariots. The Andronovo culture over the next few centuries spreads across the steppes from the Urals to the Tien Shan, likely corresponding to early Indo-Iranian cultures which eventually spread to Iran and India in the course of the 2nd millennium BC.

Chariots figure prominently in Indo-Iranian mythology. Chariots are also an important part of both Hindu and Persian mythology, with most of the gods in their pantheon portrayed as riding them. The Sanskrit word for a chariot is ratha, a collective *ret-h- to a Proto-Indo-European word *rot-o- for "wheel" that also resulted in Latin rota and is also known from Germanic, Celtic and Baltic.

[edit] India

There are a few depictions of chariots among the petroglyphs in the sandstone of the Vindhya range. Two depictions of chariots are found in Morhana Pahar, Mirzapur district. One is shows a team of two horses, with the head of a single driver visible. The other one is drawn by four horses, has six-spoked wheels, and shows a driver standing up in a large chariot-box. This chariot is being attacked, with a figure wielding a shield and a mace standing at its path, and another figure armed with bow and arrow threatening its right flank. It has been suggested (Sparreboom 1985:87) that the drawings record a story, most probably dating to the early centuries BC, from some center in the area of the GangesJamuna plain into the territory of still neolithic hunting tribes. The drawings would then be a representation of foreign technology, comparable to the Arnhem Land Aboriginal rock paintings depicting Westerners. The very realistic chariots carved into the Sanchi stupas are dated to roughly the 1st century.

The scythed chariot was invented by the King of Magadha, Ajatashatru around 475 BC. He used these chariots against the Licchavis. A scythed chariot was a war chariot with a blade(s) mounted on both ends of the axle. The blades extended horizontally for a meter on the sides of the chariot.

[edit] Persia

Image:Darius seal.jpg
Seal of Darius I, showing the king lion-hunting on his chariot.

The Persians succeeded Elam in the mid 1st millennium. They may have been the first to yoke four horses (rather than two) to their chariots. They also used scythed chariots, a class of chariot having the axles (not the wheels) mounted with sharp, sickle-shaped blades. Cyrus the younger employed these chariots in large numbers. Herodotus mentions that the Indus satrapy supplied cavalry and chariots to Xerxes' army. However, by this time cavalry was far more effective and agile than the chariot, and the defeat of Darius III at the Battle of Gaugamela (331 BC), where the army of Alexander simply opened their lines and let the chariots pass and attacked them from behind, marked the end of the era of chariot warfare.

[edit] Near East

Some scholars argue that the chariot was most likely a product of the ancient Near East in the early 2nd millenium BCE.<ref>Raulwing 2000</ref>

[edit] Hittite

The oldest testimony of chariot warfare in the Ancient Near East is the Old Hittite Anitta text (18th century BC), mentioning 40 teams of horses (40 ṢÍ-IM-DÌ ANŠE.KUR.RAḪI.A) at the siege of Salatiwara. Since only teams are mentioned rather than explicitly chariots, the presence of actual chariots in the 18th century is considered somewhat uncertain. The first certain attestation of chariots in the Hittite Empire dates to the late 17th century (Hattusili I). A Hittite horse training text survives, attributed to one Kikkuli the Mitanni (15th century BC).

The Hittites were renowned charioteers. They developed a new chariot design, which had lighter wheels, with four spokes rather than eight, and which held three, instead of two warriors. Hittite prosperity largely depended on their control of trade routes and natural resources, specifically, metals. As the Hittites gained dominion over Mesopotamia, tensions flared between the neighboring Assyrians, Hurrians and Egyptians. Under Suppiluliuma I, the Hittites conquered Kadesh and eventually the whole of Syria. The Battle of Kadesh in 1299 BC is likely to have been the largest chariot battle ever fought, in which some five thousand chariots were involved.

[edit] Egyptian

Image:Ramses II at Kadesh.jpg
Relief of Ramses II located in Abu Simbel fighting at the Battle of Kadesh. Note that there are two archers riding in the chariot, one of them having the reins tied around his body to free his hands.
The chariot, together with the horse itself, was introduced to Egypt during the reign of the Hyksos dynasty in the 16th century BC. 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 chariots of the Egyptians and Assyrians, with whom the bow was the principle arm of attack, were richly mounted with quivers full of arrows. The Egyptians invented the yoke saddle for their chariot horses in ca. 1500 BC. The best preserved examples of Egyptian chariots are the four specimens from the tomb of Tutankhamun.

[edit] Mycenaean

Image:Tiryns chariot fresco.jpg
Reconstructed fresco of a chariot bearing two women from Mycenaean Tiryns, ca. 1200 BC.
The Mycenaean Greeks made use of chariots in battle. Administrative records in Linear B script , mainly in Knossos, list chariots (wokha) and their spare parts and equipment, and distinguish between assembled and unassembled chariots. The Linear B ideogram for a chariot (B240, 𐃌) is an abstract drawing, showing two four-spoked wheels. The chariots fell out of use with the end of the Mycenaean civilization, and even in the Iliad, the heroes use the chariots merely as a means of transport, and dismount before engaging the enemy. Chariots were retained only for races in the public games, or for processions, without undergoing any alteration apparently, their form continuing to correspond with the description of Homer, though it was lighter in build, having to carry only the charioteer. The Iliad also contains a description of a chariot race, at the funeral of Patroclus (Il. 23.262–613).

[edit] Iron Age Mesopotamia and Levant

Probably from Hittite and Mitanni use, the chariot had spread all over Mesopotamia and Elam by the 1st millennium BC. Assyrian and Babylonian warfare still made extensive use of it, although the peak of its utility had been passed with the late Bronze age, and it increasingly became more of a symbol of military power, and the vehicle of kings and warlords inspecting the battlefield.

Chariots became an integral part of the Israelite armies during the reign of King Saul.[citation needed] Their number increased sharply during the reign of king Solomon.[citation needed] When the United Monarchy ended, during the reign of Rehoboam, the majority of the Hebrew chariot force was ceded to kingdom of Israel, while kingdom of Judah relied on mobile infantry. The kingdom of Israel is mentioned to be the most powerful chariot force in the Eastern Mediterranean area in the Assyrian texts, king Ahab sending 2,000 chariots to battle of Qarqar in 853 BC. The later chariots of Judah were similar four horse, four crewmen heavy chariots as those of Assyria.

[edit] Chariots in the Bible

See also merkabah.

Chariots are frequently mentioned in the Old Testament, particularly by the prophets, as instruments of war or as symbols of power or glory. First mentioned in the story of Joseph (Genesis 50:9), "Iron chariots" are mentioned also in Joshua (17:16,18) and Judges (1:19,4:3,13) as weapons of the Canaanites. 1 Samuel 13:5 mentions (in exaggerated numbers) chariots of the Philistines, who are sometimes identified with the Sea Peoples or early Greeks. Such examples from the KJV here include:

  • Song of Solomon 1:9 I have compared thee, O my love, to a company of horses in Pharaoh's chariots.
  • Isaiah 2:7 Their land also is full of silver and gold, neither is there any end of their treasures; their land is also full of horses, neither is there any end of their chariots.
  • Jeremiah 4:13 Behold, he shall come up as clouds, and his chariots shall be as a whirlwind: his horses are swifter than eagles. Woe unto us! for we are spoiled.

The expression Lord Sabaoth (lord of the army) refers as the God of the Charioteers, and the name of the chariot, merkabah, is an important item in the Jewish mythology. The name of the Israeli Defence Force main battle tank, Merkava (מרכבה merkabah) is the biblical term for "chariot".

[edit] China

The earliest chariot burial site in China, discovered in 1933 at Hougang, Anyang of central China's Henan Province, dates to the rule of King Wu Ding of the Yin Dynasty (ca. 1200 BC). But chariots may have been known before, from as early as the Xia Dynasty (17th century BC) [1]. During the Shang dynasty, members of the royalty were buried with a complete household and servants, including a chariot, horses, and a charioteer. Shang chariot was often drawn by two horses, but four are occasionally found in burials. The crew consisted of an archer, a driver, and sometimes a third armed with a spear or dagger-axe. During the 8th to 5th centuries, Chinese use of chariots reached its peak, they appeared in greater number, but infantry often defeated them in battle.

The chariot became obsolete during the Age of the Warring States; the main reasons were the invention of the crossbow and the adaptation of nomadic cavalry (mounted archery), which was more effective.

[edit] Northern Europe

The Trundholm sun chariot is dated to ca. 1400 BC (see Nordic Bronze Age). The horse drawing the solar disk runs on four wheels, and the Sun itself on two. All wheels have four spokes. The "chariot" consists solely of the solar disk, the axle, and the wheels, and it is unclear if the sun is imagined as being itself a chariot, or as riding in a chariot. The presence of a model of a horse-drawn vehicle on two spoked wheels in Northern Europe at such an early time is in any case astonishing.

In addition to the Trundholm chariot, there is a number of petroglyphs from the Nordic Bronze Age showing chariots, such as one of the slabs of stone in the King's Grave from ca. 1000 BC, showing a chariot with two four-spoked wheels drawn by a team of two horses.

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

The Celtic chariot may have been called carpentom, was drawn by a team of two horses, and measures approximately 2 m in width and 4 m in length. The one-piece iron rims for chariot wheels were probably a Celtic invention. Apart from the iron wheel rims and iron fittings of the hub, it was constructed from wood and wicker-work. In some instances, iron rings reinforced the joints. Another Celtic innovation was the free-hanging axle, suspended from the platform with rope. This resulted in a much more comfortable ride on bumpy terrain. There is evidence from French coins of a leather 'suspension' system for the central box, and a complex system of knotted cords for its attatchemt; this has informed recent working reconstructions by archeologists.

According to Tacitus (Annals 14.35), Boudica, a Celtic female chieftain who led the Iceni and a number of other Celtic tribes in a major uprising against the occupying Roman forces, addressed her troops, using a chariot to drive through the ranks before the Battle of Watling Street in 61 AD:

Boudicca curru filias prae se vehens, ut quamque nationem accesserat, solitum quidem Britannis feminarum ductu bellare testabatur
"Boudicea, with her daughters before her in a chariot, went up to tribe after tribe, protesting that it was indeed usual for Britons to fight under the leadership of women."

The Celtic chariot carried a driver and a soldier. It was probably used in numbers, to provoke an enemy into action but the soldier normally dismounted to do his fighting, to be picked up again when the immediate task was done. This use of the vehicle went some way to combining the mobility of cavalry with the stability of infantry.

[edit] Southern Europe

Herodotus reports that chariots were widely used in the Pontic-Caspian steppe by the Sigynnae.

The only Etruscan chariot found intact dates to ca. 530 BC. It is decorated with bronze plates reminiscent of the Gundestrup cauldron. Its wheels have nine spokes. It was part of a chariot burial.

[edit] Classical Antiquity

[edit] Greece

Image:The Chariot of Zeus - Project Gutenberg eText 14994.png
The Chariot of Zeus (1879 illustration from Stories from the Greek Tragedians by Alfred Church)

The classical 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.

Image:Delphi charioteer front DSC06255.JPG
Chariot races were held in all pan Hellenic games. The statue of this driver was found at Delphi.

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.

Image:Greek warrior and young charioteer - Athens pediment.jpg
Illustrative bas-relief of Greek warrior accompanied by his charioteer. From the pediment of a kouros statue, ca. 490 BCE.

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. A late 6th century bronze Etruscan chariot (biga) now at the Metropolitan Museum of Art [2] formed part of the grave-goods in a tomb at Monteleone di Spoleto; never meant for warfare, its three curved panels hammered in low-relief present three iconic images of an elite warrior, probably Achilles.

[edit] Roman Empire

The Romans probably borrowed chariot racing from the Etruscans, who would themselves had borrowed it either from the Celts or 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 chariot racing or for processions, when they could be drawn by as many as ten horses or even by dogs, tigers, or ostriches.There were four teams the red, blue, green, and white team. The main centre of chariot racing was the Circus Maximus, situated in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine Hills in Rome. The track could hold 12 chariots, and the two sides of the track were separated by a raised median termed the spina. 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 WWI tachanka captured by the Germans and put on display in Berlin

[edit] Russian Tachanka

It might be said that the chariot was briefly revived during the Russian civil war of 19181920, when the "tachanka", a cart or wagon 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.

This may have been done for the sake of a morale-boosting film but its practical effect when firing on the move, would be negligible as until its ordinary, non-artillery wheels collapsed or a horse was shot, it would be bouncing about too much to be of any use. Inspection of the photograph shows that the weapon shown in the taczanka article was designed in the same way as a horse artillery carriage. In other words it was designed to accompany or to just precede cavalry, to halt and to suppress enemy infantry fire while the cavalry approached.

It is interesting to note that, in the photograph, the gun carriage has an artillery wheel but the limber has not. In 1898, Vickers, Sons and Maxim were making a four-horse limber which towed a 37mm naval machine gun on a carriage. At the same time they had a two-horse gun carriage which carried a limited supply of its own ammunition for artillery support and a one-horse carriage similarly with some of its own ammunition. These latter guns were Vickers-Maxim .303 inch weapons.

[edit] See also

[edit] Notes


[edit] References

  • Anthony, D. W., & Vinogradov, N. B., Birth of the Chariot, Archaeology vol.48, no.2, Mar & Apr 1995, 36-41
  • Anthony, David W., 1995, Horse, wagon & chariot: Indo-European languages and archaeology, Antiquity Sept/1995
  • Di Cosmo, Nicolo , The Northern Frontier in Pre-Imperial China, Cambridge History of Ancient China ch. 13 (pp. 885-966).
  • Litauer, M.A., & Grouwel, J.H., The Origin of the True Chariot', "Antiquity" vol.70, No.270, Dec. 1996, 934-939.
  • Sparreboom, M., Chariots in the Veda, Leiden (1985).

[edit] Further reading

  • Chamberlin, J. Edward. Horse: How the horse has shaped civilizations. N.Y.: United Tribes Media Inc., 2006 (ISBN 0-9742405-9-1).
  • Cotterell, Arthur. Chariot: From chariot to tank, the astounding rise and fall of the world's first war machine. Woodstock & New York: The Overlook Press, 2005 (ISBN 1-58567-667-5).
  • Crouwel, Joost H. Chariots and other means of land transport in Bronze Age Greece (Allard Pierson Series, 3). Amsterdam: [Allard Pierson Museum], 1981 (ISBN 90-71211-03-7).
  • Crouwel, Joost H. Chariots and other wheeled vehicles in Iron Age Greece. (Allard Pierson Series, 9). Amsterdam: [Allard Pierson Museum], 1993 (ISBN 90-71211-21-5).
  • Drews, Robert. The coming of the Greeks: Indo-European conquests in the Aegean and the Near East. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1988 (hardcover, ISBN 0-691-03592-X); 1989 (paperback, ISBN 0-691-02951-2).
  • Drews, Robert. The end of the Bronze Age: Changes in warfare and the catastrophe ca. 1200 B.C. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993 (hardcover, ISBN 0-691-04811-8); 1995 (paperback, ISBN 0-691-02591-6).
  • Drews, Robert. Early riders: The beginnings of mounted warfare in Asia and Europe. N.Y.: Routledge, 2004 (ISBN 0-415-32624-9).
  • Littauer, Mary A.; Crouwel, Joost H. Chariots and related equipment from the tomb of Tutankhamun (Tutankhamun's Tomb Series, 8). Oxford: The Griffith Institute, 1985 (ISBN 0-900416-39-4).
  • Littauer, Mary A.; Crouwel, Joost H.; Raulwing, Peter (Editor). Selected writings on chariots and other early vehicles, riding and harness (Culture and history of the ancient Near East, 6). Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 2002 (ISBN 90-04-11799-7).
  • Piggot, Stuart. The earliest wheeled transport from the Atlantic Coast to the Caspian Sea. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1983 (ISBN 0-8014-1604-3).
  • Piggot, Stuart. Wagon, chariot and carriage: Symbol and status in the history of transport. London: Thames & Hudson, 1992 (ISBN 0-500-25114-2).
  • Pogrebova M. The emergence of chariots and riding in the South Caucasus in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, Volume 22, Number 4, November 2003, pp. 397–409.
  • Peter Raulwing, Horses, Chariots and Indo-Europeans, Foundations and Methods of Chariotry Research from the Viewpoint of Comparative Indo-European Linguistics, Archaeolingua, Series Minor 13, Budapest 2000)
  • Sandor, Bela I. The rise and decline of the Tutankhamun-class chariot in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, Volume 23, Number 2, May 2004, pp. 153–175.
  • Sandor, Bela I. Tutankhamun's chariots: Secret treasures of engineering mechanics in Fatigue & Fracture of Engineering Materials & Structures, Volume 27, Number 7, July 2004, pp. 637–646.
  • Sparreboom M. Chariots in the Veda (Memoirs of the Kern Institute, Leiden, 3). Leiden: Brill Academic Publishers, 1985 (ISBN 90-04-07590-9).

[edit] External links

es:Carroza fr:Char (Antiquité) he:מרכבה (רכב) nl:Strijdwagen ja:戦車 (戦闘馬車) pl:Rydwan pt:Biga ru:Колесница sv:Häststridsvagn uk:Колісниця


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