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Joy of Museums

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Charioteer of Delphi

Charioteer of Delphi - Delphi Archaeological Museum by Joy of Museums

Charioteer of Delphi

The Charioteer of Delphi is a rare surviving 2,500-year-old bronze sculpture from Ancient Greek culture. It is a life-size statue of a chariot driver found in 1896 at the Sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi. The statue was commissioned to commemorate the victory of the tyrant Polyzalusa of Gela, a Greek colony in Sicily, and his chariot in the Pythian Games of 470 BC. The Pythian Games (also known as the Delphic Games) were one of the four Panhellenic Games of Ancient Greece. They were held in honour of Apollo every four years at his sanctuary at Delphi. They were held two years after each Olympic Games. An inscription on the limestone base of the statue shows that Polyzalus dedicated it as a tribute to Apollo for helping him win the chariot race.

The Charioteer of Delphi was initially part of a larger group of sculptures, that included the chariot, at least four horses and possibly two grooms. Some smaller fragments of the horses, grooms and chariot were found with the statue. The Sicilian Greek colonies were very wealthy compared with most of the cities of mainland Greece, and their rulers could afford magnificent offerings to the gods and the best horses and drivers for the games. The name of the sculptor is unknown, but it is believed that the statue was cast in Athens, based on similarities with other Athenian masterpieces. The face and the body do not display arrogance, but the features of calm self-confidence.

Did you know?

  • Most bronze statues from ancient Greece were melted down during war or a crisis for their raw materials, but the Charioteer survived because it was buried under a rock-fall at Delphi, which destroyed the site in 373 B.C., about 100 years after this statue was made.
  • The Charioteer is clothed head to foot. Most athletes at this time would have competed, and been depicted nude. Was this young man a slave and thus due to his low status was not represented in the nude, like other athletes? Or was he fully clothed so as to endower all the glory to the horses?
  • This statue is one of the few Greek bronzes to have the original inlaid glass eyes.

Reflections

  • Why is this athlete fully clothed?

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Charioteer of Delphi

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“Love of money and nothing else will ruin Sparta.”
– Oracle of Delphi

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Photo Credit: JOM

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