Roman Bronze Chariot Fittings

SKU X.0720

1st Century AD


6″ (15.2cm) high x 5.5″ (14.0cm) wide





Gallery Location

Hong Kong


These bronze ornaments once decorated a Roman chariot, with the large male bust at the front of the vehicle and the smaller busts and lions towards the sides. Rather than adorning a lightweight racing vehicles, the heavy and ornate nature of these accessories, suggests they were originally attached to a more substantial vehicle such as a pilentum (used to transport aristocrats on state occasions), a carruca (for transporting emperors and aristocratic matrons) or even a thensa (a ceremonial chariot used to transport deities to the imperial games). More utilitarian vehicles such as the arcera would not have been so richly decorated.

These fittings would have been the finishing touches to a vehicle already resplendent with the most luxurious and expensive materials and accessories available. Contemporary sources describe ornate inlay, rare woods and metalwork incorporated into these vehicles, and it is probable that these heads would originally have been gilded to add highlights to the ensemble. The horses would have been similarly magnificent and groomed for the occasion, their tack carefully manufactured and polished in order to burnish the full impact of the whole.

The group comprises three male busts and two lions. The busts are all of a similar type with figures cropped at the upper arms, surmounting bases decorated with volutes and palmettes. All three male figures have the same muscular build, full faces and short curly hair. The largest is the most animated, with the head turned to the right. His facial features bear similarities to contemporary portraits of the Emperor Domitian, suggesting a date towards the end of the 1st century AD. The backs of all three figures are fitted with large rectangular projections that facilitated their attachment to the chariot.

The lions are essentially mirror images of one another, indicating they were placed on either side of a central element. Their wide, flat bases with slightly curving contours suggest a placement on the curving harness attachment of the chariot carriage. The extended paws suggest a predatory or fighting pose and their depiction is incredibly naturalistic. Both are sleek and sinewy with taut bodies are marvelously sculpted manes.

Central bust: H. 6″ (15.2cm) x W. 5.5″ (14.0cm)

Smaller busts: H. 5″ (12.7cm) x W. 4.25″ (10.8cm) each.

Lions: H. 3.75″ (9.5cm) x W. 5″ (12.7cm)

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