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A chariot is on old-style wheeled vehicle pulled by horses. It was used for
travel, battle, public processions and in games.
The Greek chariot
The Greek chariot had two wheels, and was 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. Greek chariots appear
to have lacked any other attachment for the horses, which would have made
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 three feet 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.
Egyptian and Assyrian Chariots
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,
while those of the Greeks, whose characteristic weapon was the spear, were
plain except as regards mere decoration. Among the Persians and more
remarkably among the ancient Britons, there was a class of chariot having
the wheels mounted with sharp, sickle-shaped blades, which cut to pieces
whatever came in their way. This was probably an invention of the Persians;
Cyrus the younger employed these chariots in large numbers. Among the Greeks
and Romans, on the other hand, the chariot had passed out of use in war
before historical times, and was retained only for races in the public
games, or for processions, without undergoing any alteration apparently, its
form continuing to correspond with the description of Homer, though it was
lighter in build, having to carry only the charioteer. On two Panathenaic
prize vases in the British Museum are figures of racing bigae, in which,
contrary to the description given above, 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. 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. 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 "iron" chariots in use among
the Jews appear to have been chariots strengthened or plated with metal, and
no doubt were of the form above described, which prevailed generally among
the other ancient nations.
During this time, most horses could not support the weight of a man in
battle. With better horse breeding and greater size, chariots gave way to cavalry.