Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism. Become a Member »

Support Hyperallergic’s independent arts journalism.

A large ceremonial chariot with four wheels, along with its iron components, detailed bronze and tin decorations, mineralized wood remains, and imprints of organic materials (from the ropes to the remains of floral decoration). It was discovered almost intact in a stable near the city of Pompeii. (all images courtesy the Archeological Park and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata)

We tend to think of ancient forms of transportation as crude or utilitarian, but a recent discovery at Pompeii proves that the concept of a sweet-ass ride has a history much longer than that of motor vehicles. Researchers and archaeologists are abuzz over the discovery of an ornate, four-wheeled processional chariot found preserved intact at villa Civita Guilia, near Pompeii.

“It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world,” said Massimo Osanna, outgoing Director of the Archaeological Park, in a statement about the discovery. “At Pompeii vehicles used for transport have been found in the past, such as that of the House of Menander, or the two chariots discovered at Villa Arianna (one of which can be admired at the new Stabian Antiquarium), but nothing like the Civita Giuliana chariot.”

The first of its kind discovered in Italy, the ornamentation on the chariot includes elaborate scenes on rear medallions that refer to Eros (Satyrs and nymphs), leading researchers to theorize that it could have been a chariot used for marriage rituals or processionals.

“I was astounded,” said Eric Poehler, a professor at the University of Massachusetts Amherst who has a specialty in traffic in ancient Pompeii, in an interview with NPR. “Many of the vehicles I’d written about before … are your standard station wagon or vehicle for taking the kids to soccer. This is a Lamborghini. This is an outright fancy, fancy car.”

The wood and metal chariot was discovered undisturbed in a sheltered portico that had been obscured by deposits of ash from Mount Vesuvius’s explosion in 79 CE, which blanketed the nearby city of Pompeii and captured a unique snapshot of ancient daily life arrested by the sudden catastrophe. This find was significant not only because of the outstanding nature of the specimen, but because it had somehow evaded the efforts of looters who had burrowed through the adjacent area with some 80 meters of tunnels for grave-robbing and pillaging.

Chariot of Civita Giuliana, detail view

Surely ancient civilization stans can’t wait to get this turn-of-the-millennium ride up on blocks and see what new information it may reveal about a society obscured — and preserved — by the sands of time.

The Latest

Required Reading

This week, a Frank Stella is installed as a public artwork in NYC, the women behind some iconic buildings, looting Cambodia, fighting anti-boycott laws, and more.

Sarah Rose Sharp

Sarah Rose Sharp is a Detroit-based writer, activist, and multimedia artist. She has shown work in New York, Seattle, Columbus and Toledo, OH, and Detroit — including at the Detroit Institute of Arts....