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Gold Model of Persian Chariot - Oxus Treasure

Model of gold chariot drawn by four horses abreast: the chariot box or cab is open at the back. It has an irregular square front, wider at the top than the bottom, ornamented with two incised bands in saltire, probably representing diagonal bracing struts. These bands are decorated with triangles and have a Bes head at the intersection. The floor is covered with cross-hatching, most probably representing a flooring of interlaced leather thongs. The two large wheels each have nine spokes, and the running surfaces are studded with small pellets to represent the bulbous heads of large stud-like nails which in the full-size original would have secured a tyre and felloe-sheathing of bronze. The axle is soldered at either end but the wheels originally rotated freely. A seat, in the form of a narrow strip of gold, runs from the front to back of the interior. On this is seated the principal figure. He wears a long robe reaching to the ankles, the sleeves of which appear to be empty like those of the 'kandys'. On his head is a hood or cap, around the front of which is a flat strip of gold, resembling a fillet, with the ends projecting above the forehead, and around his neck is a gold wire torc. The driver wears a similar cap without a fillet, a short girded tunic and a wire torc; his legs are also formed of wires. The two human figures are fixed to the chariot by wires.

The chariot is pulled via a pair of draught-poles fixed to four horses under a single four-bay yoke. On the yoke, above each horse, is a large loop, representing the terrets, through which the wire reins pass; alternating with these loops were originally four crescentic fan-shaped yoke ornaments. The bits have large rings at the sides as rein attachments, and each animal has duplicate representations of the neck-strap and backing-element, the former with a pendant tassel, punched into the metal.

The horses are small, pony-sized animals, but otherwise have the appearance of ram-headed Nesaeans. Their tails are tied up in mud-knots and the hair of the forelock is pulled back. Only nine legs of the horses survive and the spokes of one wheel are imperfect. The two human figures are fixed to the chariot by wires passing through holes in the bottom and doubled over beneath. In the case of the charioteer these wires are attached to a small plate connecting his feet; in the case of the other figure they are longer, and also pass through the seat.

Length: 19.5 centimetres
Height: 7.5 centimetres
Height: 4.5 centimetres (wheel)
Weight: 75.5g

Only nine legs of the horses survive (out of a total of sixteen); the wheels no longer move freely as they have been partially glued (in 1975); the same glue was used on the underside to fix the split pins securing the figures inside the chariot.

Curator's comments
Related bronze chariot-model formerly in the Bröckelschen Collection, attributed to western Iran and a 7th-6th century BC date by P. Calmeyer and more recently by Houshang Mahboubian in "Art of Ancient Iran: Copper and Bronze" (London 1997), p. 252, cat. no. 329. The profile of the chariot and the wheel construction exactly match representations of Achaemenid chariots on the sculptured facades of the Apadana at Persepolis, the so-called Darius seal, and the upper register of a Persian-period stela from Paphlagonia. These do not show the fronts of the chariots, thus it is unclear what was normally used to decorate this portion of the chariot. The use of a Bes-head on the Oxus chariot-model is compatible with it having been made for a boy as Bes was regarded as being a protective deity of the young, and his popularity throughout the Persian empire is demonstrated by the discovery of amulets (e.g. in a hoard at Babylon) and on gold jewellery. The hand rail at the back of the Oxus chariot model is a practical feature for mounting and dismounting and has also been noted on a Persian-period chariot model from Amathonte in Cyprus, and on sarcophagi of the same period.

British Museum 123908

See also an Achaemenid Persian chariot in paintings from the Tatarli Tumulus. Lydian tomb chamber built around 470 B.C. in southern Phrygia.
Ancient Illustrations of Costume & Soldiers