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Delphi Charioteer

September 26, 2013


The Delphi Charioteer is one of my favourite pieces of bronze sculpture due to its relative completeness, including the glass eyes, but also because it is a fine example of early classical work. The stance is generally rigid though a sense of movement is indicated from the slight turn in the head. The piece also marks a change from the unrealistic kouroi to a relatively realistic representation of people that would continue to develop.

There is little I can add to the many articles about the charioteer available. However, in brief the statue was likely casted between 478 and 474 BC to celebrate the victory of Polyzalos’ chariot team during the Pythian games. The games were held to honour Apollo the God of the Sanctuary. The charioteer would have been part of a far larger statue that would have included the chariot and horses (unknown in number). During excavations some fragments of the horses have been discovered. The statue is an unusual find as most bronze works were melted down to be reused for armour or jewellery, the sculpture survived as it was hidden by a rock fall.

I have seen the sculpture on several occasion and always experience the same sense of awe at its beauty and craftsmanship. I hope one day soon to see it again.


From → Artefacts

  1. George Georgacopoulos permalink

    Was at Delphoi a couple of weeks ago and listened to an interesting interpretation by a local guide.

    The Charioteer has just won the race – hence the wreath on his head – and what is more he is, or has become momentarily (did not grasp completely) a god.
    His expression not of overwhelming joy but of tempered satisfaction befitting an immortal. Further evidence of his godly status his lose grip of the reins, an impossibility for a mortal on a six horse chariot, with his thumb floating, not even applying downward pressure .

    • Hello George,

      Thank you for this, I would definitely agree with what your tour guide said. I have also read that it is likely the model for the statue was a slave boy hence why he appears clothed. This is an unusual representation for an athlete during this period, most are represented as nude, but it may have been thought inappropriate for a slave to appear undressed. It certainly is interesting hearing various different explanations.

  2. I read somewhere that it was meant to be viewed from below as the upper body is shorter than normal.

    • Hello Pauline, I always imagined the Charioteer on a large platform occupying a prime location, a proper testament to a chariot race victory. Having a body proportioned for such a view would make perfect sense.

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