previous next


CURRUS (ἅρμα), a chariot, a car. These terms are especially applied to the two-wheeled cars used in battle and in racing. They differed from the carpentum in being open overhead, and from the cisium in being closed in front. The plural ἅρματα is generally used to signify the chariot and all its appurtenances-pole, yoke, reins, &c.--excluding the horse (Buchholz, Die homerischen Realien, 2.1, 219, comparing τόξον and τόξα). The words ἅρμα (Il. 24.440), ἅρματα (Od. 3.492), and δίφρος (ib. 481) are also employed for the light cars used on journeys. They frequently had, bound on to the body, a basket, πείρινς (Od. 15.131), which must have been capacious to hold the presents Telemachus got from Menelaus (Od. 15.102-105). Doubtless Telemachus and Pisistratus sat on this πείρινς, as it was unlikely that they would stand for a whole two days' journey (Od. 3.487, 497; and Buchholz, op. cit. p. 228). The most essential parts in the construction of the currus were:--

All the parts now enumerated are seen in an [p. 1.579]ancient chariot preserved in the Vatican, a representation of which is given in the preceding woodcut.

Carriages with two or even three poles were used by the Lydians (Aesch. Pers. 47). The Greeks and Romans, on the other hand, appear never to have used more than one pole and one yoke, and the currus thus constructed was commonly drawn by two horses, which were attached to it by their necks, and therefore called δίζυγες ἵπποι (Hom. Il. 5.195, 10.473), συνωρίς (Xen. Hell. 1.2, § 1), gemini jugales (Verg. A. 7.280), equi bijuges (Georg. 3.91). We occasionally find in Homer that only one horse was used (Il. 2.390; 22.22; 23.517), and it must have been fastened by traces; but a pair of horses is much the most frequent. They drew the car by means of the yoke and its collars (λέπαδνα); for they were not, Helbig thinks (op. cit. 106), fastened to the chariot by traces. Thus in the Iliad, when the pole breaks (6.38 if., 16.360), the horses simply run on with the yoke and front part of the broken pole, and the car is left behind; again, when the yoke breaks and the horses run to different sides, they do not, Helbig says, upset the chariot, as they would do if they had been fastened by traces (Il. 23.392 ff.). In this latter passage, however, it seems most probable that the shock which could throw Eumelus out with such violence must have upset the light chariot. Besides the yoke horses, there was sometimes a παρήορος (Il. 16.471), σειραῖος (Soph. El. 722), σειραφόρος (Aesch. Ag. 842), funalis equus (Stat. Theb. 6.462), funarius (Isid. Orig. 18.33), which was fastened by a trace affixed to the ἄντυξ (Guhl and Koner, op. cit. p. 305), if we may judge from vase-pictures and as the word σειραφόρος would lead us to infer. But the main work of traction was done by the yoke horses (cf. Aesch. Ag. 1640 [corrected from 1679]). Helbig (op. cit. p. 91) thinks that they were fastened to the yoke or to one of the yoke-horses; yet he holds (p. 106, note 6) that traces were used in the case of a team of four horses. At any rate the fastenings of the παρήορος were called παρηορίαι (Il. 16.152). These outriggers had often

Currus, with three horses. (Ginzrot, i. p. 342.)

riders like our postilions (cf. Suet. Tib. 6, and Saglio, Dict. fig. 2223). A team of four horses is mentioned three times in Homer (Hom. Il. 8.185, 11.699; Od. 13.81), but the passages are not by any means sufficient to prove a general use of four horses, and they seem to refer to the Olympic games (see Buchholz, op. cit. 1.2, 177-8). In the above cut we also observe traces passing between the two ἄντυγες, and proceeding from the front of the chariot on each side of the middle horse. These probably assisted in attaching the third, or extra horse.

The Latin name for a chariot and pair was bigae (Verg. A. 2.272, 5.721; Plin. Nat. 7.202, et alibi); in later: Latin also biga (Tac. Hist. 1.86; Plin. Nat. 39.89; Stat. Silv. i. 2, 45, et alibi). When a third horse was added, it was called triga (Dig. 21, 1, 38.14) or trigae (Isidor. Orig. 18.36); and by the same analogy a chariot and four was called quadrigae (Verg. G. 1.512, Aen. 6.535; Cic. Div. 2.7. 0, 144, et alibi), in later Latin quadriga (Gel. 19.8, 17 ; Suet. Vit. 17, et alibi); in Greek, τετραορία or γέθριππος. Four horses were the largest number usually employed, but we also read of a chariot drawn by six horses, called sejugis (Orelli, Inscr. 2593, 6179), but more usually in the plural sejuges (Liv. 38.35, 4; Plin. Nat. 34.19; Apul. Flor. p. 356, No. 16), also sejugae (Isid. Orig. 18.36), like bigae and quadrigae; of a chariot drawn by eight horses (octojugis, Orell. Inscr. 6179); and of one drawn by ten horses (decemjugis, Orell. l.c.), which was the number driven by Nero in the Olympic games (Suet. Nero 24). In all cases the horses were driven abreast.

As the works of ancient art, especially fictile vases, abound in representations of quadrigae, numerous instances may be observed, in which the two middle horses ( μέσος δεξιὸς καὶ μέσος ἀριστερός, Schol. in Aristoph. Cl. 122) are yoked together as in the bigae; and, as the, two lateral ones ( δεξιόσειρος, ἀριστερὸς σειραῖος, dexterior, sinisterior funalis equus, Suet. Tib. 6; and cf. Jebb on Soph. El. 721) have collars (λέραδνα) equally with the yoke-horses, we may presume that from the top of these proceeded the ropes which were tied to the rim of the car, and by which the trace-horses assisted to draw it. The first figure in the following woodcut is the chariot of Aurora, as painted on a vase found at Canosa. (Gerhard, Ueber Lichtgottheiten, pl. iii. fig. 1.) The reins of the two middle horses pass through rings at the extremities of the yoke. All the particulars which have been mentioned are still more distinctly seen in the second figure, taken from a terra-cotta at Vienna. (Ginzrot, vol. ii. pp. 107, 108.) It represents a chariot over-thrown in passing the goal at the circus. The charioteer having fallen backwards, the pole and yoke are thrown upwards into the air; the two trace-horses have fallen on their knees, and the two yoke-horses are prancing on their hind legs.

If we may rely on the evidence of numerous works of art, the currus was sometimes drawn by four horses without either yoke or pole; for we see two of them diverging to the right hand and two to the left, as in the cameo in the royal collection of Berlin, which exhibits Apollo surrounded by the signs of the zodiac. If the ancients really drove the quadrigae thus harnessed, we can only suppose the charioteer to have checked its speed by pulling up the horses, and leaning with his whole body back-wards, so as to make the bottom of the car at its hindermost border scrape the ground, an act and an attitude which seem not unfrequently to be intended in antique representations.

The currus, like the cisium, was adapted to carry two persons, and on this account was called in Greek δίφρος. One of the two was of [p. 1.580]course the driver. He was called ἡνίοχος, because he held the reins, and his companion παραιβάτης, from going by his side or near him. Though in all respects superior, the παραιβάτης was often obliged to place himself behind the ἡνίοχος. He is so represented in the bigae at p. 129, and in the Iliad (19.397) Achilles himself stands behind his charioteer, Automedon. On the other hand, a personage of the highest rank may drive his own carriage, and then an inferior may be his παραιβάτης, as when Nestor conveys Machaon (πὰρ δὲ Μαχάων βαίνε, Il. 11.512, 517), and Hera, holding the reins and whip, conveys Athena, who is in full armour (5.720-775). In such cases a kindness, or even a compliment, was conferred by the driver upon

Currus with four horses. (See p. 579 b.).

him whom he conveyed, as when Dionysius, tyrant of Sicily, “himself holding the reins, made Plato his παραιβάτης.” (Aelian, Ael. VH 4.18.)

Chariots were frequently employed on the field of battle not only by the Asiatic nations, but also by the Greeks in the heroic age. The ἀριστῆες, i. e. the nobility, or men of rank, who wore complete suits of armour, all took their chariots with them, and in an engagement placed themselves in front. In the Homeric battles we find that the horseman, who for the purpose of using his weapons, and in consequence of the weight of his armour, is under the necessity of taking the place of παραιβάτης (see above the woodcut of the triga), often assails or challenges a distant foe from the chariot; but that, when he encounters his adversary in close combat, they both dismount, “springing from their chariots to the ground,” and leaving them to the care of the ἡνίοχοι. (Il. 3.29, 13.537, 17.480-483, 500-502; Hes. Scut. Herc. 370-372.) As soon as the hero had finished the trial of his strength with his opponent, he returned to his chariot, one of the chief uses of which was to rescue him from danger.

In later times the chariots were chiefly employed in the public games. The usual form of those used in the Grecian public games appears on the coins of victors, as in the annexed coin of Hieron II. of Syracuse. Those used in the Roman games of the Circus are figured under CIRCUS Their form was the same, except that they

Chariot in Grecian public games. (Coin of Hieron H. of Syracuse. British Museum.)

were more elegantly decorated. They had no ἄντυγες, but were raised in front. They had low wheels, quite at the back, and there was no space to stand in behind the wheels. (See cut p. 434.) Chariots were not much used by the Romans. The ancient Italians never fought from chariots. When such appear, they are either in representations of Greek events or are triumphal cars (Saglio, Dict. p. 1641). In a Roman triumph the general ascended to the Capitol in a chariot adorned with ivory (currus eburnos, Ov. Tr. 4.2, 63) or gold (aureos, Hor. Epod. 9.22), which was cylindrical, with sides very much higher than the Greek chariots. An example may be seen in the cuts under TRIUMPHUS which in a measure exemplify what Zonaras says (7.21): τὸ δὲ ἅρμα ἐς πύργον περιφεροῦς τρόπον ἐξείργαστο. The utmost skill of the painter and the sculptor was employed to enhance its beauty and splendour. More particularly the extremities of the axle, of the pole, and of the yoke, were highly wrought in the form of animals' heads. Wreaths of laurel were sometimes hung round it (currum laurigerum, Claudian, de Laud. Stil. 3.20, Tert. Cons. Honor. 130), and were also fixed to the heads of the four snow-white horses. (Mart. 7.8, 8.) The car was elevated so that he who triumphed might be the most conspicuous person in the procession, and for the same reason he was obliged to stand erect (in curru stantis eburno, Ovid, Ov. Pont. 3.4, 35). The triumphal car had in general no pole, the horses being led by men who were stationed at their heads.

Chariots executed in terra-cotta (quadrigae fictiles, Plin. Nat. 28.16), in bronze, or in marble, an example of which last is shown in the following woodcut from an ancient chariot in the Vatican, were among the most beautiful ornaments of temples and other public edifices. No pains were spared in their decoration; and Pliny informs us (e.g. H. N. 34.86) that some of the most eminent artists were employed upon them. In numerous instances they were designed to perpetuate the fame of those who had conquered in the chariot-race (Paus. 6.10, 6). As the emblem of victory, the quadriga was sometimes adopted by the Romans to grace the triumphal arch by being placed on its summit; and even in the private houses of great families, chariots were displayed as the [p. 1.581]indications of rank, or the memorials of conquest and of triumph. (Juv. 8.3.)

The chief works on the subject of the chariot are: Grashof, Ueber das Fuhrwerk bei Homer und

Currus. (Vatican.)

Hesiod; Buchholz, Die homerischen Realien, 2.1, 217-232; Guhl and Koner, Das Leben der Griechen und Römern, pp. 304-308; Helbig, Das homerische Epos, pp. 88-110; Saglio in Dict. des Antiq. 1.1633-1643. The last two works give numerous illustrations.

[J.Y] [L.C.P]

hide References (83 total)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: