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Tuesday, April 20, 2021

Explained: What discovery of a chariot in the Roman town of Pompeii means

This chariot, the Pompeii archaeological park says, is “entirely unique in Italy”, because of its state of preservation and because it is not a chariot used for agricultural products or the activities of daily life. 

By: Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: March 11, 2021 8:31:24 am
Pompeii chariot found, Pompeii ruins, Pompeii findings, snack bar Pompeii, mount vesuvius, express explained, indian expressA view of the chariot found in Civita Giuliana, north of Pompeii. (Parco Archeologico di Pompei via AP)

Archaeologists working at Pompeii have announced the discovery of a large ceremonial chariot, found with four wheels, its iron components, bronze and tin decorations, mineralised wood remains, and imprints of organic materials. Near the site where this chariot was discovered, the remains of three horses were found in 2018.

“This is an exceptional discovery, not only because it adds an additional element to the history of this dwelling and the story of the last moments in the lives of those who lived in it, as well as more generally to our understanding of the ancient world, but above all because it represents a unique find – which has no parallel in Italy thus far – in an excellent state of preservation,” the Archaeological Park of Pompeii said in a statement.

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The excavation of the chariot

It is likely that the chariot was used as a transport vehicle by Roman elites during various ceremonies. This chariot, the archaeological park says, is “entirely unique in Italy” –– because of its state of preservation, and because it is not a chariot used for agricultural products or the activities of daily life.

The chariot was spotted during an excavation effort on January 7, when an iron artefact, the shape of which “suggested the presence of a significant buried artefact”, emerged from the volcanic material.

What happened at Pompeii?

Pompeii was a Roman town in Southern Italy’s Campania region situated along the Bay of Naples. The town was completely buried by volcanic ash after the eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, over 2,000 years ago.

It was not only the residents of Pompeii who were affected (over 16,000 died) –– the eruption also destroyed the neighbouring town of Herculaneum. Even so, it is due to the tragedy that the town is well-preserved, and has given archaeologists vast materials to study daily Roman daily life as it was centuries ago.

Located 8 km from the volcano, Pompeii was a resort town frequented by Rome’s elite citizens and consisted of villas, cafes, marketplaces and a 20,000-seat arena.

In “Pompeii and the Roman Villa: Art and Culture around the Bay of Naples”, an exhibit organised at the National Gallery of Art, Washington in 2009, 142 objects, including sculptures, frescoes, mosaics, decorative objects, paintings, and rare books associated with Roman-era villas of Pompeii and nearby areas were displayed. The exhibit focussed on Pompeii as an artistic centre, a place where prominent Romans occupied seaside villas and spent their time reading, writing and exercising.

When did the excavations at Pompeii begin?

In 1748, King Charles III of Bourbon initiated scientific excavations at the site, after which large parts of the city were unearthed, and several artefacts and other items of interest discovered: all well-preserved due to the layers of ash the town was submerged in. But even before the 18th century, the first excavations began in 1592.

Other discoveries at Pompeii

As per the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, research into Pompeii and Herculaneum so far has revised scientists’ understanding of the town, the disaster and the sequence of events. Further, the investigations of those who died have also revealed details of the town’s citizens and a revised interpretation of a rescue operation launched by the admiral of one of Rome’s navies, Pliny the Elder.

While he died during the mission, his nephew, Pliny the Younger, wrote a letter to historian Tacitus, who later cited the letter in his work, Historiae, on the first centuries of the Roman empire. In his letter, the 17-year-old gave a first-hand account of the eruption.

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Earlier, researchers unearthed a thermopolium, Latin for hot drinks counter, in Pompeii. The snack food counter was found complete with an image of a Nereid riding a sea-horse, decorative still-life frescoes, food residues, animal bones and victims who died during the volcanic eruption of 79 CE.

In November 2020, the Italian Culture Ministry announced the discovery of well-preserved remains of two men, who perished during the volcanic eruption. Archaeologists preserved their teeth and bones, and the void left by their decomposed soft tissues has been filled by plaster using a well-perfected casting method by which it is possible to see the outline of their bodies.

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