An earthquake shakes the sacred sanctuary of Delphi in 373 BC, causing a seismic catastrophe that buries one of the world’s most impressive ancient finds for over two thousand years: the Charioteer of Delphi.
Also known as the Heniokhos (Ηνίοχος), meaning the rein-holder, the Charioteer of Delphi is one of the world’s finest bronze statues of antiquity. Discovered in 1896 during the Great Excavation of Delphi at the Sanctuary of Apollo, the life size statue of a charming male youth stands at 1.8 meters. A remarkable example of bronze craftsmanship, the Charioteer of Delphi was commissioned in 478 - 474 BC by Polyzalos, a tyrant of Gela, in commemoration of his victory at a Pythian Game chariot race.
Youth participating in Panhellenic games were known to be of noble origins, racing with the chariots and horses of aristocrats. Draped in a xystin, a long tunic, and standing tall with a muscular build and great posture, the young Charioteer is filled with the joy of having achieved this high honor, yet stands poised, mature and modest before the crowd, self disciplined and confident, containing his emotions.
A vivid representation of Greek life, this piece exemplifies the ancient world’s ideals, transcending from the more rigid archaic, to a more fluid classical style.
Originally part of a group of statues including horses and a chariot, this masterpiece today stands near the site of its discovery, at the Archaeological Museum of Delphi. While discovered in pieces, the Charioteer of Delphi was unearthed in almost perfect condition, aside from a few missing parts including his left forearm and silver details on the headband.
Historically speaking, Greek bronze statues were cast in segments, assembled to create the final piece. Though its origin is not exactly known, it is assumed the statue came from Athens, due to the nature of its design.
This piece is especially important because of the rarity of such complete ancient bronze statues. Most are considered to have been destroyed for metal, or naturally deteriorated over time. The survival of the Charioteer of Delphi, in such pristine condition, is attributed to the natural catastrophe that covered the site.
WORDS + PHOTOS : Portes Magazine