Roman chariot unearthed ‘almost intact’ near Pompeii
An ornate Roman chariot has been discovered "almost intact" near Italy's buried city of Pompeii, the archaeological park announced on Saturday, calling it a discovery with "no parallel" in the country.
Published: 28 February 2021 12:41 CET
Pompeii, near Naples, on January 25, 2021. Andreas SOLARO/AFP
The four-wheeled processional carriage was found in the portico to stables where the remains of three horses were unearthed in 2018, including one still in its harness.
Pompeii was smothered by gas and ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing between 2,000 and 15,000 people.
“A large ceremonial chariot with four wheels, along with its iron components, beautiful bronze and tin decorations, mineralised wood remains and imprints of organic materials (from the ropes to the remains of floral decoration), has been discovered almost intact,” a statement issued by the archaeological park said.
“This is an exceptional discovery… which has no parallel in Italy thus far – in an excellent state of preservation.”
The excavation site is known as the Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa that lies just a few hundred metres from the ancient city of Pompeii.
The excavation is part of a programme aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.
A visitor looks at a copy of a cast of a horse from the excavation in Civita Giuliana, at the Antiquarium museum of Pompeii, near Naples. Photo: Andreas Solaro / AFP
Looters missed the room where the chariot had lain for almost 2,000 years, tunnelling by on both sides, the park's statement said.
Specialists took great care to unearth the vehicle, for example by pouring plaster into voids “to preserve the imprint of any organic material” that had decomposed, it added.
The park said this had allowed it to emerge well preserved down to the imprints of ropes, “thus revealing the chariot in all of its complexity”.
“Pompeii continues to amaze with all of its discoveries, and it will continue to do so for many years yet, with 20 hectares (50 acres) still to be excavated,” Culture Minister Dario Franceschini was quoted as saying.
'Parades and processions'
“It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world,” added Massimo Osanna, outgoing director of the park.
“What we have is a ceremonial chariot, probably the Pilentum referred to by some sources, which was employed not for everyday use or for agricultural transport, but to accompany community festivities, parades and processions.”
Pompeii's remarkably well-preserved remains have slowly been uncovered by teams of archaeological specialists.
It is Italy's third most visited tourist site, drawing more than 3.9 million visitors in 2019. The ancient city was closed after the coronavirus struck, and only reopened on January 18th.
Italian archaeologists uncover slave room at Pompeii in ‘rare’ find
Pompeii archaeologists said Saturday they have unearthed the remains of a "slave room" in an exceptionally rare find at a Roman villa destroyed by Mount Vesuvius' eruption nearly 2,000 years ago.
Published: 6 November 2021 14:46 CET Updated: 8 November 2021 15:51 CET
Archaeologists said the newly-discovered room in Pompeii likely housed slaves charged with maintaining chariots. Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.
The little room with three beds, a ceramic pot and a wooden chest was discovered during a dig at the Villa of Civita Giuliana, a suburban villa just a few hundred metres from the rest of the ancient city.
An almost intact ornate Roman chariot was discovered here at the start of this year, and archaeologists said Saturday that the room likely housed slaves charged with maintaining and prepping the chariot.
“This is a window into the precarious reality of people who rarely appear in historical sources, written almost exclusively by men belonging to the elite,” said Pompeii’s director general Gabriel Zuchtriegel.
Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.
The “unique testimony” into how “the weakest in the ancient society lived… is certainly one of the most exciting discoveries in my life as an archaeologist,” he said in a press release.
Pompeii was buried in ash when Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 AD, killing those who hadn’t managed to leave the city in time. They were either crushed by collapsing buildings or killed by thermal shock.
The 16-square metre (170-square feet) room was a cross between a bedroom and a storeroom: as well as three beds – one of which was child sized – there were eight amphorae, stashed in a corner.
Photo: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.
The wooden chest held metal and fabric objects that seem to be part of the harnesses of the chariot horses, and a chariot shaft was found resting on one of the beds.
The remains of three horses were found in a stable in a dig earlier this year.
“The room grants us a rare insight into the daily reality of slaves, thanks to the exceptional state of preservation of the room,” the Pompeii archaeological park said.
Image: Archaeological Park of Pompeii press office.
Experts had been able to make plaster casts of the beds and other objects in perishable materials which left their imprint in the cinerite — the rock made of volcanic ash — that covered them, it said.
The beds were made of several roughly worked wooden planks, which could be adjusted according to the height of the person who used them.
The webbed bases of the beds were made of ropes, covered by blankets.
While two were around 1.7 metres long, one measured just 1.4 metres, and may therefore have belonged to a child.
The archaeological park said the three slaves may have been a family.
Archaeologists found several personal objects under the beds, including amphorae for private things, ceramic jugs and what might be a chamber pot.
The room was lit by a small upper window, and there are no traces or wall decorations, just a mark believed to have been left by a lantern hung on a wall.
“This incredible new discovery at Pompeii demonstrates that today the archaeological site has become not only one of the most desirable visitor destinations in the world, but also a place where research is carried out and new and experimental technologies are employed,” said Italian Culture Minister Dario Franceschini.
“Thanks to this important new discovery, our knowledge of the daily life of ancient Pompeians has been enriched, particularly of that element of society about which little is known even today. Pompeii is a model of study that is unique in the world.”
The excavation is part of a programme launched in 2017 aimed at fighting illegal activity in the area, including tunnel digging to reach artefacts that can be sold on illicit markets.
The Villa of Civita Giuliana had been the target of systematic looting for years. There was evidence some of the “archaeological heritage” in this so-called Slave Room had also been lost to looters, the park said.
Damage by grave robbers in the villa had been estimated so far at almost two million euros ($2.3 million), it added.