Roman, Imperial Period, ca. 1st to 3rd century CE. A fabulous cast bronze chariot fitting with projecting swan heads rising in sinuous curves from each side, and capped by a fearsome leopard-headed finial above a cylindrical shaft for attachment. Each swan head has beautiful incised feathers, while the leopard has incised spots and its mouth open in a fierce snarl. The leopard was a symbol of virility for the ancient Romans, and the god Bacchus, patron of a highly sexualized mystery cult, is often depicted wearing a leopard skin and/or riding a leopard. Size: 5.6" W x 5.25" H (14.2 cm x 13.3 cm); 7.3" H (18.5 cm) on included custom stand.
Roman chariots were not used for warfare, but instead in circuses and in triumphal processions. As a result, elaborate finials like these became de rigeur, lending a unique look to each chariot, where they were mounted on posts above each wheel. The carriage was supported by leather straps wrapped around the shaft and guided by the projecting arms. This absorbed the vibrations of the wooden wheels, making the ride smoother. Imagine the sun flashing off of the dark, polished bronze that these would have been when made!
Provenance: private East Coast, USA collection
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