Charioteer of Delphi
Charioteer of Delphi (Credit: Helen Simonsson, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Charioteer of Delphi a prized Hellenic artwork

A masterpiece of ancient Greek antiquity and the most renowned of the Delphic votive offerings

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Uncovered in 1896 in the Sanctuary of Apollo in Delphi, the rare surviving 2,500-year-old Charioteer of Delphi, also known as Iniohos (meaning the rein-holder) is one of the world’s finest bronze statues of antiquity.

This incomparable statue was commissioned to commemorate the victory of tyrant Polyzalusa of the Sicilian city Gela -a Greek colony- and his chariot in the 470 BC Pythian Games (also known as the Delphic Games) which were held in honor of Apollo every four years.

Closest to the statue is written “Polyzalos dedicated me” in Ancient Greek, proving Iniohos is a part of the famed votive offerings (gifts offered to the gods by their worshippers but only the wealthy could afford such an expensive gift).

The charioteer. Archaeological Museum of Delphi, Greece. (Credit: Jebulon, CC0, via Wikimedia Commons)

He is also part of a complex of statues that included his four horses, the chariot on which he rode and two grooms.Though the sculptor’s name is unknown, it is assumed the statue came from Athens, based on similarities with other Athenian masterpieces.

Draped in a xystis, the typical chiton that all chariot drivers wore during the race, the young victorious athlete is standing tall with with the joy of having achieved this high honor, but in total control of his emotions before the crowd.

Charioteer of Delphi, aka Polyzalos of Gela. Bronze statue in severe style, 475 BC. Archaeological Museum of Delphi. (Credit: Zde, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

The statue’s eyes are made of onyx, the eyelashes and the lips are made of copper, while the head band is impressed in silver. The posture of the Charioteer is well balanced. His right hand holds the remains of reigns that would have been attached to the horses. His feet are bare and  have been modeled with scholarly realism.

The Charioteer of Delphi, alias Polyzalos of Gela, 478 BC. Bronze, height 182 cm, severe style (Credit: Zde, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

With the exception of his missing left arm and silver details on his headband, the bronze statue with a height of 1.8m is preserved in a pristine condition. The Charioteer of Delphi can be seen in the Museum of Delphi, in the regional unit of Phocis in Central Greece.

Fragments and drawing of the Charioteer of Delphi (Credit: Юкатан, CC BY-SA 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons)

Delphi, ancient town and seat of the most important Greek temple and oracle of Apollo- the Olympian god of light, knowledge and harmony- was considered by the ancient Greeks to be the centre (omphalos) of the world. Pilgrims came to the site to receive an oracle from the Pythia, the priestess of Apollo. Blending harmoniously with the superb landscape and charged with sacred meaning, Delphi in the 6th century B.C. was the religious centre and symbol of unity of the ancient Greek world. Delphi was also home of the Pythian Games, the second most important games in Greece after the Olympics.