The Motya Charioteer

The Motya Charioteer, Marble, Greek Origin, 460-450 BC, Found on the Sicilian Island of Motya in 1979, British Museum

The ‘Charioteer’ is a very rare surviving example of an original Greek victor’s statue and is believed to represent the winner of a chariot race that took place some 2,500 years ago. He was found in 1979 amid excavations on the tiny island of Motya on the western tip of Sicily, which was a Phoenician stronghold in ancient times and a region renowned for breeding horses.

The statue has been identified as a charioteer because of the long tunic he is wearing, the xystis. It was a garment that covered the entire body, and was fastened with a simple belt. Two straps crossed high at the racers back preventing the fabric from “ballooning” during the race.

The broad belt on to which the reins would have been fastened – on the statue were secured via fixings in the two holes in the belt at the front. This prevented the reins from being pulled out of the hands, but also dangerously, prevented the charioteer from being thrown free in any crash.

Today this amazing sculpture is regarded as a national treasure by Sicilians and thought by many to be one of the finest surviving examples of a classical sculpture anywhere in the world. It resembles the more famous Delphian charioteer, which is not very much older.

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