Lamp showing a chariot race

Lamp showing a chariot race

Length: 14.700 cm
Width: 9.600 cm

Townley Collection

GR 1814.7-4.106 (Lamps Q 1349)

The circus, with its long, narrow structure purpose-built for chariot and horse races, was a feature of many Roman cities. The scene on this terracotta oil lamp depicts a race in the Circus Maximus in Rome, the largest of all ancient circuses, with a capacity of around 200,000 people.

The lampmaker has skilfully condensed the whole event into a small space. In the centre the four-horse chariots (quadrigae) of the four factions (Reds, Blues, Whites and Greens) race around the track. Below them is the central island (spina, literally 'spine') of the circus, complete with statues, shrines, an obelisk and turning posts (metae). The starting gates and the crowd in the stands complete the scene.

The maker, Saeculus, whose name is stamped on the base of the lamp, often featured gladiatorial or chariot-racing scenes on his lamps.

On display: Room 69: Greek and Roman life