Looted Hippodrome Relief

I watched the Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome (see next post) in the hopes that it might go into some detail about chariot racing … it does, but doesn’t mention what I hoped it would as a sort of introduction to this piece. Ages ago (indeed, I’m sure she’s given up on me) Dorothy King passed along a link to a page on her Lootbusters site which includes this  relief stolen from the Castel Sant’ Elia:

via Lootbusters

As Dr King notes, this item has been published:

Lise Vogel, “Circus Race Scenes in the Early Roman Empire,” The Art Bulletin Vol. 51, No. 2 (Jun., 1969), pp. 155-160

As Vogel relates, the relief was found in 1948 at Castel Sant’ Elia and originally was associated with an inscription, some of the letters of which are apparently still visible but not in the available photos (Dr King has another photo on her site mentioned above). The relief shows two quadrigae running left to right in front of a spina, with a third quadriga pursuing. Expanding on this description, we note that it appears that the first two have just crossed the finish line and it is what in modern times would be called a photo finish. There is an important detail in the back which isn’t mentioned and is a bit of a rarity in artistic depictions of chariot races: the ‘eggs’. As readers might be aware, these ‘eggs’ were used to mark the number of laps completed in the race. As a lap was completed, the ‘egg’ was ‘dropped’, so to speak. With one ‘egg’ remaining, this is obviously the final lap. As such, this is one of a few depictions that I’ve seen which actually use the eggs to highlight what section of the race is at and clearly this is the finish of what must have been a very famous race — most other depictions of races which include the eggs tend to have them at the same level, probably indicating the start of a race or not really being concerned with that sort of thing. Here’s one piece of comparanda from a sarcophagus in the Pergamon Museum (via the Database of Ancient Art):

via the Database of Ancient Art

Whatever the case, the inscription which accompanied the Sant’Elia relief likely referred to the race either in the context of the person sponsoring them or (more likely) the charioteer who won. It is an important piece, obviously, and hopefully it will be recovered …

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