A piece of broken chariot

Dig it! exhibition Bulletin 9 of 10

A tantalising find from the circus is the decorated head of a broken linchpin. We’ve already featured this in an earlier post where we explained how, despite their diminutive size, these objects were of crucial importance to the charioteers since they kept the wheels firmly attached to their chariots!
By sheer coincidence, part of a Roman mosaic was excavated only a week or so ago showing a linchpin being held aloft in front of a chariot. The revelation occurred during an archaeological excavation on the site of Boxford Roman villa near Dorchester. This extraordinary figurative pavement presents us with scenes of stories from Greek mythology. Roman and Greek art expert, Anthony Beeson, described it as the most exciting mosaic discovery made in Britain in the last fifty years.

The boxford linchpin belonged to a chariot owned by a Greek king called Oinomaos. He had a beautiful daughter and lots of men wanted to marry her. He told each would-be son-in-law that, to get his way, he must first beat him in a chariot race. The only hitch as far as the suitors were concerned was that Oinomaos said he would kill the challenger if he lost. The king was a great charioteer so predictably many suitors died.

Then along came Pelops to try his hand. There are variations on the legend but they pivot around the linchpins in Oinomaos’s chariot secretly being replaced by beeswax fakes or removed altogether. Either way, the wheels came off his chariot. Result? Oinomaos lost his life and Pelops gained a wife.

On the other hand, our linchpin was neither missing nor made of beeswax. It was broken. We can tell this because we only have the head, the iron ‘pin’ being absent. Therefore our linchpin presumably failed during a race and at least one of the chariot wheels came spinning off. Ouch!

Coming early next week – the final Dig it! exhibition bulletin
It’s going to be about my favourite puzzle – how large were the horses that raced in the circus?
There’s something new and special here to reveal to you….