Rare Roman mosaic depicting an exhilarating chariot race unearthed in Cyprus

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Chariot racing was a big deal in ancient Roman times – so much so that the highest paid athlete in all of history was probably a charioteer named Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who might have boasted a total prize money of around $15 billion (if adjusted to modern-day values). Suffice it to say, the huge sports-oriented fanfare of the ancient times sometimes translated to fascinating artworks. One among such rare specimens (dated from 4th century) was found in the form of a mosaic depicting an exhilarating scene from a chariot race. And the interesting part is – the floor-based artwork was unearthed in the relatively remote island of Cyprus, thus alluding to how Roman sporting culture and influence was prevalent in most parts of the Mediterranean even during the later period of the empire.

The mosaic found 19 miles west of the capital Nicosia, measures 36 by 13 ft, with the facade depicting a total of four golden hued chariots each drawn by four horses. And while the entire scene is still to be excavated, the surrounding pictorial scope showcases an ancient Greek-style hippodrome (which was similar to a Roman circus in some respects). Additionally, the mosaic also portrays other objects, like a fountain shaped like a dolphin, figures separately holding a whip and a water jug, and a man riding on horseback behind the chariots. Moreover each of the chariots are complemented by two names (in Greek inscriptions) – and they probably denote the names of the driver and the horse.

Now interestingly, pertaining to the figure holding a water jug, during the Roman times there were specially employed men (known as sparsores) who were given the task of sprinkling water on the chariots and the horses as they rapidly passed by the spina – the median strip of the circus. From the practical perspective, the job of the sparsores must have been quite difficult and dangerous since they had to dip clay amphorae into the spina basins and then quickly sprinkle the water on the wildly moving horse-drawn vehicles – for the cooling effect. Suffice it to say, their positioning was crucial, as these men had to be on foot (probably at the level of the arena) while deftly smattering water on to the fast rotating chariot wheels.

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Coming back to this particular mosaic in question, according to Cyprus Antiquities Department archaeologist Fryni Hadjichristofi, the specimen (possibly a part of a villa of a Roman aristocrat) counts among one of just seven in the entire world that portrays such scenes of chariot racing. And in spite of its rarity, the archaeologists waited for almost 80 years before excavating the mosaic, while having prior knowledge of the artwork since 1938. This reason for this is because there were other archaeological finds in Cyprus that had to prioritized.

In other words, the ‘late’ project pretty much sums up the importance of Cyprus in the archaeological context. The historical perspective also bolsters such notions because Cyprus was considered as a rich land in terms of copper and timber since antiquity. It should also be noted the island rather occupies a strategic location, which initiated many an episode and encounter throughout history, involving powers like the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Persians, Romans, Arabs and Ottomans.

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Source: AP/Phys / Images Credit: AP Photo/Pavlos Vrionides

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