A Chariot Vase

Somewhere in the vicinity of the Warrior Vase was another LH III C mixing bowl, sporting a procession of chariot-borne troops. Only two tiny fragments of that vase are presently known—both retrieved from the heap of debris left behind by Schliemann’s workmen. Each sherd depicts part of an open-work chariot transporting two soldiers. Although friezes of people in chariots were fairly common in Mycenaean art, on those two sherds both the spearmen and the drivers wear their shields in a manner “unique in chariot iconography” of the Myceanaean Age, but found again in eighth-seventh-century chariot scenes.(1) Regarding the chariots themselves, we have already alluded to their first appearance in Greece on the Shaft Grave ring and tombstones, where they are cumbersome box-like devices. Between that time and their appearance as swift, light-weight, manoeuverable vehicles on a mixing bowl, the so-called Chariot Vase of Mycenae ca. 400 years later, they had passed through a total of three developmental stages.

In eighth-century representations, supposedly another 400 or more years after the Late Helladic III Chariot Vase, chariots, showing no further modifications, look like “direct descendants” of the twelfth-century type. One would hardly object if the model was incapable of improvement, and thus remained unchanged for another 400 years, but there is no evidence of its existence during those intervening centuries;(2) and alongside the chariot which seems not to have changed for 400 years, other models make their first known appearance.(3)

The lack of evidence for chariots between the twelfth and eighth centuries, coupled with the impoverished picture of the Greeks, which modern scholars note during that “Dark Age,” led Snodgrass to conclude that chariots disappeared from Greece for 400 years, then returned to their old form.(4) Despite that admitted lack of evidence for continuity, H. Catling preferred to follow those who believed that chariots did persist in their old form throughout the Dark Age, rather “than to add chariots to the long list of war-gear that failed to survive the Mycenaean period, and did not reappear in Greece until the eighth century or later.” (5) Nevertheless, Snodgrass, who has specialized in, and been instrumental in compiling that “long list of war-gear,” and who has also grappled with the problem of the Dark Age, which scholars place between the end of the Mycenaean Period and the eighth century, still believed that chariots disappeared for centuries, not to return until the eighth century.(6) The debate—at times rather heated—still continues.(7) Integrally related to that controversy is yet another one concerning Homer’s references to chariots and chariot warfare, which some date to the thirteenth century, others to the eighth—which “raises a serious problem” for philologists as well.(8)


  1. M. A. Littauer, “The Military Use of the Chariot in the Aegean in the Late Bronze Age,” AJA, 76 (1972), pp. 145-146 and “The Entrance to the Citadel,” n. 11.

  2. H. W. Catling, “A Mycenaean Puzzle from Lefkandi in Euboea, American Journal of Archaeology 72 (1968), p. 48.

  3. P. Greenhalgh, Early Greek Warfare (Cambridge, 1973), pp. 19, 29-39.

  4. Snodgrass, Early Greek Armour and Weapons (Edinburgh, 1964), pp. 159-163.

  5. Catling (1968), p. 48.

  6. Snodgrass, The Dark Age of Greece (Edinburgh, 1971), p. 433; idem, “An Historical Homeric Society?” Journal of Hellenic Studies 94 (1974), p. 123, n. 40; idem, review of Greenhalgh’s Early Greek Warfare in Journal of Hellenic Studies 94 (1974), p. 225.

  7. Greenhalgh (1973, pp. 19, 29-39), J. V. Luce, (Homer and the Homeric Age [London, 1975] pp. 39-40) and O. Dickinson (“Archaeological Facts and Greek Traditions,” Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of the University of Birmingham 12.2 [1973-74], pp. 39-40) all concur with Catling, postulating that at least the aristocrats still used chariots during the Dark Age. Snodgrass (see n. 6) still held his original position that probably no one could afford such a luxury during the Dark Age, and the lack of evidence probably signalled a lack of real chariots—a conclusion with which G. Kirk (“The Homeric Poems as History,” The Cambridge Ancient History, Third ed., Vol. II, pt. 2 [Cambridge, 1975], p. 840) agreed. Greenhalgh, Early Greek Warfare [Cambridge, 1973], p. 19) noted that the absence of evidence seems entirely due to the lack of any figural representations in contemporary Greek art. That observation is certainly true for Greece and the Aegean—a source of consternation for art historians, as we shall soon see. Cyprus, however, was both part of the Greek world and in close contact with the Orient where the vehicle presumably persisted; it has produced some actual chariot remains (V. Karageorghis, Salamis in Cyprus [London, 1969] pp. 68-69, 78); its Mycenaean and Archaic pottery, and its terracotta models frequently depict chariots; its art continued to have figural representations at a time when Greece did not; its armies continued to employ war chariots long after the Greeks had ceased to use them; and all commentators, including Snodgrass (1964, p. 163), believe that chariots persisted in Cyprus throughout the Dark Age, with the seventh-century examples even resembling the Mycenaean model (Karageorghis, p. 69). Despite all that, both for actual remains and for representations of chariots, Cyprus has that same embarrassing gap from the twelfth century till the eighth/seventh (Karageorghis, “A propos des quelques representations de chars sur des vases chypriotes de l’Age du Fer,” BCH 90 [1966], p. 101; idem and J. des Gagniers, La Ceramique Chypriote de style figure [Rome, 1974], pp. 15-17).

  8. G. S. Kirk, ibid., p. 839. For discussions favoring Mycenaean times, see Snodgrass, (1964, 1971); Kirk, (1975); Greenhalgh, (1973, p. 17); R. Hope Simpson and J. F. Lazenby, The Catalogue of the Ships in Homer’s Iliad (Oxford, 1970), pp. 4-5. For discussions favoring the eighth century, See J. K. Anderson, “Homeric, British and Cyrenaic Chariots,” American Journal of Archaeology 69 (1965), pp. 349-352; idem, “Greek Chariot-borne and Mounted Infantry,” American Journal of Archaeology 79 (1975), pp. 175, 184 and “Shaft Grave Art: Modern Problems,” n. 63; G. Ahlberg, Prothesis and Ekphora in Greek Geometric Art (Lund, 1971), p. 210; idem, Fighting on Land and Sea in Greek Geometric Art (Lund, 1971), pp. 70 and n. 34, 109-110. For discussions that waver between Mycenaean times and the eighth century, see Kirk, The Language and Background of Homer (Cambridge, 1964), p. 176 and J. Wiesner, Fahren und Reiten (Archaeologia Homerica, I F) (Göttingen, 1968), pp. 92-110, esp. 93.