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A 'Lamborghini' of Chariots Is Discovered at Pompeii (npr.org)
169 points by protomyth 44 days ago | hide | past | favorite | 64 comments

Some background on why we're seeing more Pompeii discoveries lately, as well as why looting is up as well: https://www.cnn.com/travel/article/pompeii-new-excavations-l...

>Notably, the chariot is adorned with metal medallions depicting satyrs, nymphs and cupids, suggesting the possibility that it may have been used in marriage ceremonies.

I know it's Italy, but that still sounds more like a Rolls or a Bentley than a Lamborghini to me :)

Sounds like amazing Italian vehicle design pedigree goes back way further than we originally thought!

I once read about a lightweight, two-wheeled chariot model which reckless rich men raced in the night and crashed. I was expecting something similar.

To add some historical context, chariots were the dominant battlefield technology throughout the Old World for centuries—maybe like the Bronze Age version of a main battle tank. But in the Iron Age (around 01000 BCE) they were displaced by massed formations with spears, which continued to be the dominant battlefield technology until the Gatling and Maxim guns in the late 01800s (CE). Pompeii is preserved, if that's the word, from 00079 CE, so at that point chariots had been primarily ceremonial for about a millennium, like cavalry is today.

Why are you using a leading 0s for all your years? It makes things less clear and is an odd pretension.

Also, this

> massed formations with spears, which continued to be the dominant battlefield technology until the Gatling and Maxim guns in the late 01800s (CE)

is absolutely not true at all.

> Why are you using a leading 0s for all your years?

They're octal.

It’s supposed to encourage long term thinking. Although I’ve always wondered why in that case it’s just one more zero. Maybe they could spare 2 or 3; have some optimism about the future! I guess it’s just a shibboleth, if I’m using that word right.

A shibboleth is a long established custom. I think the word you are looking for here is fetish, or aspiration.

It's sort of like the opposite of a shibboleth. It's a sibboleth! If you say it, you get stabbed!

Read this comment yesterday, and by chance came across a website this morning that also uses the 5-digit notation. Example: https://longbets.org/362/

(Edit: See the <title>)


So you’re using this confusing 5-digit notation to help clarify things for historians ~8000 years from now?

He clearly wrote that he's doing it to put the scale of history into perspective for the reader. You're free to believe it's a good or bad notation, but I don't see what it adds to be hostile to a person for their unusual notation.

The Long Now blog seems to suggest it's more about reminding devs in the 9990s that if they don't store dates as 5 digit integers they might have a millennium bug!

Feels like the futurist version of expressing your deity's name as G-d.

But it makes it very encouraging to store them as 16 bit integers

Assuming that they can even read this.....

No, it's just a bit of thought-provoking fun! It also has the advantage of really pissing off the kind of mindless conformists who beat up gay people, hackers, and anybody else who seems "odd" or "queer".

There's literally nothing in my comment or in the page it links to about clarifying things for historians. That would be stupid.

A little known facet of this is that chariots only had to exist because horses had not yet been widely bred to the size and strength needed to carry a fully loaded soldier with armor on horseback.

Following on that, the need for chariots was the impetus for some early iterations of reinventing the wheel, because the required attributes of chariot wheels were so demanding (light, strong, quick to repair) compared to earlier wheels used for traditional use cases at the time.

War was far more complex than that. Chariots for example had serious issues on uneven terrain so they where uncommon to nonexistent in many regions. Archery eventually overtook the javelin but was significantly more or less effective at various points.

Which regions do you mean?

Most of the old Persian Empire was unsuitable for Chariots in the words of ancient writers, because of things like sand and irregular terrain.

Darius III fought against Alexander in Gaugamela clearing and preparing the ground so he could use Chariots. But Greeks could see the tracks on the ground and just let the chariots pass on their tracks(they could not move out).

Greeks themselves could not use Chariots on their land because it is also irregular, but chariot racing were their favorite pastime. They built special circuits just for that.

I don't think this is entirely accurate! It's true that Darius's chariots lost to Alexander's phalanges at Arbela, but that's not because Persia was especially unsuitable to chariot battles. Where Persia was unusual was in continuing to use chariots 600 years after everyone else had moved to spear formations! Alexander and Darius III weren't born until centuries into the Iron Age—in the usual chronology, after the Iron Age and in Classical Antiquity. So, if there's a terrain factor in play here, it must have been that the Persian Empire must have been unusually well suited for chariots!

It's true that there's debate about to what extent Mycenaean Greece used battle chariots in the Bronze Age, when chariots dominated the battlefield throughout Egypt and Asia Minor, and I didn't know that. We don't have the extensive written record there that we have from China, Hatti, Egypt, and the like, but we do have archaeological finds. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_of_Mycenaean_Greece#C... claims that they were used to some extent, but https://www.ancientworldmagazine.com/videos/mycenaean-chario... says that in northern Greece they weren't used at all!

However, contrary to what I was saying above, it turns out that there's ample evidence of chariot use for battlefield transport—like a tiny armored personnel carrier rather than a tank—from at least Mycenaean Greece until the Celts got genocided by Caesar.

Thanks for the information!

For chariots have issues with steep hills and forests, but are particularly useless in mountains.

Which regions have significant Bronze Age battles that weren't dominated by chariots, whether due to forests, hills, mountains, or any other factor? I mean certainly it's true that war is complex, and clearly trying to attack a warship with chariots would be doomed (chariots don't float well) but I'm not familiar with historical battles fitting your description. But there are a lot of things I don't know!

There is at least one pretty big battle in Easter Europe from 1100 bc. The battle was fought for the control of a bridge and chariots wouldn't have been useful there. The case was covered a few times on HN but I can't find the source right now.

In general the bigger part of Europe was covered by forests until the middle ages when agriculture and industry displaced them.

Sounds interesting! I'm interested to hear more, if you manage to dig it up.

This is it. There was at least one more article bazed on the findings from the same site, but this is left as an exercise to the curious. :)


Thank you!

but what about the battles of Lexington and Concord when the minutemen shooting from behind trees and walls were able to deal a resounding defeat to the redcoats with their massed formations with spears?

There were definitely a lot of exceptions! But bayonet charges were still a thing, and massed formations with spears still often defeated groups of riflemen at the time.

Aren't there non-military uses for transportation?

Yes, but the chariot originated as a military vehicle. Fast transportation was provided by horses, while bulk transportation was provided by boats, wagons, or, in China, a vehicle commonly called a "wheelbarrow", though it's very unlike the common modern device by the same name. The chariot, by virtue of holding two men, allowed an archer to travel at the speed of a galloping horse, while also protecting them to some extent from the arrows, axes, and swords of others.

It was an unbeatable battlefield combination for centuries, and the accounts of Bronze Age battles—in Hatti, Egypt, India, and China—are basically accounts of battles between chariot formations.

And then... it wasn't.

My question was that while this particular chariot seems like it might have been used for ceremonial purposes, was that true for all chariots? The military context is interesting, but its surely only part of the picture.

To put it a different way, after its military significance faded, was it actually relegated to purely ceremonial uses or was it a popular means of transportation?

Neither! Chariot racing was a popular sport from Homeric Greece (≈01200 BCE, during the heyday of the military chariot itself) through to Classical Greece, Imperial Rome, and Byzantium until at least 00600 CE, for instance, and that's neither "purely ceremonial" nor "transportation". I think the closest modern analogy is horseback riding, which is done almost entirely for recreational and ceremonial purposes nowadays, but is a popular hobby among the wealthy and the rural.

But, unlike horseback riding, chariots were never a practical means of long-distance travel. They have no suspension, they have no seats, they have no cargo space, and they don't stay level. At any time period, if you're traveling all day in a chariot, it's because the chariot is in one place and you want it to be somewhere else, perhaps for a battle or a race. If you and the driver just wanted to get there yourselves, you'd just ride the horses and leave the chariot back home in the stable.

What's 00600 CE? Is it just 600 CE?

Is that the notation historians use, or what's the reasoning?

Yes, it's just 600 CE! It's not the notation historians use; it's just a bit of thought-provoking fun. It also has the advantage of really pissing off the kind of mindless conformists who beat up gay people, hackers, and anybody else who seems "odd" or "queer"! See https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26291173.

uuuhm, okay :D Are you implying I'm homophobic, or what?

No, you just asked a perfectly reasonable question! I didn't get the sense that you were vilifying me at all.

(See my correction above at https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=26296411 about short-distance transport and 'taxi' chariots.)

weren't they used for chariot races?

The story of chariots in the Roman Empire is fascinating. However much we tend to associate sports obsession and violence with contemporary times the Romans/Byzantines had us long beat.[0][1]

[0] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nika_riots

[1] https://www.smithsonianmag.com/history/blue-versus-green-roc...

Where's the substance?

> "It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world,"

How exactly did this discovery advance our knowledge of the Roman civilization? We know more about the Roman civilization than about any other civilization until modern times. We know about their military organization, weapons, campaigns, wars, victories and defeats, we know about their legal framework, administration, constructions, culture, etc, etc.

What exactly did this chariot teach us? A bunch of archeologists are throwing various superlatives to make us believe their work is important (and maybe convince us that more funding is warranted). Writers have a saying "show, don't tell". These guys should listen.

Pompeii is such a treasure. Part of me wants them to dig it all up and part of me thinks it should just stay covered - maybe for future generations in a couple more centuries.

I could possibly understand if you wanted the ruins to stay permanently covered, since that preserves the fidelity of the tragic occurrence for what it is.

But why wait a while and then dig it up? What purpose does that serve?

A hope that better methods and technologies to reconstruct the past will be available, obviously.

I see. How long should we wait?

It is a little disappointing to see npr resorting to internet ad spam style headlines. Unless of course this truly is the chariot my archeologist does not want me to know about.

The article quotes an archeologist calling it a "Lamborghini" (compared to more of a "station wagon" he typically studies) and saying he is "astounded". So, it's a fair summary to somebody, a helpful metaphor that people will understand, and conveys that it is a rare find.

Unless the quoted source is himself being sensationalist, I don't think it's "clickbait" to use his summary as a headline.

I was expecting something higher performance. "Four wheeled processional chariot" is more like an open-top limo.

The Roman Empire had good wagon technology - metal on metal bearings, lathe-turned hubs, etc.

Makes you wonder what kind of headline is acceptable, when one abbreviated solely from the quotes of experts is not.

The archeologist quoted, Eric Poehler, tweeted about it this morning: https://twitter.com/Pompeiana79/status/1365692315407441926

It's pretty spectacular.

I think this commenter was referencing the “Archaeologists Are Wowed” part of the headline, not the Lamborghini part.

And yet, the article quotes somebody saying he is "astounded". "Wowed" is an acceptable synonym, is it not? I guess they made that one archaeologist into plural...

Looking at the author's other works, it's like a soft touch clickbait. I mean it's certainly there but it's an interesting balance, pretty tempered


You hear about this from authors all the time who get disappointed in what the publishers choose for the book title.

It's been like this for a while. Donald Normans "the design of everyday things" was initially "the psychology of everyday things" but psychology books don't sell well and apparently such errant superficialities matter. He's a respectable academic, shouldn't be subject to such stuff, but here we are nonetheless.

I wish I could say content works without marketing and a bit of formulaic sensationalism for the title but it really doesn't perform without it. It appears to be kind of a requirement.

I don't think it's that psychology books in general don't sell well. The nonfiction bestsellers list always has a lot of psychology books in it†! But when it was "POET," it got shelved in the psychology section of bookstores. So, if you went into a bookstore looking for help coping with your childhood traumas or marriage problem, you might run across this book about how industrial products and software were badly designed, and how to design them better, using new findings from cognitive psychology. But if you went into the bookstore to learn about how to design industrial products or software, you'd end up in the "design" or "software" section, so you wouldn't find it.


† Right now Amazon's nonfiction bestseller list https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kindle-Store-Nonfiction/... has "The Psychopath" at #1, "Mindset" at #2, "Master Your Emotions" at #18, "The 7 Habits" at #21, "Girl, Stop Apologizing" at #28, "13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do" at #31, "The Declutter Challenge" at #34, and "Thinking, Fast and Slow" at #50, plus a number of gray-area books; the New York Times has "Think Again" at #11. I think it's fair to say that psychology books sell a buttload.

this type of nitpicking pedantry is what makes HN shine

Sic transit, Gloria!

Are you sure it wasn't a Ferrari?

The Macedonian Tau-Lambda?!

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