The Archaeological Park of Pompeii and the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata
have released a press statement announcing the discovery of an extraordinary find, which has emerged
intact from the excavation of the suburban Villa of Civita Giuliana,
beyond the walls to the north of the ancient city of Pompeii, as part of
the joint operations launched in 2017 and in accordance with the Memorandum of Understanding signed in 2019, which sought to combat illegal activities which had been conducted in the area. A large ceremonial chariot with four wheels,
along with its iron components, beautiful bronze and tin decorations,
mineralised wood remains and imprints of organic materials (from the
ropes to the remains of floral decoration), has been discovered almost
intact in the portico facing the stable where, in 2018, the remains of 3 Equids, including a Horse still in its harness, had already been
Ceremonial chariot unearthed at the suburban Villa of Civita Giuliana, Pompeii. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
This is an exceptional discovery, not only because it adds an additional
element to the history of this dwelling and the story of the last
moments in the lives of those who lived in it, as well as more generally
to our understanding of the ancient world, but above all because it
represents a unique find, which has no parallel in Italy thus far, in
an excellent state of preservation.
The ongoing excavation project has a dual objective: firstly, to
cooperate with the investigations of the Public Prosecutor’s Office of
Torre Annunziata, in order to bring an end to the looting of cultural
heritage by perpetrators who had dug several tunnels in the area in
order to intercept archaeological treasures, and secondly, to reveal one
of the most significant villas of the Vesuvian area and to protect it
from further looting.
The excavations, which have also allowed the Archaeological Park of Pompeii to verify the extent of the illegal tunnels
and the damage they have inflicted on cultural heritage, have been
constantly accompanied by stabilisation and restoration operations on
what has steadily emerged. Indeed, from the start, the excavation has
been characterised by considerable technical-operational complexity,
since the rooms to be studied are partially below and alongside modern
dwellings, with all of the consequent structural and logistical
difficulties such a situation entails.
The interventions which have been carried out over recent months have required careful planning on the part of an interdisciplinary team composed of archaeologists, architects, engineers, restorers, vulcanologists and specialised workers but also, as the excavation proceeded, archaeobotanists and anthropologists.
An excavation was subsequently carried out which reached a depth of 6
metres relative to the road level, with stabilisation both of the
excavation fronts and the robust masonry structures - which were
preserved up to a level of 4 metres - that emerged over the course of
From the very beginning, the excavation of the room where the chariot was found revealed its exceptional nature: the area in question is in fact a double-level portico which opens onto an uncovered courtyard, and which features the carbonised wooden ceiling with its network of beams, preserved in its entirety.
A carbonised wooden ceiling with a network of beam that emerged during excavations at the Villa of Civita Giuliana. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
In keeping with the interdisciplinary perspective consistently adopted
in the excavations of the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, archaeobotanical analyses
have been carried out on the wood, which have shown that the ceiling
was constructed of deciduous Oak wood (Quercus cf. robur, or English Oak), a timber which was frequently used in the Roman age for
structural elements. The carbonised wooden structure of the door on the
southern side of the room, which connected the portico to the stable
where the three Equids were recently discovered, was also preserved,
and upon analysis was identified as Beechwood.
The wooden ceiling was carefully consolidated, cleaned, and
removed from the excavation area in order to permit the investigations
On 7 January 2021 an
iron artefact, the shape of which suggested the presence of a
significant buried artefact, emerged from the covering of volcanic
material which had flooded into the portico, just below the removed
wooden ceiling.Excavation work at the Villa of Civita Giuliana. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
The excavation, which proceeded slowly over the following weeks due to
the fragility of the elements which were progressively emerging,
unearthed a ceremonial chariot, which had miraculously
been spared by both the collapse of the walls and ceiling of the room
and by the illegal activities, with tunnels passing it by on two sides,
but without compromising the structure.
Chariot emerging from volcanic ash at the Villa of Civita Giuliana. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
From the moment it was identified, the excavation of the chariot has
proved to be particularly complex due to the fragility of the materials
involved and the difficult working conditions; as a result, it was
necessary to proceed by means of a micro-excavation conducted by the restorers of the Park, who are specialised in the treatment of wood and metals. At the same time, whenever a void was discovered, plaster was poured in as part of an attempt to preserve the imprint of the organic material that was no longer present. Consequently,
it has been possible to preserve the shaft and platform of the chariot,
as well as the imprints of ropes, thus revealing the chariot in all of
Micro-excavation work being carried out to expose the chariot at Villa of Civita Giuliana. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
Given the extreme fragility of the chariot and the risk of possible illegal operations and damage caused by news leaks, the
team has worked every weekend since mid-January, both to guarantee its
conservation but also to send a strong signal of the Park’s action to
protect the heritage, alongside the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre
Annunziata and officers of the Naples Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage, assisted by investigators of the
Carabinieri Group Command of Torre Annunziata.
This collaboration also led to the participation of Park technicians in
the ongoing trial of the alleged illegal excavators, who have struck
this villa severely in recent years.
With the in situ micro-excavation completed, the various
elements of the chariot have been transported to the laboratory of the
Archaeological Park of Pompeii, where the restorers are working to
complete the removal of volcanic material which still engulfs certain
metal elements, and to begin the lengthy restoration and reconstruction
of the chariot.
What has emerged has been systematically recorded via careful photographic documentation and through laser scanner surveying.
Photographic documentation and laser scanner surveying of the archaeological site at Villa of Civita Giuliana. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
'Pompeii continues to amaze with all of its discoveries, and it will
continue to do so for many years yet, with twenty hectares still to be
excavated. But above all, it demonstrates that valorisation can occur,
and tourists can be attracted from all over the world, whilst at the
same time research, education and studies are being conducted, and a
young director like Zuchtriegel will develop this commitment.' Commented the Minister of Culture Dario Franceschini
on the discovery of the chariot in the excavations of Civita Giulia. 'What has been announced today is a discovery of great scientific value.
A round of applause and thanks to the Archaeological Park of Pompeii,
the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata and to the officers
of the Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection of Cultural Heritage
for the collaboration which has averted the theft and illegal sale of
these extraordinary finds on the black market. It is an extraordinary discovery for the advancement of our knowledge of the ancient world', declared Massimo Osanna, outgoing Director of the Archaeological Park, 'At Pompeii vehicles used for transport have been found in the past,
such as that of the House of Menander, or the two chariots discovered at
Villa Arianna (one of which can be admired at the new Stabian
Antiquarium), but nothing like the Civita Giuliana chariot.
What we have is a ceremonial chariot, probably the Pilentum
referred to by some sources, which was employed not for everyday use or
for agricultural transport, but to accompany community festivities,
parades and processions. This type of chariot, which has never before
emerged from Italian soil, bears comparison with finds uncovered around
fifteen years ago inside a burial mound in Thrace (in northern Greece,
near the Bulgarian border). One of the Thracian chariots is particularly
similar to ours, even if it lacks the extraordinary figurative
decorations that accompany the Pompeian find. The scenes on the medallions which embellish the rear of the
chariot refer to Eros (Satyrs and nymphs), while the numerous studs
feature erotes. Considering that the ancient sources allude to the use
of the Piletum by priestesses and ladies, one cannot exclude
the possibility that this could have been a chariot used for rituals
relating to marriage, for leading the bride to her new household. If the entire operation had not been initiated courtesy of the synergy with the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre Annunziata, with
which a memorandum of understanding was signed in order to combat the
criminal phenomena of looting archaeological sites and trafficking finds
and works of art, we would have lost extraordinary testimonies which
enhance our understanding of the ancient world.'
'In recent years the Public Prosecutor’s Office at the Court of Torre Annunziata has paid constant attention to the protection of the immense archaeological heritage present in our jurisdiction,' declared the Chief Prosecutor of Torre Annunziata, Nunzio Fragliasso. 'The fight against the looting of archaeological sites, both inside
and outside the urban area of ancient Pompeii, is certainly one of the
primary objectives of the Office. It is in this context that the memorandum signed by this Public
Prosecutor’s Office in 2019 with the Archaeological Park of Pompeii is
placed, which represents a ‘pilot agreement’ in the field of synergy
between Institutions for safeguarding national artistic heritage. The collaboration between the Public Prosecutor’s Office of Torre
Annunziata and the Archaeological Park of Pompeii has proved itself to
be a formidable instrument, not only for bringing finds of exceptional
historical and artistic value to light, but also for halting the
criminal actions of individuals who for years have been the protagonists
in a systematic looting of the priceless archaeological heritage
preserved in the vast area of the Civita Giuliana Villa, which is still
largely buried and to which the recent exceptional findings bear
witness. The criminal activities of which the Public Prosecutor’s Office of
Torre Annunziata had been made aware, and which had to be fully
confirmed, specifically the digging of a complex network of tunnels at a
depth of over 5 metres, and the looting and partial destruction of
illegally explored areas, required an investigative operation which
could not have been carried out other than by a planned archaeological
excavation, which was consequently conducted alongside the
Archaeological Park of Pompeii. The excavation operations carried out on the site by the
Archaeological Park of Pompeii with the aid, for investigative purposes,
of officers of the Carabinieri Headquarters for the Protection, under
the constant coordination of Assistant Prosecutor Filippelli, made
it possible to gather decisive and irrefutable evidence of serious and
repeated incidents of the theft and trafficking of precious
archaeological finds by ‘grave robbers’. Among other things, it has been established that the very chariot
which has now been unearthed had miraculously escaped the looting of
grave robbers, despite being literally touched by the tunnels dug by the
perpetrators at a depth of over 5 metres. As we speak, the criminal trial against two defendants suspected of
being the chief architects of the aforementioned criminal activity,
whose dwelling still now stands on the site of a plundered Ancient Roman
villa, is proceeding before the Court of Torre Annunziata. The investigations have allowed us to ascertain that the network of
over 80 metres of tunnels used for the systematic looting of the
archaeological area originated at the property of the two defendants. Over the coming years, the work of this Office in the protection of
artistic, archaeological and cultural heritage of the area will be
constant and will be given the highest priority, giving particular
attention to the operation aimed at the recovery of precious
archaeological finds which have been stolen and exported abroad, and
Plan of the tunnels investigated as of 8 February 2021. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
The chariot was found inside a double-level portico which probably faced
onto an uncovered courtyard, not far from the already-investigated
stable, to which it was connected by a door.
The layer of cinerite which entombed the chariot had allowed the preservation of its original dimensions and of the individual parts which mark out the connected structure.
Location of the Civita Giuliana Villa to the north of Pompeii. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
The four-wheeled chariot, on the basis of information recorded by ancient sources and the few
archaeological traces that have otherwise been found to date, can
probably be identified as a pilentum, a transport vehicle used in the Roman world by the elites in ceremonial contexts.
The Civita Giuliana Villa chariot during excavation. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
Atop high iron wheels, connected by an advanced
mechanical system, rests the light carriage (0.90 x 1.40 m), or the main
part of the chariot, where the seat was located, surrounded by metal
arm and backrests, for either one or two individuals.
One of the wheels of the Civita Giuliana Villa chariot. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
The carriage is richly decorated along both sides with alternating
engraved bronze sheet and red and black painted wooden panels, whilst at
the rear there is a complex and extensive decorative system featuring three distinct registers with a succession of bronze and tin medallions with figurative scenes.
These medallions, set in bronze sheet and surrounded by decorative
motifs, represent male and female figures in relief, depicted in erotic
The Civita Giuliana Villa chariot during excavation. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
The bronze sheet is also decorated in its upper section with small
medallions, also in tin, which depict cupids engaged in various
activities. In the lower section of the chariot there is a small female
herm in bronze with a crown.
Bronze medalion on the Civita Giuliana Villa chariot during excavation. Archaeological Park of Pompeii.
Archaeobotanical analyses were also conducted in this
instance, which showed that the wood used to create the side structures
and rear of the chariot, to which the bronze decorative elements were
fixed with small nails and clamps, was beech, which is particularly
suitable for this kind of production.
This kind of chariot is entirely unique in Italy,
not only on account of its state of preservation, as we have not only
individual decorations but the entire vehicle, but also because it is
not a chariot used for the transport of agricultural products or the
activities of daily life, as is already attested both at Pompeii and
In the adjacent stable, which had already been investigated, it was
possible to create casts not only of the trough, but also of a large
horse, which bore a rich bronze harness.
In the same room two other horses were discovered, one lying on its
right side and the other on its left, of which it was sadly not possible
to make a cast as a result of the damage caused by the tunnels of the
grave robbers, and subsequent overbuilding of the cavities, which
destroyed the context of the discovery. Nevertheless, other bronze
harness elements were recovered, relating to a saddle and other parade
elements, which can certainly be connected to the newly discovered
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