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Oxus Treasure

  • Object type

  • Museum number


  • Title (series)

    • Oxus Treasure
  • Description

    Model of gold chariot drawn by four horses abreast: the chariot box or cab is open at the back. It has an irregular square front, wider at the top than the bottom, ornamented with two incised bands in saltire, probably representing diagonal bracing struts. These bands are decorated with triangles and have a Bes head at the intersection. The floor is covered with cross-hatching, most probably representing a flooring of interlaced leather thongs. The two large wheels each have nine spokes, and the running surfaces are studded with small pellets to represent the bulbous heads of large stud-like nails which in the full-size original would have secured a tyre and felloe-sheathing of bronze. The axle is soldered at either end but the wheels originally rotated freely. A seat, in the form of a narrow strip of gold, runs from the front to back of the interior. On this is seated the principal figure. He wears a long robe reaching to the ankles, the sleeves of which appear to be empty like those of the 'kandys'. On his head is a hood or cap, around the front of which is a flat strip of gold, resembling a fillet, with the ends projecting above the forehead, and around his neck is a gold wire torc. The driver wears a similar cap without a fillet, a short girded tunic and a wire torc; his legs are also formed of wires. The two human figures are fixed to the chariot by wires.

    The chariot is pulled via a pair of draught-poles fixed to four horses under a single four-bay yoke. On the yoke, above each horse, is a large loop, representing the terrets, through which the wire reins pass; alternating with these loops were originally four crescentic fan-shaped yoke ornaments. The bits have large rings at the sides as rein attachments, and each animal has duplicate representations of the neck-strap and backing-element, the former with a pendant tassel, punched into the metal.

    The horses are small, pony-sized animals, but otherwise have the appearance of ram-headed Nesaeans. Their tails are tied up in mud-knots and the hair of the forelock is pulled back Only nine legs of the horses survive and the spokes of one wheel are imperfect. The two human figures are fixed to the chariot by wires passing through holes in the bottom and doubled over beneath. In the case of the charioteer these wires are attached to a small plate connecting his feet; in the case of the other figure they are longer, and also pass through the seat.


  • Culture/period

  • Date

    • 5thC BC-4thC BC
  • Findspot

  • Materials

  • Technique

  • Dimensions

    • Length: 19.5 centimetres
    • Height: 7.5 centimetres
    • Height: 4.5 centimetres (wheel)
    • Weight: 75.5 grammes
  • Curator's comments

    WAA Slide no. 15. Also illustrated or discussed in: Charriere 'Scythian Art', fig. 332; 'Antiquity' 178, pl. XXII; 'Iraq' 33, p. 28, pl. 9a; Pugachenkova 'Iskusstvo Baktrii epochi Kushan', fig. 3; review by St J Simpson in 'Hali' 82 (1995).

    Related bronze chariot-model formerly in the Bröckelschen Collection, attributed to western Iran and a 7th-6th century BC date by P. Calmeyer and more recently by Houshang Mahboubian in "Art of Ancient Iran: Copper and Bronze" (London 1997), p. 252, cat. no. 329. The profile of the chariot and the wheel construction exactly match representations of Achaemenid chariots on the sculptured facades of the Apadana at Persepolis, the so-called Darius seal, and the upper register of a Persian-period stela from Paphlagonia. These do not show the fronts of the chariots, thus it is unclear what was normally used to decorate this portion of the chariot. The use of a Bes-head on the Oxus chariot-model is compatible with it having been made for a boy as Bes was regarded as being a protective deity of the young, and his popularity throughout the Persian empire is demonstrated by the discovery of amulets (e.g. in a hoard at Babylon) and on gold jewellery. The hand rail at the back of the Oxus chariot model is a practical feature for mounting and dismounting and has also been noted on a Persian-period chariot model from Amathonte in Cyprus, and on sarcophagi of the same period. The identification of the horses has attracted some different opinions. Littauer (1971) suggested they were ponies and the vehicle was merely an excursion chariot but others have regarded them as Nisaean horses (Curtis & Tallis eds 2005: 222).


  • Bibliography

    • Mongiatti, Meeks & Simpson 2010 bibliographic details
    • MacGregor 2010 26 bibliographic details
    • Curtis & Tallis 2005 399 bibliographic details
    • Dalton 1964a 7, pp. 3-4, pl. IV bibliographic details
    • Curtis & Tallis 2012 98 bibliographic details
    • Pugachenkova G A & Rempel L I 1965a fig. 4 bibliographic details
    • Rogers R W 1929a fig.35 bibliographic details
    • Pinder-Wilson 1971a no.24 bibliographic details
    • Du Ry C J 1969a p. 152 bibliographic details
    • Knowles D 2003a p. 20 bibliographic details
    • Gafurov B G & Cibukidis D I 1980a p. 263, figure bibliographic details
    • Boardman J 1994a p.114 bibliographic details
    • Abdi 1999a p.135, table 8.4 bibliographic details
    • Littauer M A & Crouwel J H 1979 p.145, fig.82 bibliographic details
    • Roaf M 1990a p.221 bibliographic details
    • Hicks J 1976a p.70 bibliographic details
    • Karageorghis 1973 p.79, figs 10-11, pls bibliographic details
    • Allen 2005a p.93 (suggests it may be a religious dedication) bibliographic details
    • Von der Osten H H 1956a pl. 73: top bibliographic details
    • Barnett 1968a pl.V.1 bibliographic details
    • Simpson 2004b pp. 230-32 (discussion of Bes) bibliographic details
    • Littauer M 1971a pp.27-28, pl. IXa bibliographic details
    • Simpson 2012a pp.32-33 bibliographic details
    • Kipiani 1999 pp.7-18 bibliographic details
    • Kipiani 2000 pp.74-95 bibliographic details
  • Location

    On display: G52/dc3

  • Exhibition history


    2012 24 May - 30 Sep, London, BM, 'The horse: from Arabia to Royal Ascot'
    2010-2011, London, BM/BBC, 'A History of the World in 100 Objects'
    2006 7 Mar-11 Jun, Barcelona, Fundacion La Caixa, 'L'imperi Oblidat'
    2005-2006 Sept-Jan, London, BM, 'Forgotten Empire'
    1995-2005 17 Nov-Aug BM, G52/IRAN/27
    1994 16 Jun-23 Dec, BM, G49/IRAN/27
    1989 Temporary display, BM, Room 35 (Hinton St Mary mosaic staircase)
    Iranian Room [IR], OT case, no. 7, Jul 1975-ca 1990
    1979, State Hermitage, Leningrad
    1975-ca 1990 Jul- BM, Iranian Room [IR], OT case
    1971, BM, 'Royal Persia: a commemoration of Cyrus the Great and his successors on the occasion of the 2500th anniversary of the founding of the Persian Empire'
    1958- Persian Landing, c/c (south-west)
    1931-ca 1939 BM, Room 20: Persian Room
    1923-1931 BM, King Edward VII Building: Franks Display
    1900- BM, Gold Ornament Room

  • Condition

    Only nine legs of the horses survive (out of a total of sixteen); the wheels no longer move freely as they have been partially glued (in 1975); the same glue was used on the underside to fix the split pins securing the figures inside the chariot.

  • Subjects

  • Associated names

  • Acquisition name

  • Acquisition date


  • Department

    Middle East

  • BM/Big number


  • Registration number


  • Additional IDs

    • OT 7 (catalogue number)
COMPASS Title: Gold model chariot from the Oxus treasure

3/4: Left

COMPASS Title: Gold model chariot from the Oxus treasure

Image description



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Object reference number: WCO26153

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