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Sesostris Chariot in a Roman Circus? A New Interpretation of a Scene depicted on an Imperial Oil Lamp

Abstract : Since 1878 the British Museum in London has housed a Roman oil lamp (inv. no. 1878,1019.316) dated by different researchers to between 175 and 225 c.e. that displays an unusual scene on its discus: three (or perhaps four) individuals are depicted harnessed in place of horses to a chariot, while a fifth man wields a lash and drives the chariot. The presence of the metae and a crowd of spectators in the background indicates that the setting is a Roman circus. A chariot team of this kind during the ludi circenses in the Roman world is not mentioned in any known literary source nor to my knowledge does it have any visual parallel. Few historians have commented on the meaning of the scene depicted on this lamp, but most think that such a spectacle could have taken place in a Roman circus. Although many uncertainties remain about the object, this article argues that the scene on the medallion represents a punishment, whose stage setting was probably inspired by a legend about an Egyptian pharaoh they name Sesostris or Sesoösis that is mentioned by several Greek and Latin authors. This pseudo-historical character supposedly used to harness to his chariot the kings and chieftains of the lands he had conquered. Taking this interpretation as a point of departure, several different hypotheses are advanced about the possible sponsor of this show.
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Contributor : Sylvain Forichon <>
Submitted on : Sunday, March 22, 2020 - 10:05:48 PM
Last modification on : Monday, May 10, 2021 - 4:12:01 PM
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Sylvain Forichon. Sesostris Chariot in a Roman Circus? A New Interpretation of a Scene depicted on an Imperial Oil Lamp. Memoirs of the American Academy in Rome, Istituto Italian d'arti grafiche, 2019, 63/64, pp.237-252. ⟨halshs-02428887⟩



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