The Horses of Saint Mark in Venice

A quadriga is a car or chariot drawn by four horses abreast and favoured for chariot racing in classical antiquity and the Roman Empire. The word derives from the Latin quadrigae, a contraction of quadriiugae, from quadri-: four, and iugum: yoke. In Latin the word quadrigae is almost always used in the plural[1] and usually refers to the team of four horses rather than the chariot they pull.[2] In Greek, a four-horse chariot was known as τέθριππον téthrippon.[3]

The four-horse abreast arrangement in a quadriga is distinct from the more common four-in-hand array of two horses in the front plus two horses behind those.

Quadrigae were raced in the Ancient Olympic Games and other contests. They are represented in profile pulling the chariot of gods and heroes on Greek vases and in bas-relief. During the festival of the Halieia, the ancient Rhodians would sacrifice a quadriga-chariot by throwing it into the sea.[4] The quadriga was adopted in ancient Roman chariot racing.

Quadrigas were emblems of triumph. Victory or Fame are often depicted as the triumphant woman driving it. In classical mythology, the quadriga is the chariot of the gods. The god of the Sun Helios, often identified with Apollo, the god of light, was depicted driving his quadriga across the heavens, delivering daylight and dispersing the night.[5]

Marcus Aurelius celebrating his Roman triumph in 176 AD over the enemies of the Marcomannic Wars, from his now destroyed triumphal arch in Rome, Capitoline Museums, 176–180 AD

Classical sculpture

Genesis 41:42–43: "And Pharaoh … made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt." Miniature from the Paris Gregory, a 9th-century Greek manuscript, Bibliothèque nationale de France

Main article: Horses of Saint Mark

Modern sculptural quadrigas are based on the four bronze Horses of Saint Mark or the "Triumphal Quadriga", a set of equine Roman or Greek sculptures, the only representation of a quadriga to survive from the classical world, and the pattern for all that follow.[6][need quotation to verify] Their age is disputed. Originally erected in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, possibly on a triumphal arch, they are now in St Mark's Basilica in Venice.

Venetian Crusaders looted these sculptures in the Fourth Crusade, which dates them to at least 1204, and placed them on the terrace of St Mark's Basilica. In 1797, Napoleon carried the quadriga off to Paris. They were returned after Napoleon's fall. Due to the effects of atmospheric pollution, the original quadriga was retired to a museum and replaced with a replica in the 1980s.

Quadrigae also appear on the frieze of the Libyco-Punic Mausoleum of Dougga, which dates to the 2nd century BC.


Though quadrigae were usually drawn by horses, occasionally, other animals or mythological creatures were employed in spectacles and in art. Elephants were sometimes used to draw quadrigae in the Roman imperial period, and more frequently elephant quadrigae were depicted on coins and other official images. In art and sculpture, quadrigae ridden in by the gods were appropriate to their characters; Neptune's quadriga was drawn, for example, by hippocampi (mythological sea-horses).

Modern quadrigas

Some of the most significant full-size free-standing sculptures of quadrigas include, in approximate chronological order:


See also


  1. ^ According to Aulus Gellius 19.8, Julius Caesar considered it incorrect to use the word in the singular.
  2. ^ Lewis and Short Latin Dictionary, s.v. quadrigae.
  3. ^ Liddell, Scott, Jones Greek Lexicon, s.v. τέθριππος.
  4. ^ Farnell, Lewis, The Cults of the Greek States Vol. ΙV, Cambridge University Press, 2010, ISBN 978-1-108-01546-2, p. 20, note b.
  5. ^ Smith, s.v. Helios
  6. ^ Annual Report of the American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society to the Legislature of the State of New York, Volume 18, by American Scenic and Historic Preservation Society, 1913, page 344
  7. ^ "A Point of View: The European dream has become a nightmare". BBC News. 18 May 2012.
  8. ^ Brandenburg Gate. Archived February 24, 2008, at the Wayback Machine Berlin – Offizielles Stadtportal der Hauptstadt Deutschlands –
  9. ^ "World's Columbian Exposition : Photographic Archive : The University of Chicago".
  10. ^ Sprague, Elmer, Brooklyn Public Monuments: Sculpture for Civic Memory and Urban Pride, Dog Ear Publishing, Indianapolis, IN, 2008 p. 76
  11. ^ Rhind, John Massey; Scott, John (31 May 2018). "Victory and Progress" – via Library Catalog.
  12. ^ "Historic Adventures".
  13. ^ "KSU unveils rare replica of Quattro Cavalli statue". State Journal. August 24, 2020.