Glass beaker with victorious charioteer

Period: Late Imperial

Date: 4th century A.D.

Culture: Roman, Eastern Mediterranean

Medium: Glass; blown and cut

Dimensions: H. 4 1/4 in. (10.8 cm)
diameter 3 7/8 in. (9.9 cm)

Classification: Glass

Credit Line: Fletcher Fund, 1959

Accession Number: 59.11.14


As in modern times, sports were incredibly popular in the Roman world. The two principal games were gladiatorial battles, fought in arenas such as the Colosseum in Rome, and chariot races held in circuses like the Circus Maximus, also in Rome. Participants in these contests were hailed as heroes and acquired a great deal of fame, if not fortune. The games also sponsored an entire industry that produced what we might call "souvenir" merchandise, including a number of different types of glass vessels. For example, in the first century A.D., mold-blown sports cups depicting gladiators or charioteers were extremely popular. Similar scenes could also be painted onto glass vessels or, as in this example, engraved onto the exterior of the object. Like the mold-blown gladiator cup (81.10.245) in the Metropolitan's collection, this free-blown beaker shows a sporting event in progress.
A charioteer races his quadriga (four-horse chariot) in front of a small, latticed structure toward two standing figures, one of whom holds forth an unidentifiable object. The latticed fencelike structure may be a representation of the central spina of a racing circus, which served to separate the two directions of racing and prevent head-on collisions, much like the one that once existed in the Circus Maximus in Rome. The first of the four horses (closest to the chariot) is shown in three-quarter view, with the hindlegs of his three companions lined up beneath him and the forelegs of all four horses stretched forward to indicate the speed at which they travel. A row of diagonal hatch marks indicates the ground line. A Greek inscription runs along the top of the beaker, naming the charioteer Eutyches, who is known from other chariot cups, and his four horses, though only three of their names are still legible: Arethousimos, Nilos, and Pyripnous.