The votive chariot from Bujoru

Prehistory - Middle Hallstatt period
VIII-th century BC
Bronze, iron
Casting, hot hammering, chisellin
Lt: 26.00cm, lt: 15.5cm, Ht: 16.50cm; L recipient = 15.3cm; Width recipient = 13.2 cm; H chariot = 5.5 cm; D wheel = 10.2 cm
W: 2.860gr

    The votive chariot from Bujoru 

    Dr. Corina Borş

    Inv. no. 135281/ Material: bronze, iron / Technique: casting, hot hammering, chiselling / Sizes: W: 2.860gr, Lt: 26.00cm, lt: 15.5cm, Ht: 16.50cm; L recipient = 15.3cm; Width recipient = 13.2 cm; H chariot = 5.5 cm; D wheel = 10.2 cm / Discovery place: Bujoru, Bujoru commune, Teleorman county / Discovery context: tumulus inhumation grave destroyed by agricultural works (1974) / Dating: middle period of the First Iron Age (middle Hallstatt period), Ha B3–C, 8th c. BC, period of the Basarabi culture (pottery style) 

    The context of discovery 

    The miniature chariot with cauldron from Bujoru is a stray find made in spring 1974, on the occasion of intensive ploughing in the neighbourhood of the former state agricultural exploitation from Bujoru, Teleorman county in south-eastern part of Romania, near the Danube valley. On that occasion was levelled a mound of about 1.5m high and a diameter of 20m, situated 350m eastwards of the road Alexandria – Giurgiu. The second day, throughout the diligence of the local school’s manager, teacher Dobre Ghena and a group of pupils recovered some other objects which were part of the fittings of the inhumation tumulus grave destroyed one day earlier. During the autumn of the same year, archaeologist Emil Moscalu from the Institute of Archaeology in Bucharest undertook rescue archaeological excavations on the spot of the discovery. Thus was possible to establish that it was a tumulus inhumation grave destroyed by deep ploughing. 

    In such conditions, out of the funerary inventory was possible to be recovered: in spring 1974 – a miniature votive chariot with cauldron and water birds protoma and two ornitomorphic figurines (of water birds), a zoomorphic figurine (a horse), a pendant in shape of a double ax (labrys) – pertaining most probably to the miniature chariot, an appliqué for the horse’s forehead, four harness appliqués with cross shape, two harness phalerae, three fragments of saltaleoni, a small bronze bar with two vertical orifices and a small knife made of iron, as well as pottery fragments (decorated and undecorated); in autumn 1974, on the occasion of the rescue archaeological excavations – fragments from a ewer (decorated with motifs typical for the Basarabi pottery style) and well as human osteologic fragments (the skull and bones of the lower members). The funerary inventory would have contained also two pottery vessels, about 0.30–0.40m destroyed by the agricultural works along with the funerary mound. The miniature votive chariot is kept in the collection of the National History Museum of Romania in Bucharest, while the rest of the recovered inventory in the Teleorman County Museum in Alexandria.

    Object’s history after discovery

    The object was brought for the first time to the specialised laboratories of the National History Museum of Romania in 1975, for preventive conservation works and the making of a replica by Dan Ivanovici (restorer). One have to mention that in the moment of the discovery, the wheels were detached from the body of the recipient chariot, including some of the ornitomorphic protoma which adorned these components. 

    From 1975 to 1979 the original object was on display at the Teleorman County History Museum in Alexandria, while a replica was presented to the public at the National History Museum of Romania. Given the progressive degradation of the conservation stage of the object, the miniature chariot returned, in summer 1979, at the National History Museum of Romania were it went into a laborious process of investigation and restoration. These works have been undertaken by a team of specialists comprising: Doina Șeclăman Turcu (chemist), Victoria Stănescu (restorer), Emil Chivulescu (restorer), Rolando Negoiță (restorer) and Aldo Chivulescu (restorer). On this occasion, during one year, were made chemical treatments, subjoins with epoxy resin for the missing parts (5 pendants in shape of a double-axe, fixing rings, the ornitomorphic protoma from the wheels), the consolidation of the cracks and the setting of the wheels to the chariot’s body (a very laborious process, which presumed the perforation of the mineralised iron cores). One of the original ornitomorphic figurines, detached from one of the chariot’s wheel since the moment of the discovery, joined the collections of the National History Museum of Romania in 1982. 

    The original restored object was on display for the first time at the National History Museum of Romania in May 1980, and was admired (with central breaks) in the museum’s permanent exhibition for two decades, up to the moment were commenced the rehabilitation and restoration works of the most important museum of archaeology and history in Romania, unfinished up to now. The miniature votive chariot from Bujoru is one of the iconic objects in the collections of the National History Museum of Romania. The object was displayed in a series of international exhibitions, such as: Goldhelm, Schwert und Silberschätze: Reichtümer aus 6000 Jahren rumänischer Vergangenheit (Museum für Vor- und Frühgeschichte, Archäologisches Museum, Frankfurt am Main, 1994); Thraker und Kelten beidseits der Karpaten (Kelten Museum Hochdorf/Enz, 2000–2001); Guldskatter Rumänien under 7000 år (Medelhavsmuseet, Stockholm, 2004).

    Object’s description

    Miniature chariot made of bronze, consisting of an oval recipient (small cauldron), covered with a lid and placed on two iron axles. In the lower part of the recipient, placed symmetrical, four tubular perforations holding the whells’ axles. On each of the axles two fixed wheels, with “T” shaped spokes, with the inner diameter overcastted with iron. On the lid two ornitomorphic protoma placed to the extremities, having attached in the lower part of the beak a fixing ring with a pendant in shape of a double-ax; in the central part of the lid a vertical stem for gripping, ended with a fixed ring also decorated with two ornitomorphic protoma (water birds), situated antithetical. Also on the lid, at the base of the two ornitomorphic protoma, there are two circular perforation with correspondence to the recipient’s rim. To the ends of the small cauldron there are one pair of ornitomorphic protoma (water birds), each having on the neck a fixed ring with pendant. All the six large ornitomorphic protoma have the each figured by small cylindrical protuberances. On the lower part of the each birds’ neck there are four grooving. Five of the six pendants in shape of double-axe (labrys) have attached rings of the beak (the two ones of the lid) and neck (the four ones to the small cauldron’s extremities). Five of these six protoma are reconstituted of epoxy resin as part of the restoration process undertaken in the specialized laboratories of the National History Museum of Romania during the late ‘70s of the last century. On which iron hub of the four wheels, there is an ornitomorphic figurine (water bird), in vertical position, two of them being detached since ancient time and being replaced during the restoration. The four wheels are placed oblique to the vertical plan of the object.

    The miniature votive chariot with cauldron and water bird protoma is a unique object, at least from a typological point of view. The closest analogy is certainly the miniature votive chariot with cauldron and water bird protoma discovered in mid 19th c. also as a stray find at Orăștie (Vaidei); according to certain authors this find was part of a bronze hoard, while some others mention a destroyed funerary context situated in Orăștie region, namely between the localities Romos and Vaidei (nowadays in Hunedoara county). This second miniature votive chariot is kept in the collections of the Museum of Natural History in Viena (Naturhistoriches Museum).

    Chronological framework 

    The middle period of the first Iron Age (or the middle Hallstatt period, 9th – 8th c. BCE) as regards the territory of nowadays Romania is characterised by the appearance and evolution of the Basarabi culture (or more correct pottery style), an expression of a complex synthesis of prehistoric material culture. The definition of this culture is largely based on a pottery style with specific decoration, known both from discoveries made in settlements and necropolises. The spreading area of this prehistoric ceramic style is considerable, namely from Banat and Vojvodina to the west, the southern half of Moldavia to the east, from the Balkan Mountains to the south and the Mureș river valley to the north, with a particular concentration of finds along the Middle and Lower Danube. But pottery vessels with specific decoration of the Basarabi style are found westwards of the above mentioned area, in the so-called Hallstatt civilisation area, namely on the nowadays territory of Serbia, Croatia, Hungary and Austria. Also, the bronze and iron objects found in association with the specific pottery of the Basarabi style do have analogies beyond the area of spreading of this culture, respectively in the West Balkans, the Eastern Alpine zone or the North-Pontic region. By understanding the use of the term “archaeological culture” as a convention of language, the discoveries characterized by the Basarabi type pottery are considered by the scholars as material expressions of certain cultural-historic processes which took place during the first half of the first millennium BCE. The motifs of the Basarabi type decoration might be interpreted – as a hypothesis – as a reflection of certain spiritual beliefs of those times. Thus, certain symbols (like the anthropomorphic, zoomorphic and ornitomorphic ones) represented on this type of prehistoric pottery, together with the figurative representations – less numerous compared with the first ones – might contribute to a more thorough knowledge and understanding of certain cult manifestations of this period. 

    Different analogies

    Miniature chariots with cauldrons (the so-called type Kesselwagen)

    The miniature vessels with cauldron (the so-called Kesselwagen) represent a particular category of objects with cult function associated to the last period of the Bronze Age and the first Iron Age. Such votive objects are known through a very small number of discoveries; they are either part of votive depositions (like hoards for example) or belong to funerary contexts. As regards the decorative elements of such objects it can be noticed a preference for the symbol of the water birds, with different figurative variants.

    Considering the chronological frame for the miniature chariot from Bujoru, but also the general category of the miniature vessels with cauldron (the so-called Kesselwagen) are to be mentioned a series of analogies represented by the finds from Skallerup „Trudshøj” (Denmark), Peckatel (Mecklenburg, Germany), Acholshausen (Germany), Milavče (Boemia, Czech Republic), Domasław (Poland), Strettweg (Steiermark, Austria), Glasinac (Bosnia-Herțegovina), Fertőendréd (Sopron region, Hungary), Kánya (Tolna region, Hungary), Delphi (Greece). A particular notice has to be made – while determining the analogies for the miniature votive chariots from Bujoru and Orăștie – in regard to the specimens found in Italy, like the discoveries from Bisenzio, Sesto Calende, Este, Ca’ Morta etc.

    Miniature chariots with shaft (the so-called type Deichselwagen) 

    Another category of votive objects relevant for the attempt to decipher the meaning of the miniature votive chariots from Bujoru and Orăștie are the shafts decorated with ornitomorphic figures of the miniature chariots of the so-called type Deichselwagen. Also in this case, there are a very small number of such finds, concentrated to the northern part of Europe, mainly within the spreading area of the Lusatian culture. One mention in such context the discoveries from Heegermühle bei Eberswalde (Barnim region, Germany), Egemose (Amt Svendtborg, Denmark), Svijany (Ternov region, Bohemia), Burg (Spree-Neisse region, Germany), Frankfurt am Oder (Germany), Potsdam-Eiche (Germany), Pierstina (Milicz region, Poland). 


    To this category belong a series of cult vessels, made of bronze of ceramics, comprising a tray / plate (generally of rectangular shape), 40cm to 1m in length, placed on a round central recipient, the entire ensemble being placed on a base in shape of a trunk of cone. Up to now are known less than 10 such objects, made of bronze, most of them found in Italy – the necropolises from Acqua Acetosa Laurentina, Lavinia, Bologna (Benacci Caprara and Arnoaldi) and Capua, as well as only one from Slovenia (the tumulus from Črnolica). A series of presentatotii made of ceramics were found in the necropolises from Bologna – Arnoaldi (yet unpublished) and Bologna – Benacci Caprara. All these funerary contexts which are dated to the 8th – 7th centuries BC. 

    „Porta vivante” type chariots (the so-called type Beckenwagen) 

    The „porta vivante” type of miniature chariots (a term mostly used in the specialised Italian literature) are made of a tray / plate, more or less rectangular, about 1 m in length, place on a central round recipient, the entire ensemble being placed of a undercarriage (chassis) with four wheels. Also in this case less than 10 specimens are known to date, all made of bronze and discovered in Italy, in the necropolises from Veio, Osteria dell’Osa, Cerveteri (Caere), Praeneste, Narce and Vetulonia, in funerary contexts which are dated to the 8th – 7th centuries BC. A special remark has to be made concerning the figurative elements of the miniature chariot from Vetulonia – Circolo dei Lebeti.

    One have to outline the fact that each of the objects categorised as presentatoii and „porta vivante” miniature chariots is different and offer important details for the stylistic solutions, but in general all comprise the same “architecture”. As indicated, all these cult objects belong to a very well defined chronological interval, namely from the mid 8th c. BC to the second quarter of the 7th c. BCE. The earliest specimens of „porta vivante” miniature chariots are characterised by a geometric decoration combined with water birds representations, while the later ones are adorned with various iconographic motifs – feline fights and floral motifs, yet distinct from the so-called orientalising style.

    Situlae (or stamnoi) of Hajdubőszőrmény type

    A particular attention has to be given to the very distinct figurative element composed of pairs of water birds and a solar symbol, a figurative composition which goes back in time at least to the middle Bronze Age (especially for Northern and Central Europe). One of the most eloquent example in this case are the bronze vessels (situlae or stamnoi) of Hajdúböszörmeny type, with are dated from the mid 11th c. BCE (± 1050 a. Chr.) to the first half of the 9th c. BCE (namely in the HaB1–HaB2 period). This type of metal vessels were discovered either as parts of bronze hoards or in funerary contexts. Given the current status of research, the production centre of these vessels might have been located in the area of Upper Tisza valley (considering the discoveries from Hajdúböszörmeny, Nyírlugos, Sényő, Tiszanagyfalu etc.) and from here they spread in various directions, namely – to the west, on the North-Italian space (the discoveries from Pizzughi, Rivoli) and even to the south-eastern part of nowadays France (the most recent discovery from Saint Romain de Jalionas), to the north – on nowadays territory of Germany (at Unterglauheim) and the Baltic area (the discoveries from Lúčky, Biernacice, Granzin and Siem), as well to the east-south-east on nowadays territory of Romania (the discoveries from Sâg, Remetea Mare and Oradea).

    Also, one have to outline that during the period of the end of the Bronze Age and the beginning of the Iron Age, namely the period of the urn fields (Urnenfelderzeit / UFZ = Bz D – Ha B / 1300 – 800 BC), date some other metal objects with figurative representations of the solar boat with water birds (Vogelsonnenbarken). Among these objects there are: metal recipients (other types than the situlae or stamnoi vessels of Hajdúböszörmeny type, namely like the ones of Veio – Seddin – Gevelinghausen type, but also dishes with wide rim and lids), adornment objects – belts, razors; weapons – swords, cuirasses, helmets. Thus, the water birds and the solar boats with water birds seem to be among the most important symbols of those times.

    About the different functions of the miniature votive and of other objects with figurative representations of the solar boat with water birds 

    As regards the presentatoii and the „porta vivante” miniature chariots, different authors agree upon the ritual use of these ceremonial vessels. While assessing their function one have to considered the context of find, as well the specific space and the constitutive elements, and – last but not least – the defined chronological framework. Most probably, the central recipient would have been used as an incense burner or as a receptacle for liquids used for sacrifices or as food for the deities. In other words, both types of vessels were used as ritual instruments of the elites of the early Etruscan civilisation, like for instance in libations or divination. Despite the fact that very little is known as regards the divination within the prehistoric communities across Europe, one have to remember that there are available a series of data of this kind concerning the such practices in relation to the observation of the birds’ flight in order to predict the future. 

    In an attempt to formulate a hypothesis regarding the provenance of the miniature votive chariot from Bujoru, but also the one from Orăștie – Vaidei, certainly we have to take into consideration a series of finds from the West Balkan region (like the miniature votive chariot from Glasinac) or from the North Helladic environment (like the miniature votive chariot from Delphi).

    Representation of a myth? 

    About “travelling” symbols ... at the beginning of protohistory

    As we’ve seen, the symbol of the water bird – associated in many cases with the solar disc – is used since the late Bronze Age up to the middle period of the first Iron Age on a series of objects discovered in Scandinavia, Central Europe, the Italian peninsula and the West Balkans. This symbol is used for the adornment of different categories of artefacts (miniature votive chariots, metal vessels, weapons etc.), made of bronze and belonging – most probably – to the elite of those times. Seen in such terms, the iconographic binomial composed of a vehicle (chariot or boat) drawn by pairs of (water) birds seems to represent the daily movement of the sun between the horizons. But this solar cult specific to the late prehistoric time might only be presumed. Nevertheless, the universality and the omnipresence – almost archetypal – of the motif of pairs of birds is an indicator to consider it as a sign / symbol with particular significance among the systems of beliefs during the Bronze Age and first Iron Age in Europe.

    The pair of (water) birds might have represented and attribute or – less probable – an epiphany – of a divinity or divine principle today unknown. In the absence of any literary source for the prehistoric period (including the later one), which would have contributed to discern the significance and the ideology associated to the representation of water birds, one only presume a certain sacral dimmension for this. As we’ve shown, each vessel on which are depicted (in various ways) the ornitomorphic representations is unique, but on the same time a certain constitutive common structure can be observed. Thus, a recipient (or a vehicle) is placed always between water birds representations (in certain cases protoma), place at the extremities of the vessels in antithetic posture. In comparison with the numerous types of artefacts decorated with the symbols of the water birds and the solar disc, the recipient vessel in shape of a bird is not only adorned with this symbol but depicts in ensemble the symbol itself, and thus the pairs of antithetic birds derive naturally from this generic form.

    Among the oldest specimens of miniature chariots with cauldrons (the Kesselwagen type) are the ones from Skallerup and Acholshausen, dating from late Bronze Age. Soon after this moment, are in used the metal vessels decorated with mentioned symbolic binomial, such objects dating from the two first centuries of the first millennium BCE being discovered on nowadays territories of Denmark, Germany, Poland, Bohemia, Austria, Italy, Slovenia, Bosnia-Hercegovina, Hungary and Romania. For sure, one can not presume that any of the prehistoric objects decorated with pairs of water birds would have been as ritual instruments, but at least for all the recipients with ornitomorphic shape all the evidence lead to such interpretation. The common structure of these recipients and the distinct representation of the symbol plead for their use in sacred, ritual practices. Also, the functionality of such artefacts is different, some being used (most probably) for libation, while others as incense burners or funerary urns.

    All these figurative representations would have been associated to a mythos or maybe to a cosmogony which today are unknown. In the absence of any written sources one cannot answer to a major question: how was understood the symbol of the water bird by the different communities from the Bronze Age and first Iron Age across Europe? It is known that myth spread on vast spaces and ample temporal horizons, but their oral transmission involves variations, re-adaptations etc. Despite all these, given the manner of figurative representation which is somehow standardized as regards the symbol of water birds associated with the solar disc one might have a hint to presume that the significance of these representations would not have been very different, or in other word there would not have existed divergent religious beliefs associated to this symbol among the neighbouring communities or the ones involved in long distance exchange routes.

    If we accept the interpretation that the circular shapes which decorate the certain metal vessels, adornments and weapons from the end of the Bronze Age and the first Iron Age represent the sun one might ask ourselves why this is depicted many times and in different manners? As part of the attempt to decipher such “hermetic” images a possible answer might consider the staging / transmission of a cosmologic narrative, which might explain the cyclic and repetitive celestial route / journey of the sun. 

    One must outline that the first written source which indicated the water birds which are drawing a chariot is represented by a literary text of the Greek lyric poet Alkaios/Alcaeus of Mytilene, who refers to the annual journey of Apollo (in a chariot drawn by swans) to the sanctuary from Delphi. This text dates to the 7th c. BC, being preserved only in an abstract of the 4th c. AD, made by sophist and rhetorician Himerius of Atena. Despite the written version form the 7th c. BC, there is solid reason to believe that this myth was older, being associated to a solar cult. Later, the ancient narrative sources describing the mythical voyage of Apollo from the land of the Hyperboreans (namely to the North) to Greece, and the festivals celebrating this divine journey according to different calendars of a series of ancient Greek cities (such as Athens, Delphi or Delos) became more numerous, reflecting more soundly the association of the nature of this god to the sun, more exactly to the annual movement of the sun (the summer and winter solstices).

    Following such a hypothesis the miniature votive chariot with cauldron from Bujoru is a major example for the study of the possible significances of pre- and protohistoric cult practices.

    Before to conclude, one have to outline that during the 7th c. BC is taking place a change as regards the religious practices at least for the Central Alpine and Eastern Sub-Alpine area (with the Hallstatt civilisation area), since the symbol of the water birds and the sun are gradually replaced by an anthropomorphic feminine figure, probably a deity of those time. In this respect, the miniature votive chariot from Strettweg is a pertinent example.