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For a much longer general article on the Roman chariot, see CURRUS.

p242 Carpentum

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on pp242‑243 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.


[image ALT: Reverse of a Roman coin, showing a two-horse cart much like a Sicilian peasant cart, with the legend 'SPQR MEMORIAE AGRIPPINAE'.]
	CARPENTUM is one of the earliest kind of Roman carriages, of which we find mention (Liv. I.34). It was the carriage in which Roman matrons were allowed to be conveyed in the public festal processions (Liv. V.25; Isid. Orig. XX.12); and that this was a considerable privilege is evident from the fact, that the use of carriages in the city was entirely forbidden during the whole of the republic. The privilege of riding in a carpentum in the public festivals, was sometimes granted as a special privilege to females of the imperial family (Dion. Cass. LX.22, 33; Tac. Ann. XII.42). The form of this carriage is seen in the following medal struck in honour of the elder Agrippina after her death.

The carpentum was also used by private persons for journeys; and it was likewise a kind of state carriage, richly adorned and ornamented (Prop. IV.8.23; Juv. VIII.147, IX.132).

This carriage contained seats for two, and sometimes for three persons, besides the coachman (Liv. I.34; Medals). It was commonly drawn by a pair of mules (carpentum mulare, Lamprid. Heliog. 4); but more rarely by oxen or horses, and sometimes by four horses like a quadriga. For grand occasions it was very richly adorned. Agrippina's carriage, as above represented, shows painting or carving on the panels, and the head is supported by Caryatides at the four corners.

When Caligula instituted games and other solemnities in honour of his deceased mother Agrippina, her carpentum went in the procession (Suet. Calig. 13). This practice, so similar to ours of sending carriages to a funeral, is evidently alluded in the alto-rilievo here represented, which is preserved in the British Museum. It has been taken from a sarcophagus, and exhibits a close carpentum drawn by four horses. Mercury, the conductor of ghosts to Hades, appears on the front, and Castor and Pollux with their horses on the side panel.


[image ALT: A small covered box, on wheels, big enough at most to house a large dog, being pulled by 4 horses guided by a man on foot. The box has a pointed lid and is sculpted with scenes of chariots and horses. It is a representation of a carpentum, a sort of Roman carriage.]

Carpenta, or covered carts, were much used by p243the Britons, the Gauls, the Cimbri, the Allobroges, and other northern nations (Florus, I.18, III.2, 3, and 10). These, together with the carts of the more common form, including baggage-waggons, appear to have been comprehended under the term carri, or carra, which is the Celtic name with a Latin termination. The Gauls and Helvetii took a great multitude of them on their military expeditions; and, when they were encamped, arranged them in close order, so as to form extensive lines of circumvallation (Caes. Bell. Gall. I.24, 26).


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Page updated: 2 Sep 13