Bigae, trigae & quadrigae Vol I

17 Apr 2020

Bigae, trigae and quadrigae are chariots pulled by two, three or four horses, which were driven by an auriga and used in warfare and races. The Homeric heroes fought in vehicles like these. They are a common icon on coins, paintings, reliefs and Egyptian, Assyrian, Greek or Roman glasses. In ancient Greece they were introduced as a sports discipline in the 81st Olympic Games.


Biga, which has a Latin root, is the shortening for biiuga (double yoke joining two horses), while triga comes from triiuga (triple yoke) and quadriga from cuadriiuga (quadruple yoke).

This is the typical case of a “part of something to refer to the entirety”, where the simple beam or yoke become an ensemble, including the chariot and the beasts, in the popular language. Even the chariot drivers, the aurigae, take their name from the yoke, just adding the prefix aur, which comes from the Greek αυρα and the Latin aura, which means wind. 

Take note that we are talking about the Latin etymology, but, obviously, there were chariots pulled by two, three or four horses in civilizations older than the Roman. All of them must have had their own names for these chariots, but the fact is that we kept the etymology developed by the Romans. This is why we speak of quadrigae, trigae and bigae when referring to the chariots of all times pulled by animals. The Latin word iuga comes from the Greek ζυγοσ = yoke, so this word has actually a Greek origin, but all the multiples bi-, tri- and quadri- are completely Latin (if they had had a Greek origin, they would have been like this: di-, tri-, tetra-).


But let's leave the etymology in order to concentrate in the coin itself. After all, we are in a website dedicated to the numismatics. 

The coins usually show the figures of different gods on a chariot pulled by horses, deer, etc.

For the introduction we have chosen a coin depicting the front of a quadriga, which is quite uncommon. This is why we know it is a golden stater minted in Cyrene, ancient Greek city currently located in Lybia. Note the magnificent perspective designed to represent the front of the chariot.