This statue must be the work of some bronze-scupltor from Magna Graecia, probably of Pythagoras of Samos. According to written sources, Pythagoras sought symmetry and precise rendering of details. Undoubtedly the Charrioteer is a masterpiece of the Severe Style that marked the transition from the archaic to the classical style period (480-460 B.C). Plain and austere it mirrors the athlete’s morals.
The Charrioteer was preserved thanks to a natural disaster. It was buried in the debris of the great earthquake of 373 B.C and this is the reason it escaped looting and destruction. None other of the large scale bronze complexes described in literary and epigraphic sources has survived. Some of them must have been destroyed, while others must have been plundered during the Third Sacred War (356-346 B.C), when the Phocians owned the sanctuary and used the precious offerings to cover their military expenses. Works that had not been moved to Rome during the Roman period were probably recast by later inhabitants of the area who needed the bronze for utensils.
The discovery of the charrioteer in 1896 during the Grand Excavation was the cause of much enthusiasm, since no other bronze statue, of natural size from the Classical period had been recovered so far. Many years later the Riace Warriors, the Poseidon from the cape Artemission- bronze statues of equal artistic value contemporary to the Charrioteer- were retrieved from the sea. Master sculptors of classical Greece worked mainly with bronze, their work now lost, has become known to us through marble copies reproduced during the Roman period.
The Charrioteer was part of large complex that represented a quadriga- a four-horse charriot- with one or two boys holding the outer horses in place. The race is over and the victorious Charrioteer wearing the champion’s headband, parades before the applauding spectators.
Charrioteers who participated in panhellenic games were youths of noble origins, aristocrats like the owners of charriots and horses. Such an ephebe was the Charrioteer of Delphi. He wears the typical sleeved tunic, long down to his thin ankles. A broad belt, and two crossing straps at the back prevent the garment from billowing while the vehicle is speeding. The deep vertical pleats of the garment resemble the flute of a column.
Along with the statue, part of a stone pedestal was also found with two lines of the metrical dedicatory epigram. The first line must have been corrected and re-inscribed in the antiquity making it hard to decipher it. The name Polyzalos is legible- one of the four sons of Deinomenes, tyrant of Syracuse. The golden tripods dedicated at Delphi by the Deinomenids for their victory against the Carthaginians at Himera in 479 B.C were famous in the antiquity.
About the same time the poets Pindar and Bacchylides praised Gelo and Hiero- brothers of Polyzalos- for their distinction at the Pythian and Olympic Games. So the quadriga with the Charrioteer is a dedication to celebrate either Polyzalos’ or his brothers’ championship.