- For the torpedo-shaped underwater vehicle ridden by two frogmen, sometimes referred to as a 'chariot', see Human torpedo.
A chariot is a two-wheeled, horse-drawn vehicle. In Latin biga is a two-horse chariot, and quadriga is a four-horse chariot. It was used for battle during the Bronze and Iron Ages, and continued to be used for travel, processions and in games after it had been superseded militarily. Early forms may also have had four wheels, although these are not usually referred to as chariots. The critical invention that allowed the construction of light, horse-drawn chariots for use in battle was the spoked wheel. In these times, most horses could not support the weight of a man in battle; the original wild horse was a large pony in size. Chariots were effective in war only on fairly flat, open terrain. As horses were gradually bred to be larger and stronger, chariots gave way to cavalry. The earliest spoke-wheeled chariots date to ca. 2300 BC and their usage peaked around 1300 BC (see Battle of Kadesh). Chariot races continued to be popular in Constantinople until the 6th century.
In modern warfare, the tactical role of the chariot is played by the tank. In World War I, just before the introduction of the first tanks, motorcycles with machine-guns mounted on a sidecar constituted a mechanized version of the chariot, and the Russian tachanka briefly re-introduced horse-drawn chariots, armed with machine-guns.
The earliest depiction of chariots is on the "battle standard" of Ur in southern Mesopotamia, ca. 2600 BC. The vehicles depicted are more properly called carts, still double-axled and pulled by tamed asses or onagers. Such heavy chariots may have been part of the baggage train rather than vehicles of battle in themselves. The Sumerians had also a lighter, two-wheeled type of chariot, pulled by four onagers, but still with solid wooden wheels.
Some kurgans contain warriors that have been buried together with their horses and their chariots. Chariots figure prominently in Indo-Iranian mythology. Chariots are also an important part of Hindu as well as of Persian mythology, with most of the gods in their pantheon portrayed as riding them. The Sanskrit word for a chariot is ratha, a collective to a Proto-Indo-European word for "wheel" that also resulted in Latin rota.