From the ancient Roman circus to your radio, in this episode of Perpetual Notion Machine host Will Cushman discusses with guest Bela Sandor the topic of ancient chariots, those horse-drawn, two-wheeled vehicles used by civilizations from Ancient Egypt to the Roman Empire. Think about this for second: automobiles have been around for a little over a century; chariots, meanwhile, were in use for more than 1,800 years. And yet modern scholars’ understanding of the vehicles has been surprisingly limited, partly because very few ancient chariots have survived. In fact, not one of the thousands of chariots that were once in use all over the ancient Roman Empire has survived. Another reason we don’t totally understand the vehicles is that many archaeologists haven’t had the technical wherewithal to attempt to understand how exactly they worked. That is until recently. Using technical expertise, Sandor has filled in several gaps in our understanding of how ancient chariots work.
Sandor is professor emeritus of engineering physics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Hehas kept busy since he retired nearly 20 years ago with all sorts of intellectual and athletic pursuits, and one of those pursuits has stemmed from his fascination with chariots—which represented the pinnacle of transportation engineering in the ancient world. Sandor has applied his technical engineering knowledge to understanding how the Ancients built their racing chariots in particular to withstand the intensity of races. Sandor’s findings have been published in academic journals, and he’s been a featured on a PBS Nova documentary. Tonight, the Madison resident joins us in the studio to talk about his casual retirement research.