Chariot racing was an immensely popular spectator sport in ancient Rome. It was fast-paced and deadly – drivers would wear helmets with knives in case of an accident and wear armor to protect themselves from horses and spectators alike.
Just as modern sports fans do, ancient Romans cheered for specific teams or factions identified by colors. Some factions even received support from the emperor himself.
It was a form of entertainment
Chariot racing was an immensely popular spectator sport during antiquity. Chariots were made of lightweight aerodynamic materials to reach high speeds, and falls from rolling chariots could result in serious injuries or death for participants. Chariot drivers known as scutari were usually slaves or freedmen seeking glory and riches through this spectacle; wearing protective armour to prevent horses trampling over them when driving the wheels would often break their legs upon landing, yet still many were left stunned at its sheer power; many even wrote poems about it later – like Emperor Nero who organized an eleven-horse race for his own personal amusement and entertainment just like online poker on any of the sites mentioned over https://centiment.io these days!
Circus Maximus races were eight minute events which required great strength and stamina from both drivers and horses to compete. Spectators cheered their favorite team (blue, white, red or green) with much fervor similar to modern sports fans today; bettors may have even placed wagers on specific charioteers with lead curse tablets sometimes found nearby indicating some betting activity meant to influence outcomes supernaturally.
Before beginning a race, the presiding magistrate would drop a cloth known as a mappa to signal its beginning and simultaneously open all 12 gates of Circus Maximus. Drivers then drew lots to determine which of twelve starting boxes they would start from and jockeyed for position as they attempted to be first into the turning post and overtake rival drivers; sometimes even risking crashes that damaged their own chariot in pursuit of victory.
At the Circus Maximus, chariot races were organized as entertainment; their best charioteers became immensely wealthy through their performances as well as patronage from wealthy donors or state officials. Some exceptional performers, like legendary Cryphyrius, earned over one and a half million sesterces within fourteen years!
It was a sport
Chariot racing was an immensely popular spectator sport in ancient Rome, serving as an integral component of religious festivals and drawing large crowds to watch it. Winners would receive vast sums in prize money as well as immense adulation from their audience; however, competitors were at risk of suffering serious life-threatening injuries while on raceday. Chariots were lightweight and fragile, which led to frequent collisions that often saw them overturn and be damaged beyond repair. Yet many individuals fell in love with this dangerous sport and made careers out of it. Gaius Apuleius Diocles was reported to have won more than 1,462 races during his lifetime and amassed an estimated fortune of 35 million sesterces – but this success didn’t come without its share of misery; gravestones show some drivers died tragic deaths in their early twenties due to accidents that involved their chariot.
Roman charioteers were typically young, low in social standing individuals who could quickly rise through the ranks through winning races. Charioteers received an entry fee to compete; those deemed the best could make as much in one race than some wealthy lawyers and senators combined! Furthermore, private betting generated considerable profits.
An average 12-team race consisted of four factions, or teams, identified by four colors – blue, green, red and white. Charioteers from each team would race against an opposing team; spectators watched more for team colors than individual drivers or horses like modern sports. Races could become extremely competitive; sometimes rivalries among spectators led to violent acts as seen when one disappointed fan threw himself onto a funeral pyre of one from their own team who lost. Pliny even reported one case when an upset fan did just this to defend his own team!
Chariot races were extremely fast; on straights they could reach 72 km per hour! Both drivers and horses needed great stamina to keep up with such rapid speeds; additionally, racers needed exceptional mental control as well as physical strength.
Chariots were made of wood and drawn by teams of two or three horses, pulled by a charioteer standing close to their hind quarters on an easily tippable and breakable thin and flimsy chariot, known as an ‘arcadium’ – each racer must battle with others charioteers to claim an early lead and secure victory; successful ones used strategies such as ‘occupavit et vicit’ (taking an early lead and then holding it until later returning), or “praemisit et vicit”, where one let their opposition take the lead before turning back around in return and finally winning themselves.
It was a competition
Chariot racing was an alternative sport that was less dangerous than gladiator games, yet still presented considerable risks to competitors. It involved small chariots pulled by either two or four horse teams that featured lightweight but fragile designs prone to smashing in a crash; these chariots would often bear the colors of their faction and drivers would wear leather helmets and padding as protection in case of collisions.
Circus Maximus was an arena designed in the shape of a bullet, accommodating over 200,000 spectators at once, where races were hosted. Massive crowds would cheer for their favorite chariot team identified by color. Some spectators were passionate chariot racing enthusiasts while others, like modern sports fans passionate about Arsenal or New York Yankees, supported one or more factions racing at the circus. Emperors Caligula and Nero were known to enjoy attending these races and often selected one team as representatives to represent them at these spectacles.
Charioteering could be both hazardous and lucrative; depending on their faction, drivers could make thousands of denarii annually, enough to support themselves and provide some security from poverty. A successful driver could earn enough in one race alone that it would pay their tuition fees for an entire academic year!
Once free from their lanes, the chariots would race around the ring at speeds up to 72 kilometres per hour requiring great stamina from both horses and charioteers alike; indeed it wasn’t unusual for multiple people to drive one chariot at the same time!
Chariots were pulled by stallions, mostly geldings, from private and imperial stud farms; North African racehorses were especially prized according to historical inscriptions. Chariots were built of wood slats for speed over durability; usually painted in their faction’s colors for easy identification by horses and support personnel.
It was a race
Chariot racing may not have been as violent as gladiatorial bouts, but it still posed serious risks to drivers. Chariot racers would use two, four, or six horse chariots with small wheels constructed of wood to race seven laps around Circus Maximus at full speed before facing any potential rivals who aimed at overthrowing them and shattering them upon impact. Drivers had to be exceptionally adept and athletic to control both horses and chariots at full speed while dodging rival competitors who might attack.
Drivers typically consisted of slaves, freedmen or foreigners and were compensated for their performances. With no official rights to hold public office and no wealth accrued through public office elections, winning races was seen as a great honor and source of wealth for these drivers. Smaller races would be held before entering the Circus Maximus. Chariot drivers practiced by driving them through city streets so as to improve handling the heavy weight and tight turns in their chariots.
As soon as a race was called, its host, typically an influential magistrate, would drop a white cloth at one end of the track as an indicator for all chariots to begin racing. Drivers then jockeyed for position by cutting across paths of competitors or forcing them out of lanes they had selected; strategies included seizing control early and winning or deliberately letting opponents gain an advantage before fighting back – although typically most race winners used both tactics during competitions.
Once the race began, chariots raced counterclockwise. These were divided into four teams or factions identified by colors: red, blue and green. Each team consisted of three chariots and their drivers battled hard to keep their team ahead while also aiding fellow teammates by blocking another faction’s lead chariot from moving ahead so their faction could eventually prevail and win the competition.
Chariot races inspired intense rivalry and violence between spectators. Fans of one team would cheer for its horse and driver while curse tablets could be used against rival teams. Chariot races were immensely popular with Roman masses but disapproved of by educated elites who found them repugnant and childish.