• Outstripped any other kind of public entertainment
  • Bread and circuses
  • Chariot races were held in the circus (circuit)

The Circus Maximus- largest in Rome, one of the oldest

  • Rudimentary seating all around the race track but it kept getting renovated until it became the largest building in the Roman empire
  • 600 m x 150 m; arena area 550 m x 80 m (six football fields long; 25 storeys tall)
  • Circus was a Roman invention found mostly in the western half of the empire
  • 80 m High
  • Seated 150,000: similar to the amphitheatre in terms of graded seating
  • Standing room on top
  • 250,000 people in the building for the most important races (1/4 of the population of Rome)
  • Surrounded by hills, so people would watch from the hills too
  • The Spine (335 x 8 m): a long, extended trench or border to separate the horses as they went about; some had water in it, at Rome they had statues
  • Turning Posts: semi-circular turning posts at the end; three obelisks (Egyptian) and on top of each was an egg
  • Decorations: eggs on top of the obelisks; each lap was counted by eggs; 7 inverted dolphins and after each lap it would be flipped (dolphins are associated with Poseidon/Neptune and is associated with horses; water in the spine)
  • Could stage arena events: animal hunt or execution or amphitheatrical event in the circus
  • Smaller cities who didn’t have a circus or an amphitheatre, just used their theatre for gladiatorial combat

Parade: Pompa

  • All the charioteers come out with their horses, and the fellow who is paying for everything gets cheered too
  • All theatre in the Roman empire coincided with some religious festival (in honour of some god; you didn’t have Broadway)
  • Theatre was part of religion and so were chariot races (always part of some larger religious event)
  • 200 days out of the Roman calendar were holy days
  • To honour a dead relative you could hold gladiatorial combat; in your will you could say “and to Naples I give five days of gladiatorial combat”
Ancient Olympics: Running, Wrestling, Boxing, Pankration, Pentathlon


  • You need someone to supply everything, chariot racing is getting so big
  • Businesses arose that would supply everything- horse, charioteers, carpenters, wain-rights to make the saddles, vets, doctors, slaves etc
  • Expensive!
  • Businesses would rent you stuff- only 4 businesses could rent to you chariot and teams

o   Blues, Greens, Reds, Whites

o   Owned by equestrians

o   These four businesses came to be seen as teams and people kept track of who won or loss

o   As an editor, you could rent specific horses and charioteers to compete

o   Stud farms, talent scouts etc

o   Each team had to be represented equally (16 teams was the maximum)- always had to be multiple of fours

o   Emphasis on the team as a whole not a chariot group but who won (the Whites or the Greens?)

  • Emperors gradually said private businessmen couldn’t own it- too important to politics
  • Emperors became primary people that ran the chariot races

o   State run

o   Suspicious that it could be rigged

  • Solid 12-13 hours of racing and nobody left

24 chariot races per day (held on Ludi)

  • 4, 8, or 12 teams; usually slaves or freedmen
  • Half hour for each race (cleanup included)
  • Ludi: festivals
  • If there was a delay, they would send out entertainment (horse tricks)
  • Sunrise- sunset in order to get 24 races in per day
  • Charioteers were like gladiators
  • Infames from the point of view of the aristocracy

Miliarii (‘The1,000 Men’)

  • Select group
  • If you won 1,000 times you could become a miliarii
  • Could probably race 300 times a year
  • Didn’t have to just race at Rome- could go anywhere
  • Lots of money could be made- more than any other performer

Quadriga (4 Horses) 25-50 kg

  • Four horses side by side (most difficult, requires the most skills)- true test of skill
  • Light-weight chariot with animal skin/leather stretched on the front, wooden wheels, oil deposited on the axels (worried about friction)
  • Clothing
  • Helmet
  • leather strips around chest and legs
  • small knife-
The Ancient Olympics: Sports & Events

o   tie the reins around your waist and if you crashed you would be dragged so you would have the knife to cut yourself free

  • minimize weight for the horses

Starting Gates

  • tried staggered starts
  • just had a series of gates with tension spring-loaded release- with a jerk of a cord a pin would be released and the gates would open at the same time
  • Hermes in between the gates

Counter-clockwise seven times 8-9 minutes long 5200 m in total

  • Had to stay in your lane until you got to a white line and then you could break to the inside lane
  • Something like 35 km/hour

Collisions; ‘the Shipwreck’

  • Couldn’t strike an opponent but you could cut them off
  • Work together in factions
  • Horses have delicate bone structures- editor would often have to pay complete loss fee
  • Shipwreck happened most frequently around the corners
  • Frenzy

Wreath and Palm Branch

  • Money: 18x soldier’s yearly salary- this is for one victory!
  • Victory lap
  • Romans were fanatic about this

Athletics in Rome

  • Longstanding in Rome
  • Held in the circus, forum, stadium
  • Never as popular as chariot racing or gladiatorial combat
  • Spectator events (for the Greeks it was identification)


  • Slaves, freedmen
  • Infames
  • Boxing glove: the caestus: almost like brass knuckles- leather wrapped around to increase potential; long, protective mitts
  • Most popular
  • Rarely Romans- slaves or foreigners
  • Seems African
  • Some Romans practiced it as a hobby but very few


  • Least spectator appeal


  • Never caught on with the Romans

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Post comment