Chariot Racing

Chariot racing was Ancient Rome's most popular sport. It drew large audiences throughout the Roman world. Chariots were first built in Mesopotamia, more than 4,000 years ago. They were built lightly for speed, but also had designs on it to make it appealing to the crowd. Racers made the audience happy and excited. In addition, there was no set of rules so the charioteers could do whatever they wanted to. The racetrack was made of sand which made turning even harder and there were no lanes that directed the charioteers.

Race Horses

There were three types of chariots: quadriga, triga, and bigae. A quadriga was a chariot pulled by four horses at full gallop. This was the hardest type of chariot to make turns with. A triga was a chariot pulled by three horses and a bigae was a chariot pulled by two horses. The horse riders named all of the race horses so they could call out their names during a race. A team of horses was known as a auriga. Unlike regular horses, race horses were kept in special stables that were maintained better. The strongest horses, or funalis, were always on the extreme left to lead the horses while they were turning.

The Champion

Although many charioteers and horses don't survive the races, there always is a champion. A charioteer could win the race without even being on the chariot, as long as the horses crossed the finish line first. The winner of each race received a victor's palm, a purse of gold, and was considered hero. Champion racehorses were used for breeding during their racing years to ensure more successful racehorses. Successful charioteers often became famous. Most charioteers were slaves and if they were successful, they could buy their freedom. Celebrity charioteers were known as a Scorpus. .

The Race

Each driver would wear a different color to represent what team they were on. The colors or teams were red (russata), blue (veneta), green (prasina), and white (albata). The drop of a white cloth was the starting signal. Races consist of four to eight charioteers in each race. Drivers would be standing up-right, wearing a belted tunic in the colors of his team and a light helmet. Charioteers had to go around the track several times, which is a total of about five miles (8km). There were usually ten to twelve races each day. Many injuries and collisions occurred during a race. The reins were looped around the drivers arm and they had a knife in their belt to cut off it if necessary. While others get ready to watch the intense race, many people bet on who will win, like horse racing today.

Chaos To The Crowd

During the races, fans would fight and cause chaos over their teams color. Chariot racing was developed as a sport and an outlet for political and religious debate. Each color represented political position and religious fraction. During races, people in the audiences would shout out political demands and complaints. In 532 A.D., there was a fight between the blues and greens in Constantinople. It eventually got out of hand, causing over 30,000 deaths.

Words To Know:
  • Quadriga- chariot pulled by four horses
  • Triga- chariot pulled by three horses
  • Bigae- chariot pulled by two horses
  • Funalis- the strongest horse on a team
  • Auriga- team of horses
  • Scorpus- celebrity charioteers

Chariot Race Reenactment

bigae- chariot pulled by two horses

triga-chariot pulled by three horses

quadriga-chariot pulled by four horses

Work Cited

  • James, Simon. "Ancient Rome." Toppan Printing Co. New York. 1990.
  • Hunt, Norman. "Living In Ancient Rome" China. 2009
  • "Chariot Races." Spurius.web. May 11 2011. < - races.php>