Chariot Racing In Ancient History Essay

3107 words - 13 pages

Chariot racing plays an important role in sports history. It was one of the most popular and influential sports in ancient history. The sport has many claimed origins and thrived during the Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Empires. The sport that started out so simple evolved as it moved from one era to the next, gaining more importance at every advancement. It was an extremely dangerous sport, as drivers frequently suffered gruesome injuries and unfortunate deaths. Chariot racing teams, or factions, had a very strong fan base. These factions drew tons of spectator support, which would lead to many conflicts between differing factions. These conflicts were politicized, affecting both society and ...view middle of the document...

It is most likely that chariot racing took place in Greece before it was integrated into the Olympic Games. In 680 BC, four horse chariot racing was introduced. This made the games move from a one day event to a two day event. The two horse racing event took until 408 BC to be installed into the games. The races took place in the hippodrome, located in the southeast corner of Olympia. For the spectators, the most exciting part of the race was the turns located at each end of the hippodrome. These turns were very sharp and proved to be dangerous and deadly. If a Chariot got knocked over, drivers would be crushed by racers passing by. Greek chariots where two wheeled chariots driven with the driver in the standing position. These chariots were very light, and accidents were frequent. Greek poet Pindar wrote about a race with forty chariot teams entering, and only one team finishing. Greek style racing was funded by private and family participants and was very popular during the Etruscan and Roman Republic era. But by about 70 BC, Roman style races started to dominate in Rome along with the Western Empire. This roman style racing featured four teams, or factions. The loyalty to these teams shifted the sport for the rest of its existence. (McClelland)
In the Western Roman Empire, Rome was the centerpiece of Chariot Racing. It was home to the Circus Maximus. A circus is where the races took place, named for its oval like shape. The Circus Maximus was the largest and oldest circus in Rome. The seating capacity was an astounding 250,000 spectators. Compare that to Michigan Stadium, the biggest in the United States at a capacity just under 110,000. The race track was made of sand, providing a soft but stable course. There was a long brick wall that ran down the middle of the track called the spina. These spinas had 3 huge columns on each end that acted as bumpers for the wall. Many racers were crushed against these so called bumpers. When Circus Maximus was first built, spectators would have to sit on the hills of either side of the track. However by the time Augustus came to power, it was a stadium style, well maintained building surrounded by 3 sides of stands. The track circumference was a mile long. The lower seats were made of stone while the upper were wood and were three stories high. These seats accommodated the fans, while the senators, politicians and military personnel had permanent viewing stands and private boxes. The Emperor and his family had an imperial box high up on the palace side, overlooking the whole stadium. This huge stadium was designed strictly for one sporting event only, Chariot Racing.
Although participating in a very dangerous sport, Charioteers wore light body protection and a small helmet. Their body weight controlled the reigns that were wrapped around them, which was extremely dangerous in the case of an accident. They would be trampled and dragged before they could attempt to cut themselves free. The chariots were...

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