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Chariot Racing in Rome and Constantinople

Chariot Racing in Rome and Constantinople

Chariot racing was one of the most popular and exciting sports in ancient Rome, and it was enjoyed by people from all social classes. The races were held in large stadiums, known as circuses, and were the main form of entertainment for the Roman public.

The chariot races were typically held in the Circus Maximus, which was the largest and most famous circus in Rome. It could hold up to 150,000 spectators and was specially designed for chariot racing, with a long and narrow track that was about 1,500 feet long and 600 feet wide.

Each race consisted of four teams, identified by the colors of their racing silks: the Reds (Russata), Blues (Veneta), Greens (Prasina), and Whites (Albata). Each team had seven chariots, and the races were typically run in heats, with several heats making up a race.

The chariots themselves were lightweight and fragile, made of wood and leather, with small wheels and no suspension. They were pulled by teams of two or four horses, which were often bred and trained specifically for racing. The charioteers, known as aurigae, were skilled and brave athletes, who risked their lives in each race.

The races were often violent and dangerous, with collisions and crashes common occurrences. The spectators were passionate and partisan, cheering on their favourite teams and jeering their rivals. The outcome of the races was of great importance to the people of Rome, and it was not uncommon for riots and protests to break out over disputed results.

Chariot racing was also deeply ingrained in Roman culture and mythology, and was often depicted in art and literature. The famous Roman poet Ovid wrote about chariot racing in his Metamorphoses, and the charioteer Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who raced in the early 2nd century AD, was one of the highest-paid athletes in history, earning an estimated 35 million sesterces during his career.

The popularity of chariot racing endured for centuries, and it remained a staple of Roman entertainment until the decline of the Roman Empire in the 5th century AD. Today, the legacy of chariot racing lives on in the modern sport of harness racing, which is still popular in many parts of the world.

In the Byzantine Empire, chariot racing was known as “hippodrome” and was often held in the Hippodrome of Constantinople, a large stadium that could hold up to 100,000 spectators. The races were organized in a similar way to those in ancient Rome, with four teams competing against each other: the Blues (Venetoi), Greens (Prasinoi), Reds (Rousioi), and Whites (Leukoi).

Like in Rome, chariot racing was a major form of entertainment for the Byzantine people and was often accompanied by lavish public spectacles, including parades, processions, and animal hunts. The chariot races were also an opportunity for political factions to express their support or opposition to the ruling government, and the rivalry between the Blues and Greens became particularly intense in the 6th century AD.

One of the most famous incidents in Byzantine chariot racing history was the Nika Riots of 532 AD, which were sparked by a dispute between the Blues and Greens over the outcome of a chariot race. The riots resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and almost led to the overthrow of Emperor Justinian I.

Despite its popularity, chariot racing in the Byzantine Empire declined in the 7th century AD due to various factors, including the rise of Christianity, which discouraged violent and pagan forms of entertainment. Additionally, the Arab conquests in the 7th century AD disrupted trade routes and caused economic decline, making it more difficult to support large public events.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 AD, chariot racing in Rome continued to be popular for some time, albeit on a smaller scale. The city was ruled by various barbarian tribes and later by the popes, who sponsored chariot races and other public spectacles to maintain the loyalty of the people.

The chariot races in Rome after the fall of the empire were organized in a similar way to those in ancient times, with the four teams identified by the colours of their racing silks: the Reds (Rossi), Blues (Veneti), Greens (Prasini), and Whites (Albi). However, the racing tracks were often improvised and set up in various locations throughout the city, rather than in a single large circus like the Circus Maximus.

Chariot racing in medieval Rome was also more violent and dangerous than in ancient times, as the races were often accompanied by jousts, sword fights, and other forms of combat. The participants, known as “charioteers,” were often prisoners or slaves who were forced to race, and the races were often rigged in favor of the team or individual who paid the most money.

Despite these challenges, chariot racing remained an important cultural tradition in Rome, and it continued to attract large crowds well into the Middle Ages. However, as the city became more urbanized and industrialized, and as other forms of entertainment emerged, the popularity of chariot racing declined, and it eventually disappeared altogether by the 16th century AD.



Byzantine Inventions and Innovations (Article about the most notable inventions and innovations of the Byzantines)

The Legions of Rome (Article about the legions, the different roles in the units and list of known legions)

– Tiberius Gracchus and Land Reform in Rome (Article about the reforms of Tiberius, his life and death)


Byzantine Collection (Byzantine themed merch from High Speed History)

– Roman Collection (Roman themed merch from High Speed History)

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Reds Team Shirt @highspeedhistory

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Blues Team Shirt @highspeedhistory


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