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Sunday, 9 March 2014

Chariot Racing

There is a full description of a chariot race in Homer's Iliad, which is dated about the 9th or 8th century BC.  It shows how well established the sport was at that ancient date, which suggests a long previous history.

Positions in the race were determined by the casting of lots. Apart from a tripod, the first prize offered was a woman, highly skilled in domestic duties .

The chariot race was probably the Ancient Olympics’ most dangerous sport. It was so popular that it replaced sprinting as the opening event of the games. However it was so dangerous that the only charioteers were slaves, owned by the only people in the continent with enough money to transport horses and slaves over huge distances to take part in the races. As the chariots rounded the tight stadium bends at high speeds, they inevitably smashed into one another or rolled over sending the charioteers into the paths of other chariots. At least one slave would be killed at almost every race.

A modern recreation of chariot racing in Puy du Fou
In one particular chariot race, only one of 41 chariots made it to the end- the rest crashed.

In ancient Greece a hippodrome (literally, a horse run) was a stadium designed for horse racing and chariot racing. It was a U-shaped arena with seats on higher ground around it.

Fashionable Ancient Greek women dyed their parasols in the colors of their favourite chariot teams.

The jockey's cap goes back a long time to the head covering of Roman charioteers. Their skull-protecting caps were made of bronze and they were identical both in shape and purpose with the modern cloth cap.

The steroids of ancient Rome were dried boar’s dung. Chariot-racers often took a drink made from the dung before major events.

When a drunken Emperor Nero completed in the Greeks Olympics at chariot racing-no one else dared take part. The Roman Emperor fell off but was put back on in his chariot, restarted, failed to complete the course but was still given the gold medal.

The second century AD Roman charioteer Gaius Appuleius Diocles was the highest paid sportsman of all time. His winnings reportedly totaled 35,863,120 sesterces, which is the equivalent today of about $15 billion.

The greatest of the public buildings in Constantinople was the Hippodrome, an arena that could seat over 40,000 people. Byzantines gathered there to watch various events including chariot races. The chariot drivers were divided between two teams, the blues and the greens. Their supporters clashed over not only sport but also political matters. On January 13, 532 a political demonstration and disturbances between Blues and Greens touched off a riot that left 30,000 dead and almost brought the overthrow of the Byzantine emperor Justinian.

During the chariot scene in Ben Hur, a small red car can be seen in the distance.

Sources Europress Encyclopedia, Daily Express, The Observer

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