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Latham.

Jacob
GV31 .G53 2000
Patron digitization request

Request ID: 5479507070002311


Requested For: Latham, Jacob

Patron Email: spqr@utk.edu


Gladiators and caesars: the power of spectacle in ancient Rome I
By: Kohne, Eckart.
ISBN: 0520227980 (cloth: alk. paper)
Imprint: Berkeley: University of California Press 2000.

Location: Stacks
Call Number: GV31 .G53 2000
Destination: Library Express
Request Type: Patron digitization request
Request Note:86-102 (On the Starting Line: please make sure to get all the pages)
On the Starting Line with Ben Hur:
Chariot-Racing in the Circus Maximus

9::5 Few images are conjured up as vividly and automati-


Lamp with chariot-racing cally by the words 'Ancient Rome' as that of chariot-
in the Circus Maximus
racing in the circus arena. The novel Ben Hur and its
Second to early third
various screen versions must be held responsible, par-
century AD
ticularly the film made by William Wyler in 1959. The
Pottery
eight minutes and twenty seconds devoted by Wyler to
British Museum, London,
eR 11\147-4 JOb
the chariot-race have helped to form our picture of the
Roman world to an extent equalled in the twentieth
The lamp-maker has skilfully
century only by the Asterix strip-cartoon books. It
condensed the whole event
seems justifiable, then, to take the race presented in
into a small space. Around the
the 1959 film of Ben Hut as the starting point of this
edge are shown th" starting
gales and the crovvds in the
chapter, looking at it point by point and comparing the
stands, as well as the lap- popular idea of a Roman chariot-race in the circus
counter, obelisk (lnd lurning with the facts as they can be gleaned from the sources.
posts of the central harrier, While I shall be mentioning the many errors in the
while in the centre the tour- film version, I do not intend it as niggling criticism of
horse chariots of the four one of the classic scenes of cinematic history.
factions IReds, Blues, Whites
Although there are a number of inaccuracies, the film
and Creensl race round the
as a whole thrillingly conveys the character and atmos-
track.
phere, one might even say the quintessence, of such a
sporting event, in a way that scholarly attention to
detail could never have done on its own.

CHARIOTEERS AND CIRCUS FACTIONS

There are nine teams at the start of the race in William


Wyler's film version of Ben Hut, an improbable fourth century I\D. At the time of Ben Hurl under the
number for a Roman chariot-race during the imperial rule of Augustus and Tiberius, chariot-racing in the east
period. Horses and charioteers were entered by the of the empire still followed the Greek tradition: the
great circus factions (t~lCtiones) - racing dubs or racing owners of teams sent them into the arena without
associations would be a better term - and although involving any large, well-established associations.
there was state support, the officials organizing the Most owners engaged professional charioteers, but
races had to dip deep into their own pockets. There some drove their own chariots. In marked contrast to
were four factions, the two main groups of the Blues the situation in Rome, persons of rank and fortune in
(veneti) and the Greens (prasini), and the two sub- the Hellenistic east were not disqualified from taking
sidiary factions of the Reds (russati) and the Whites part in the racing themselves, or indeed from joining in
(a/bati). Accordingly, the number of participants could other public sporting events. Since there were no fac-
always be divided by four, each faction having one, tions, and as yet no permanent circuses with starting
two or three teams on the starting line, so that there boxes limited to twelve on the Roman pattern, any
could be four, eight, or more usually twelve teams run- number of vehicles could have been on the starting
ning in all. line in the east.
It may be objected that the race in Ben Hur is held However, the film version anachronistically shows a
not in Italy or one of the western provinces of the perfectly built circus in the Roman manner, not a more
empire, but in either Antioch in the Hellenistic east (in or less improvised Greek hippodrome. Consequently
Lew Wallace's original novel of 1880) or Jerusalem (in the race itself must be assumed to be in the Roman
the 1959 film version). And it is true that only in the style, too, as suggested not least by the appearance of
west of the empire was racing in the early imperial the provincial governor Pontius Pilate as holder of the
period dominated by the circus factions, which appar- games, But whether the race itself was run in the
ently did not become the norm in the east until the Greek or Roman manner, the personal participation of

86
()\ 111I S I\I\II\C, LI\F WITII BFN HUR: CHAI\IOT-RACINC IN THE CiIKUS MAXIMUS

the Roman tribune Messala in a public spectacle of alty of the public was in general to the factions rather
this nature is absolutely unthinkable. II would have tban the individual charioteers. This fanatical partisan-
ruined the man's military and publi: larper, not to ship, more marked in chariot-racing than in any other
mention his position in society, quite .ip.ut trorn the sport of classical antiquity, was regarded with particu-
fact that the governor would have forbidde-n his subor- lar disfavour by critics of the time:
dinate to indulge in such an escapade lor pr,1gmatic If thev were .utractcd by the speed of the horses or Ihe
political reasons: if Messala won, his vic torv would drivers' skill one could acc.ount for it, but in fdet it is the
have displeased the local population o( the province, racing-colours they really support and care about, dnd if

and if he lost they could have shown 1Il1desir,1iJleela- the colours were to be changed in mid-course during a

tion at his defeat. The appearance in Ill(' ,1Iena of his r.irc. they would transfer their favour and enthusiasm and

adversary Ben Hur is not much more lonvincing. He rapidly desert the famous drivers dl1d horses whose names
96
could indeed have taken part in til(' r,lling as a they shout as they recognise them from afar. Such is the
Sarcophagus panel
member of the Judaeo-Hellenistic upper cl,1ss, but not popul.iritv and importanc: of a worthless shirt lin the with Cupid chariot-race
as the adopted son of a Roman admiral. colour of the fdctionl - I don't mean with the crowd, which c. ,\Il 140
So who really were the aurigee, thl' !\om,lI1 chario- is worth less than the shirt, but with certain serious Marble

teers? Generally they were slaves or Irl'l'dl1wn, but in individuals. (Pliny the Younger, Epistu/ae 9,6) Musee du Louvre, Paris,

The circus factions were very profitable economic MA lb40


spite of their low social status, they (ould win fame

and wealth in their profession. 'That Srorpu-. .irn I, the enterprises. They were managed by domini factionis In the second quarter of the

glory of the clamorous Circus, thy applause, () Rome, (faction masters), usually of the knightly class. Their second century i\[) the custom

headquarters (stabula factionum), with extensive of inhumation (burying the


and thy short-I ived darl ing. Me, snat. hl'd ,1way in my
dead) became establ ished in
ninth three years' span, jealous Lachesis, counting my accommodation and stabling, were on the Campus
I\ome; previously, the dead had
victories, deemed old in years.' (Marti,ll, Epigr.Jmm.Jt.J Martius in Rome, in the area of the present-day Campo
usually been cremated. Small
10, 53.) This obituary of the famous alllig.J Scorpus dei Fiori, and they kept stud farms and training estab-
Cupids have "ssumed the rote
was composed by Martial, to whom w(' owe so much lishments in the country. In late antiquity there was a
of the charioteer here and are
information on the circus and the amphitheatre. Scor- growing tendency for the factions to become state-run facing in two-horse chariots in
pus was one of the few charioteers to IJl' mili,lrii, dri- bodies which also took over the organization of the- the Circus Maximus,
vers who had won over a thousand rdll'S, and could atrical performances, gladiatorial contests and animal identifiable by the decoration

boast of victory in no less than 2,048 l'Vl'nls. hunts, so that the entire entertainment industry came on the spina. The childish

It was perfectly usual for profession.u ch.irioteers to under state control. The domini factionis of the private charioteers, unlike their human

economy were replaced by state-appointed factionarii, adult counterparts, do not wear


switch from one faction to another, although most of
tunics with leather lacing and
them committed themselves entirely to one of the t;1C- qu ite often ex-charioteers.
have not slung Ihe reins round
tiones sooner or later. The inscriptio/l pl.Jced by the Successful charioteers could amass huge fortunes.
their bodies, but hold them in
Roman charioteer Polyneices on the tomb of one of his The prizes for chariot-races in the city of Rome were
their hands. Cupids performing
two sons, who both died in racing all irk-nts. probably 15,000 to 60,000 sestertii a race (in the early imperial
human activities were a
reflects a typical situation: 'Marcus Aure-lius Polyne- period a legionary's annual pay was 900 sestertii).
popular pictorial motif in the
ices, born 29 years, l) months and ')
a slave, lived Gaius Appuleius Diocles, who took part in 4,257 races art of the imperiat Roman
days. He won the palm 739 times: (,'i5 times for the in a twenty-year career and won 1,462 of them, made period.

Reds, 55 times for the Greens, 12 tilm's for the Blues no less than 35,863,120 sestertii and retired at the age

and 17 times for the Whites.' of forty-two.


We may note that just as in modem loolball, the loy- Naturally the profession of auriga entailed great risks

87
GLADIATORS AND CAESARS

to life and limb. Many tombstones bear the informa- THE HORSES
tion that the dead man was killed in a racing accident.
One such victim was Scorpus, mentioned above; Mar- The horses to which the charioteers owed their victo-
tial wrote that he himself earned little in a whole day, ries enjoyed no less fame. 'I, that Martial who am
'whereas in a single hour Scorpus, a winner of the known to the nations and to Rome's peoples ... am not
race, bears off fifteen bags of gleaming gold' (Martial, known better than the horse Andraemon.' (Epigram-
Epigrammata 10, 74), but that the charioteer's life matal 0,9.) Shockingly brutal as the Roman attitude to
ended at the turning point of the circus, 'that goal, animals could be, as we saw in the discussion of vena-
tiones (pp. 70-73), they were also capable of a posi-
tively sentimental love of animals for their own sake,
particularly horses, and even more particularly race-
horses. "vitices, non vincas, te amamus, Polidoxe'
('Win or lose, we love you, Polidoxus') runs the word-
ing on a mosaic from Constantine in north Africa
showing the racehorse of that name.
Nor were the horses forgotten when the victory
prizes were awarded. Many depictions show palm
branches stuck in the horses' harness. The equine
recipients probably felt more appreciative of the gilded
modii (measures for grain) containing a special portion
of barley. At the end of a successful career in the arena
a horse could expect not the knacker's yard - the'
Romans did not eat horsemeat - but retirement on a
pension: 'Lest the steed that has won many palms
should fall, dishonouring his victories, lazily now he
crops the meadow grasses.' (Ovid, Tristia IV 8, 19.)
And finally the horse had honourable burial: 'Sired on
the sandy plains of Gaetulia [an.area in north Africa]
by a Gaetulian stallion, fast as the wind, incomparable
in your life, you now, Spendusa, dwell in the realm of
Lethe' (inscription for the gravestone of the African
mare Spendusa - herself a rare exception, since most
racehorses were stall ions).
These expensive racehorses were bred and trained
on imperial and private stud farms. By far the most
successful horses in the circus came from North Africa
and Spain, but Cappadocia (an area of eastern Asia
Minor), Greece and Sicily were also outstanding
sources of animals for racing in the arena. The African
and Spanish horses probably resembled today's Libyan
and Iberian animals (Andalusians and Lusitanos). Con-
trary to a widespread myth, those modern and almost
identical types were not created by cross-breeding
with Arabian horses in the early Middle Ages, but had
already existed and were highly regarded in classical
97 whereto thy car sped ever in brief course' (ibid. 10, antiquity, when Arabs were still entirely unknown. The
lamp with quadriga 50). bedouin rode camels until Islam began to make tri-
First century An However, considering that many of these charioteers umphant headway; only then did they acquire horses
Pottery
had been on the starting line hundreds or even thou- from the old breeding regions of Syria, Asia Minor and
Antikensalllllllung,Staatliche
sands of times before they met with such a fate - and Egypt, where the Arabs known to us today originated.
Museen zu Berlin, TC 951
death in the circus was by no means certain - it is The myth of the Arabian desert horse also makes an
A quad,.;ga gallops towards the clear that by comparison with a gladiatorial career appearance in Ben Hur: the eponymous hero gets his
meta, the turning post with its chariot-racing may be considered quite safe. If we horses from the bedouin Sheikh Iiderim. In fact the
three conical finials. In the
compare the chances of survival of an auriga with horses in the film version are not Arabs, but Lipizzan-
background is the spina, with
those of a modern racing driver, the charioteer's pro- ers from Yugoslavia, and since Lipizzaners have been
several statues on columns,
fession was of course a good deal more dangerous, but much cross-bred with Iberian horses, the film did in
Augustus's obelisk and the
the difference can be described as one of degree rather fact use a breed of historically similar appearance to
apparatus with dolphin ligures
used to count laps.
than absolute. the originals.

88
()~ rur SI\~II~C LI'JE WITH BEN Hu~: Cij!\~IClT-R;\CII'C IN THE CiRCUS M/\XIMUS

Iberian horses today, however. .ur- rathe-r 1,1rger than THE CHARIOTS
their ancestors of the Roman period: \\'t' ~110\\ a great
deal about the size and physique III Roman horses from The standard vehicle in chariot-racing was the
finds of skeletons. They were storkv horst's ot medium quadriga adopted from the Greeks, with four horses
size standing 135-55 em high (till' ,1\Tragc' was about harnessed to it side by side, as shown on the starting
142 ern). and were thus large animals tor their time. By line in Ben Hur. Racing with the big, the two-horse
today's standards, most of the hlJl\l's were somewhere chariot, was also common. After the late republican
between a large pony and a snull rull-sizcd horse. In era the triga (three-horse chariot), much used under

98
Charioteer and chariot
First til third century ,\0
Bronz, gilded
l andosmuv-um Main?, 0,462

Many of the surviving small


figurines of charioteers
prohahlv originally siood in
model racing chariots drawn
by tc.rms of horses, which have
hecn preserved only in a few
cases. II is likely that this
chariot, now in Mainz, once
had two hronze horses pulling
it. The whor-ls are modern
additions Ih,'1 do not follow
classical models. Such
statuettes of higae wore used as
decorative items or toys. The
historian Suetonius tells us that
the emperor Nero \V(1S of len
found ill his rooms playing vvith
miniature ivory racing chariots,
instead of seeing to the
govornment of his empire.

performance they were inferior to their modern counter- Etruscan influence in the early Roman period, ran only
parts only in their ability to jump, which depends very in a few chariot-races with religious connotations.
much on the length of the legs. However, jumping was a Occasionally chariots had six horses (seiugae), eight
minor consideration in classical antiquity, and need not horses (actaiugae) or ten horses (decemiugae), and
be considered at all in chariot-racing. there are even pictorial depictions of vehicles drawn
Hard, healthy hooves were 0/ great importance, by twenty horses. Since in all these cases the horses
since nailed horseshoes were not used at the time. were harnessed to the chariot side by side, the diffi-
None the less, frequent racing all the very hard track of culty of driving the team increased enormously with
the circus arena must have meant considerable wear the number of animals, particularly when taking the
and tear. In addition, the horses' joints were subject to bends. Racing with such large teams served mainly to
great stress on the sharp 180-degree bends at the tu rn- demonstrate the bravura skills of individual star chario-
ing posts (metae), There was also the risk of injury, teers, and did not by any means result in higher
which must have been greater tor the horses than the speeds.
charioteers in the frequent crashes. Above all, injuries Contrary to a commonly held opinion, the Romans
meant that losses of animals were high, since broken knew perfectly well how to harness several pairs of
bones in horses were practically impossible to mend, draught animals behind each other, but they used this
and a horse with a fracture usually had to be put method of harnessing a team only to transport heavy
down, None the less, many horses survived hundreds loads over the roads on carts. With chariots for cere-
of races and went into honourable retirement. monial display or sport, the aim was to make as strik-

89
GLADIATORS AND CAESARS

were fixed to the yoke (iugum) placed over the withers.


99
Burial canister with racing Only the two central horses of a chariot with a team of
chariot more than two were beneath the yoke, and were there-
First century ,,\U fore called iugales. All the other horses were harnessed
Lead to the chariot to left and right of the iugales by traces,
Bruish Museum, London, PRB and were called funales. In a quae/riga they were the
19931-21 animals on which security and speed depended in
This lead Glnister contained a taking bends, while the iugales bore the main burden
glass rinerarv urn holding a of pulling and stabilizing the chariot.
cremation burial, II is decorated The yoke was a transverse bar about a metre in
with a panel showiru; the sun- length, positioned on the withers of the two iugales
god Sol riding in his chariot
and fixed to the front end of the pole, which had a pro-
which is depicted as a
nounced curve and slanted upwards. The pole was not
C/u,lClri,qa: the imagery of the
much more than about 2.3 metres long, and allowed
circus was widolv and
the horses to be harnessed quite tightly, making them
commonly used throughoul
easier to control. This explains why the Romans often
the Roman world.
tied up the tails of their racehorses with ribbons, for
otherwise the long, flowing hair of the tail could easily
have caught on the pole, the chariot or the traces.
Except in Jean Spruytte's experiments, practical
modern reconstructions have never harnessed the
horses to the yoke correctly. In most cases the traces,
starting from the sides of the belly girth rather than the
withers, have been fastened to a crossbar running in
front of the body of the chariot, the swingle-tree,
ing as possible a visual impression, and give the chari- which had not been invented in classical antiquity. A
oteer a chance to show his skill in difficult circum- swingle-tree means that it is unnecessary for the pole

stances. to curve up to the height of the horses' withers, since

There is also a persistent prejudice to the effect that instead it can simply run horizontally between the two

riding and driving in antiquity was inefficient because middle horses and be loosely fixed to their chest girths.
the slave-owning mentality of the Greeks and Romans The chariot is actually pulled by the shoulder muscles,

discouraged innovation, and that the horse was not not the chest.
properly exploited until the Middle Ages, which saw There are other respects in which the copies of

the invention of the horseshoe, the stirrup, the horse racing chariots in classical antiquity built for Ben Hur

collar and other new introductions. On closer exami- (and indeed other productions) are so imperfect that

nation, such theories turn out to be greatly exaggerated they could not possibly function in a historically cor-

and in some cases pure fiction. The harness used on rect manner. The chariots built in Rome by the Danesi

horses in antiquity is a case in point. brothers for the race in the film of Ben Hur, several of
The harness of the Greeks and Romans is said to which still adorn the garden of a restaurant in Ostia

have consisted of a strap around the neck and a girth Antica, look more like heavy armoured vehicles than

around the belly, exerting a strangulatory effect on sports equipment. They are massive structures made of

draught animals and preventing them from pulling steel tubing and thick, carved wood. The high body
loads weighing more than half a metric tonne. Race- of the chariot has been brought down to make it sit
horses certainly had lighter loads to pull, but it is still lower over the iron axle, and its floor consists of a

claimed that at high speed the harnessing system had tangle of steel strips. With a total weight of around (\

the effect of slowing the teams down. metric hundredweight, it is not surprising that during
Practical experiments, in particular those carried out filming the teams could run only four races of a single
by Jean Spruytte, have shown that these claims are lap each in a day (as compared to the seven laps of a

inaccurate. These experiments proved that two horses, real Roman chariot-race), and even so some of the

harnessed in the girths they would have worn in classi- horses were spitting blood. As we shall see, Roman

cal antiquity, could pull loads weighing a metric tonne racing chariots weighed little more than half a metric

even over heavy ground, and there were no obvious hundredweight.


disadvantages by comparison with modern harness, Even apart from such technical cinematic constraints

since the supposed 'neck strap' was really a broad girth as fitting hydraulic brakes for the scenes of accidents,

around the chest which did not affect the horse's the chariots built for the film are much too heavy

breathing or circulation in any way. because when the designers studied extant depictions
The girth around the belly met the chest girth on the of such vehicles they picked the wrong type as their

withers and stabilized it. At this point the two girths model: the triumphal chariot (currus triumphalis), not

90
()'; 1111SI.\~II~C; LI';E IVITli BE;~ HUR: CHARIOT-R,\C1.'<c IN THE CiI<CUS MAXIMUS

the racing chariot (currus circonsis: Both types did nature of the racing chariot. It certainly had a very
indeed originate in the two-wheeled war chariot of the long, straight axle, but the wheels were small and
second and early first millennia Ii( hut they held lost light, features that helped to stabilize the vehicle as
all military significance in the sixth cc-nturv IF in both it took sharp bends. The body of the chariot, which
Greece and Italy, and subsequcntlv dcvcloped in very unlike the war chariot or triumphal chariot had to

different ways. hold only one man, was small and low. It was not of
While the remains of over 2SI) origin,ll vehicles from massive construction and had no carved ornamenta-
the transitional phase between 11](' W,lr ch,uiot and the tion, but consisted of a kind of wooden framework.
impressive ceremonial chariot h.iv Iwen found in The spaces in this framework were filled in with
tombs of the Etruscan and Ital i.in nohi Iity of northern interwoven straps (for the floor) or with stretched
and in particular central Italy, 1](1 identifi,lhle I'l'm,lins fabric or leather (for the breastwork). The woven
of either triumphal or racing ch,HiIJts from the republi- floor was not only light in weight but provided a

can and imperial periods have hl'l'n found. We there- kind of springing.
fore have to depend entirely all ViSU,ll sources for the The miniature bronze big found in the Tiber (fig.

period concerned here. 100) is probably the best representation we have of a


The most monumental and lal1lili,lr pictorial records. Roman racing chariot, clearly illustrating the details

as might be expected, show triumph,ll ch,lriots. Since described above. If we take its proportions and those

100
Model of a two-horse chariot
(bigal
Fir,t to third ccnturvxr:
Bronze'
British ML"l'ufll. London.
CI< Iil'J4.10-311.1

The figure of the charioteer


dnd one of the horses ~He now
Illi"ing frolll this det.iiled
model. It w,is s.iid to have heen
found in Ihe "iV'er Tiber and
shows the nor III ,1I type 0;
Roman racing ch.uiot. Buill (or
speed. it had a light wooden
fralllE:' covered with f<'1hric or
leather. The "nail wheels ,md
low centre of gravity combined
manoouvrabilitv with st,lbility.

these, too, were two-wheeled vehicles drawn by a of several other good depictions as a guide, then we
team of tour horses harnessedskk: hv side. at a fleeting can assume that the measurements of el typical racing
glance there is a danger of rni,t,lking them for racing chariot were much as follows:
chariots, and the film-makers promptly made that mis- Total length of axle: 180 cm
take. The triumphal chariot. however. was a com- Gauge: 155 ern
pletely non-functional development of the war chariot, Diameter of wheels: 65 cm
which became a vehicle used solely for purposes of Height of chariot breastwork: 70 cm
prestige, a kind of state coach ill which the Iriumpha- Width of chariot body: 60 cm
tor rode through the streets in ,111his iinorv. So did Depth of chariot body: 55 cm
other high officials on occasion. ,1nd natur.illv the Total length of pole: 230 cm
emperor himself during the imperial period. Triumphs The wheels had six or, more frequently, eight spokes; it
were processions, and the chariot. controlled by a sep- is probable, although not certain, that they had thin
arate driver, moved solemnly in time with the rest of iron tyres. Apart from that, the builders of chariots

the procession. would certainly have been sparing in their use of metal
Reliefs and mosaics showing chariot-racing in the components, which we may assume were most likely

circus present a completely different picture of the to be found in the region of the toe of the axle and the

91
GLADIMORS AND CAESARS

top speed on the stra ight, and the stall ions, harnessed
side by side, must have incited each other to a very
high degree.

EQUIPMENT AND RACING TECHNIQUE


OF THE CHARIOTEERS

The great difference between Greek chariot-racing and


the Etruscan and Roman form of the sport is also evi-
dent in the equipment and driving style of the chario-
teers. While Greek drivers of the classical period wore
a long chiton and no protective clothing, Etruscan fres-
coes of the same period already show charioteers in a
short chiton and a helmet-like cap. The Romans devel-
oped protective clothing of almost modern appearance
for their drivers, including a crash helmet made of
leather or felt (pilleus), a lacing of straps around the
torso, and fasciae, wrappings of leather or linen on the
legs (figs 102 and 103). This clothing was intended to
protect the driver in collision with the breastwork of
his own chariot or in a fall, particularly if he were
dragged by his own horses. To avert that danger, the
auriga also had a curved knife which he carried stuck
in the straps of his torso lacing, so that in an emer-
gency he could cut the reins slung around his body.
The danger of being dragged over the ground of the
circus arena was considerably greater for Etruscan and
101 Roman aurigae than for their Greek counterparts, who
Knife-handle in the form held the reins in their hands, while Etruscan and
of a charioteer Roman charioteers wrapped the reins around their
First to fourth century AD
waists and tied them fast. They braced their entire
Bronze
bodies against the reins, steering the chariot by shifting
British Museum, London,
their weight and using the left hand only to correct
PRB 1856.7-1.1249
course, while the right hand was entirely free to wield
Found in London, this ornate the whip. This driving style was more dynamic and
knife-handle shows a victorious
flexible than that of the Greek charioteers, but more
charioteer with characteristic
dangerous too.
helmet, tunic and protective
Undoubtedly the racing technique was aggressive
strapping around his waist.
and ruthless. A charioteer would cut across the path of
London and Colchester are the
an adversary's chariot, trying to force it aside and up
most likely venues for chariot-
racing in Roman Britain, against the central barrier, and dangerous collisions
but as yet no circus has been were an accepted part of the race. Such situations
identified. were exacerbated by the teamwork between chario-
teers of the separate factions, who would try to help
hub. Iron axles were still unknown. A racing chariot their top team to victory by shielding it, blocking
certainly weighed less than the Egyptian war chariot, opposing teams and forcing them aside. The situation
which was intended to carry two men in battle but still was of course particularly critical at the turning posts
weighed only around 35 kg including the pole, as finds (metae), where the chariots had to drive round a bend
of original chariots show. We can therefore estimate of 180 degrees. Such light vehicles could go into pro-
that the weight of a Roman racing chariot was 25-30 nounced skids, which the auriga had to calculate skil-
kg. Since the charioteers will certainly have been fully. Since every team tried to take the bend as tightly.
rather lightly built men, the entire weight the horses and as fast as possible, that was where the danger of
had to pull in the race can be put at a maximum of mass collisions was greatest (d. fig. 104).
100 kg. In a bige, then, each animal had to pull 50 kg, In the film Ben Hurthe charioteers wear fantastically
in a quadriga 25 kg. Since this weight was drawn designed garments, partly Hellenistic and partly exotic
along absolutely firm, level ground, the burden on the oriental, with helmets to match. The eponymous hero
animals was minimal, and in any case very much less looks more like a Roman charioteer than the others
than in a horseback race. The horses could reach their with his leather helmet, leather strapping and dagger,

92
o~ I ur SnRTIr-.,c LI,'iE WITII BEN HUR: CHARIOT-RACING IN THE CIRCUS MAXIMUS

102 (I'M LEFT)


Charioteer
Second centurvxu
Bronze
RCimisch-Germanisches
Museum der Stadt Koln.
95,1996

This figure was once part of a


miniature chariot-racing team

(see fig. 82). The charioteer


held his team's reins with his
arms outstretched. His
protective clothing of helmet,
leather strapping and fasciae is
reproduced in detail.

103 (LEIT)

Charioteer
Imperial Roman period
Bronze
Musee du Louvre, Paris,

BR 714

The dating of this outstanding


bronze statuette is
controversial, since various

details of the charioteer's


equipment, such as his curious
protective headgear and the
way the leather lacing divides
in front; are not found in

comparable pieces. Because


of this, some scholars have
assumed that the statuette really
dates from the Renaissance

although he stupidly takes off his helmet at the begin- Reeves Eason in 1926 - there are even photographs period in the fifteenth to

showing extras posing in the arena beside great piles of sixteenth centuries. The palm
ning of the race, in line with the ridiculous cinematic
branch held by the charioteer
convention of allowing the protagonist to defy danger dead animals - thirty-three years later, when the
shows that he has just won a
bareheaded. All the charioteers drl' driving in the arrangement of the race was supervised by Andrew
race.
Greek style with the reins in their h,lnds, and no one Marton and Yakima Cannutt, the filming passed off
has slung them around the body, SO it is rather surpris- without a single serious injury to either man or beast.
ing that in his fatal fall Messala nrver thinks of simply Most of the accidents during the race in Wyler's film
letting go of the reins, instead of clinging on and being are of a very realistic character, particularly the first,
dragged for some distance. when a bend is taken too tightly at one of the turning
The frequency of spectacular aecie/pnls in which the posts. However, the 'Greek' chariot driven by the vil-
chariot teams were a total write-ott W,1S of course lain Messala, with rotating blades on the axles
extremely high - the Roman lechnical term was intended to cut at the spokes of his adversaries' chari-
naufragium, shipwreck. While Fred Niblos 1926 film ots, is an unfortunate product of the imagination. In
version of Ben Hur was content with four l1allti'ai~ia out view of the carefully devised system of equal chances
of ten teams on the starting line, Wyler's film shows six that lay behind the whole concept of Roman chariot-
of nine teams totally written off, no! to mention a sol- racing, any man who turned up in such a vehicle
dier being run over. Surprisingly, tour teams still would have been disqualified by the referee or
manage to reach the finish, something the present lynched by the crowd as certainly as a modern foot-
author noticed only when repeatedly re-running the bailer who attacked the other team's goalkeeper with a
video of this scene, a possibility th.it could not have heavy club outside the penalty area.
been anticipated in 1959.
However, the actual filming W,1S considerably less THE CIRCUS
brutal in 1959 than 1926, since by the late!9S0s it
was necessary to bear in mind the protests of animal Of all large Roman buildings intended for mass enter-
protection organizations. While about a hundred tainment, the circus was by far the most expensive, and
horses died in the filming of the race arranged by B. consequently the one least often found outside Rome

93
CLAI)IATOI,S AND CAESARS

104 itself. The arena of the Circus Maximus had an area of wood and then of stone. Until the later part of the first
Relief with chariot crashing about 45,000 square metres, making it twelve times century AI), moreover, the circus was not just the scene
First half of the first century M) larger than the arena of the Colosseum, the biggest of chariot-racing but also of athletic contests and
Terracotta Roman amphitheatre, while the tiers of the cavea animal hunts, since it was not until the Flavian period
Kunsthistorischcs Museum
would accommodate at least 150,000 spectators, as (AD 69-96) that special buildings were erected for
Wien, Antikensammlung,
against a maximum of 50,000 in the Colosseum, these events.
ASV 49
The Circus Maximus served as the model for other The form of the circus arena resembled that of the
Terracotta reliefs of this kind sporting venues of its kind. They did not reach their stadium, with two parallel long sides, one curved
were used \0 face the eaves of definitive form until the beginning of the second cen- narrow side and one straight narrow side, but the long
houses or as wall decoration,
tury AD, under the emperor Trajan, but the crucial step sides of the circus were of considerably greater extent.
This panel \V(1S part of a series,
from provisional racetrack without permanent build- In the state it achieved under Trajan, the arena of the
together with that shown In fig.
ings to a self-contained architectural work was taken in Circus Maximus was 550-580 metres long and about
105. The example above, now
the late republican period (first century BC). The monu- 80 metres wide, The smallest public circus known to
in Vienna, shows an accident at
the turning post. The driver has mental circus was a Roman innovation. The Greeks, us (at Gerasa in Jordan) had an arena measuring 244 x

fallen backwards out of his Etruscans and indeed the Romans of the early period 51 metres.
chariot, and must now try to ran their races on improvised tracks (hippodromes), The straighter narrow side, which did in fact have a
cut through the reins to avoid preferably laid out in broad valleys that could be over- slight concave curve, contained the twelve starting
being dragged by the horses. looked by spectators sitting on the slopes, Once it had boxes (carceres), flanked by towers. The larger part of
been drained, the valley between the Palatine and the arena was divided down its length by a double
Aventine hills in which the Circus Maximus lay ful- wall forming a barrier (spina or euripus), In the Circus
filled these conditions ideally. From the fourth century Maximus it was 335 metres long and 8 metres wide. It
BC onwards the Romans began to equip their most was around the spina (literally, backbone) that the
important racetrack with permanent buildings, first of teams raced after their starting spurt. The metae, or

94
()\ 1111SI\~llc;(, LI,F \\HH BE, HlI~: CHA~I()J-RACI,C I, THE Ci~cUS MAXIMUS

turning posts, stood at its two ends; thr-v were plat- teams would travel the same distance before reaching 105

forms with a semi-circular ground plan. each of which the white chalk line marked on the ground between Relief with chariot-racing
the fi rst of the metal' and the right-hand outer wall Earl), first century ,Ill
bore three pillars tapering up to an egg-shaped finial,
rerracolta
The spina was richly ornamented lJl'twel'n the niet.u: (podium) of the arena, In this way none of the contes-
British Museum, London,
with statues of gods (although not OJ such monstrous tants was at a disadvantage,
GR 18ih7-LB7
dimensions as in the film of Ben Hurl dnd with palms When the chariots reached this line, after a starting
spurt along the straight, it can be assumed that most of A four-horse team IC{uadriga)
and obelisks (cf. figs 106, 1(7), The empty space
them were still approximately level, forming a broad approaches the three cones of
between the two walls forming the harrier was some-
the turning pOSI (metal,
times filled with water, hence the naml' euripus, canal. front The architects therefore did not position the
which a tiort.nor (a rider who
Platforms with frames containing seve egg shapes and spina precisely down the lengthwise axis of the arena
encouraged the contestants) has
seven dolphin shapes also stood 011 the spina; these but gave it a slight bias, so that the distance between
already passed, The turns were
devices were used as counters, sign,lliing the number the podium and the metae to the right of the spina, a
the point of maximum danger,
of laps that had been driven, A Sl'cond set of eggs width of 42 metres, was considerably greater than on where the charioteer and the
stood at the edge of the arena, where it probably the other side, a width of 30 metres, In this way the inside lead-horse played a
relayed information to the charioteers, teams were guided into a racecourse narrowing like a critical role, and the maker of

The distance from the carceres to the nearest meta funnel, for it was to be expected that the field would the plaque has skilfully

was 170 metres in the Circus Maxilllus, The chario- string out in the course of the first lap, and less space captured the tension of the

would then be needed, In the late Roman period the moment.


teers drove this part of the course only once, at the
start, as their teams made for the art'.l on the right of track was widened further at the white line by giving
the spina, round which they had to drive seven times the podium an outward bend at this point The care-
anti-clockwise for the rest of the race', The curved line fully considered construction of racetracks in the
along which the starting boxes stood was asymmetri- imperial period is one of the most impressive examples
cally designed by the Roman architects, so Ihat all the of the famous functionalism of Roman architecture,

95
GL\DtATORS AND CAESARS

106
If we are to calculate the actual distance of a race of
Circus beaker with chariot-
seven laps in the Circus Maximus, the position of the
racing
finishing line must be determined. John H. Humphrey
First century AD
Glass has convincingly shown that it was probably on the
British Museum, London, right-hand side of the track, just before the end of the
PRB 1870.2-24.3 spina, where one of the two referees' boxes was
placed. The teams therefore drove around the two
This mould-blown glass beaker
from Colchester shows four
metae seven times, and the race symmetrically ended

quadriga teams racing in the with a repeat performance of the distance covered in

circus. The middle Lone depicts the spurt at the start. A good charioteer who kept close
the central barrier (spina) with to the spina and took the bends around the metae as
obelisks, lap-counters and other tightly as possible had to drive 5,200 metres at the very
monuments, while the least. Modern racetracks (for mounted horses) are usu-
inscribed upper zone records ally 2,000-3,000 metres.
that the charioteer Cresccs beat
The consistency of the surface in the arena was of
his opponents Hierax,
the utmost importance for a good race. It has been
Olympaeus and Antilocus.
ascertained that the circus at Aries had a foundation of
stamped mud, covered with a layer of coarse gravel
(diameter of the stones 2-4 em) to a depth of 10-20
ern, The circus at Sirrniurn had a 30-em layer of fine
gravel over a foundation of lime mortar with a thin

107
Relief with Cupid chariot-race
Mid-second century AU
Marble
Museo Archeologico Naziona!
di Napoli, 6712

The race is in its deciding


phase. The apparatus with the
eggs shows that there is only
one lap left to go. Four chariots
in all are racing for victory,
each accompanied hy a man
on horseback (the tiortoton.
The charioteer in tronr is about
to win; his hortator is waving
to him. The charioteer hehind
is falling forward over the
hreastwork of his chariot, and
in view of the accident about to
happen, the rider behind him
clutches at his head in despair.
The following teams cannot
now influence the outcome of
the race, however much the
accompanying Cupids urge
them on. Assistants are

sprinkling the ground of the


circus with water; one of them
has lost his straw-covered
container and fallen under the
hooves of the last team.

96
()~ IIIf SrWII,c, LI~E WITH BF~ HL:R: CHAR!OT-RNJc.lC IN HIE CiRCUS M;\XIMUS

108
layer of crushed brick on top. The VCIV top l.ivcr may
Lamp with lap counter
be assumed to have been of sand, proiJ,liJly 110t l.iid First cellturv ,,\U

very thickly (and in Sirmium brick-dust l11,lV have been Pottery


a substitute), but little or nothing of 111,lttop Lwer has Antikensammlung,Staatliche

been preserved. Of course the subsoil, 1\l'11 lewlled, Musecn LU lJerlin. TC 7481

must have had some kind of provisior lor dr,lin,lge, or The .ipparatu- r ont.uns the
the arena would very soon have turned into ,1 Sl\,lmp. dolphin figures used to count
Traces of drainage devices have indeed Ill'l'n tound in laps during a race.

various places, for instance in CaeSan\l ,1I1e1 Carthage.


For the race in the 1959 film of Be /-lUI ..!c, ern 01
crushed lava was first laid on a levellc'd stonl' surlace,
and on top of that 20 cm of yellow s,mel with a total
weight of 40,000 tonnes. This proved 10 Iw fM too
deep, and it was all removed except lor -+ cm 01
crushed lava, a layer that proved sun itnt to give the
horses a soft, stable footing and achiov.: (olltrollaille
skids at the bends. None the less, there \\('1(' problems
with ruts, for which the over-heavy (Iwiots \\i II h.iv
been chiefly to blame.
To look briefly at the film 01 Ben }-fill ,1g,lirl: th size
and shape of the arena and the desigll 01 till' spin,] are

97
GLADIATORS AND CAES/\RS

basically correct apart from the monumental sculp- boys standing around the edge of the arena trying to
tures, which are badly miscalculated in both style and refresh the horses and drivers of their own teams with
dimensions. The lap counter device with the dolphins water. Several reliefs show them going under the char-
is pretty, although the eggs were ignored. However, the iot wheels. Other members of staff included referees,
function of the starting boxes and therefore the whole officials to count the laps, trumpeters and so on.
beginning of the race are entirely misrepresented. The function of the hortatores or iubiJatores is not
quite clear: they were individual horsemen wearing
ORGANIZATION AND STAFF protective clothing similar to that of the aurigae. They
appear in many depictions, and each seems to have
In the imperial period there were normally twenty-four been assigned to a particular team. They probably rode
races a day during the Judi (games) of the city of Rome. ahead to act as guides, showing the charioteers the
The organizational expense involved was enormous way in the dust and confusion of the race, indicating
and was mainly borne by the circus factions. If all good opportunities ahead and warning of dangers.
twenty-four races had the maximum number of Except round the bends, they were no faster than the
entrants, twelve quadrigae, there would have been teams themselves, but they could move with much
1,152 horses a day racing. But since as a rule some of more agility, making use of gaps, and since they had to
the races were run with bigee, and it was quite usual concentrate on managing only a single horse they had
for four or eight teams to be on the starting line instead a better view than the drivers. We do not know

109 of twelve, the actual number will have been more like whether they were present in all races or at all phases
Relief with chariot-racing 700-800 horses, still a very large number, particularly of a race. In any case, they were purely auxiliaries; the
Third century AD
as additional horses, probably 200-300 of them, had teams alone determined victory or defeat.
Marble Unlike the activity of the hortatores, the perfor-
to be available for the use of the staff and the acrobatic
British Museum, London,
riders. mances of the desuJtores were a separate part of the
GR 1805.7-3.134
The horses were well prepared and groomed for the programme performed between chariot-races. The
The front of a child's race in the stables belonging to the factions, which desultores were acrobatic riders, clothed in loincloths
sarcophagus, showing four were 1-2 km away from the Circus Maximus on the and conical caps and carrying long whips, who raced
charioteers racing in bigae around the arena at a full gallop, each leading a
Campus Martius. Hundreds of stable lads and grooms
(two-horse chariots) in the
were employed, as well as cartwrights and saddlers to second horse beside him and leaping from one horse
circus at Rome. Each charioteer
look after the chariots and harness, not to mention to another in a certain rhythm - probably after each of
is accompanied by a mounted
doctors and veterinary surgeons. the seven laps. Acrobatic horsemen jumping on and
escort (!Jorlalor). The spersores,
A great many more staff were needed in the circus off their mounts at high speed, often carrying weapons,
who watered the horses and
tended the track, can be seen itself. The starting boxes and in particular the mecha- are known to us from Greek and Etruscan culture, but
Iyi ng or kneel ing on the nism for unbolting them had to be serviced, the arena only the Romans rode with two horses each. The
ground. had to be tidied up between races, and there must be Greeks and Etruscans did use an additional horse
men ready to clear wrecked chariots and move injured in military operations, but it was the Romans who
men and horses away from a naufragium (collision) as seem to have made a sporting performance out of the
quickly as possible and give first aid - a very danger- practice.
ous task while a race was still running (the realistically It is a remarkable fact that the simplest and most nat-
presented operations of the recovery team in Ben Hur ural form of horse-racing, with mounted jockeys racing
provide several exciting episodes in the race). Another each other on single horses, does not seem to have
risky activity seems to have been that of the spersores, been practised by the Romans at all in publ ic competi-

98

---- ... _---~~--------'->-


0:--; I HF S 1\lm"C LI"E WITH BE" HL:R: C!-jARIOT-RACf,'JG IN THE CiRCUS MAXIMUS

tion. Among the Greeks such races wel'e as common their opponents. Allocation of the boxes was by draw- 110

as chariot-racing, but pictorial depictions show that ing lots, a process conducted publicly in full view of Relief with tense
Third century AD
they fell out of fashion with the Etru .ins in the course the audience. A ball for each team was placed in a
Marble
of the sixth century Be. As lean-Paul Thuillier has revolving urn. The charioteers then chose starting
British Museum, London,
demonstrated, this is one of the cle.tr indications that boxes in the order in which their balls were picked out
eR 1805.7-3145
Roman equestrian sports developed under Etruscan of the urn, and only the outcome would show whether
rather than Greek influence. a decision had been good or bad. A section 0; the lid-panel of a

Once the positions of the teams had been deter- sarcophagus, restored in the
eighteenth century. showing
THE CONDUCT OF THE RACE mined, they entered the boxes (carceres). As the name
part of the ceremonial circus
(meaning 'prisons') indicates, these were closed, cell-
procession at the start of the
In the city of Rome chariot-racing W,lS the most spec- like areas. The gates (ostia, meaning 'mouths') opening
games. The lema, a chest for
tacular part of the Judi, the games in honour of specific on to the arena were over 6 metres wide in the Circus
sacred objects which is
deities usually lasting several days ,JIlel reguLlrl,1 held Maximus, so that even teams of eight horses could get depicted here as a shrine witb
on certain fixed elates. Chariot-races (ould ,llso be held through. In other circuses the ostia generally measured images of Jupiter, Castor and
independently of the festive calenddr on special OCCil- only 3-3.5 metres, providing space for teams no larger Pollux on Ihe sides, is being

sions. for instance to celebrate a triumph. than the quaclriga. It has been worked out that each taken on a four-horse cart from

The pompa circensis, the great prot ('ssion preceding horse needed about 67.5 cm. the Capitoline Hill to the Circus

the competition, was the feature most cle.ulv illustrat- The ostia had double swing doors, closed under ten- Maximus.

ing the religious context in which till' r,Killg had origi- SiOIl, that would suddenly spring out towards the arena
nated. Accompanied by musicians and dancers, when unbolted. The tension was produced with the aid
members of youth organizations, men carrying the stat- of twisted bundles of sinews, a system adopted from

ues of gods, and many other groups, the holder of the torsion artillery weapons. They were unbolted centrally
event stood in a triumphal quaclrig.l. the r,King teams with the aid of cords pulled back so that all twelve
and the athletes entered the arena, and then prepara- gates opened at the same moment, and it was as if the

tions for the racing itself could begin. 'mouths' were actually spitting the teams out into the

First the factions had to have their starting boxes arena (figs 111, 112). Thanks to this ingenious method,

assigned to them, a matter of considerable importance devised by the Romans in the late republican period
for the conduct of the whole race, since depending 011 (first century BC), there could be no false starts. The
their situation teams could shelter their favourites, and famous starting signal given by the holder of the games

block or impede the progress of those favoured by when he threw down the meppe, a piece of cloth, was

99

_--.-..-~~~~~~JJ
GLADIATORS AND CAESARS

What speeds were reached and how long did a race


in the Circus Maximus last? Racing straight up the long
side of the spina, the teams could temporarily reach
speeds of up to about 75 kph, but they had to slow
down considerably before the metae, probably to
25-30 kph. Of course a charioteer had to take into
account the very long total distance to be covered - at
least S.2 km - and must not tire his horses too soon.
To calculate the duration, we can take as a point of
reference a race on horseback staged in 1989 by the
present author and some friends in the well-preserved
late Roman Circus of Maxentius on the Appian Way.
We used Camargue horses of very much the same size
and build as the Roman horses. The Circus of Maxen-
tius is rather smaller than the Circus Maximus; the
length of the spurt from the carceres at the start is 159
metres, the spina measures 296 metres, so that after
seven laps a horse has gone about 4,570 metres. The
fastest of our horses reached top speeds of up to 70
kph, but the average speed, in a racing time of 10 min-
utes 20 seconds in all, was only 26.5 kph. Transferred
to the Circus Maximus, these calculations would make
111 for the men working the unbolting mechanism and the length of the race 11 minutes 45 seconds. Consid-
Ostia with quadriga above all for the public, but not for the charioteers, ering that our horses, carrying the full weight of their
Reconstruction
who could not see it in their 'prisons', although they riders on their backs, had a considerably heavier load
Drawing: Nikol"us Grohmann
were able to hear the accompanying trumpet fanfare. than quadriga-pulling horses, which would also have
The circus in the film of Ben Hur does have been better trained, and finally that the ground of the
cercetes, but they are not partitioned off from each arena had not been specially prepared for us and was
other and serve only as a place for the teams to stand bone-hard, it may certainly be assumed that the aver-
ready. After a lap of honour like a parade the chariots age speed of Roman racehorses was more Iike 35 kph,
start in the middle of the right-hand half of the rrark. A which would make the duration of a race 8-9 minutes.
realistic view is presented of the confusion resulting This coincides exactly with the time taken by the race
from the nervous state of the horses and charioteers - in the film of Ben Hur (8 minutes 20 seconds).
including a false start - in fact, those very conditions Once the race was over the victory celebration took
that the Romans had succeeded in avoiding with their place (d. fig. 113). The successful auriga climbed up to
starting boxes. the box of the holder of the games and received his
As described above, once the teams had left the prizes in the form of a palm branch, a wreath and

112 (I\/CHl i\ND (!PF)O~IT[)


carceres they made for the white line between the money. Instead of the traditional laurel wreath, wreaths

Frieze with chariot-racing


spina and the right-hand wall of the podium. So that of flowers or circlets of thin metal often seem to have
c. !ID 12S-,0 there would be no crashes on this open stretch before been used in late antiquity. The victor then drove a lap
Marble the white line, the teams had to drive straight towards of honour past the applauding crowd and left the
Britisb Museum, London, it and not cut in across each other, but once they had arena.
GR 180S.7-3.133 crossed the line each charioteer could choose his own To conclude this chapter, I will quote two more
Musee du Louvre, Paris, route. Naturally they all tried to get as close to the sources that give a good idea of the drama of chariot-
MA 152, MA 151, MA 157S spina as possible, in order to keep the bends short and racing in the circus, and of the dark passions aroused
All four panels oi this frieze' tight. by this sport. The most detailed and lively account left
came trom the Emperor
Hadrian's villa at Tivoli. They
show Cupids in racing chariots,
but driving fantastic teams of
hounds, antelopes, camels and
wild boar. The British Museum
panel shows the beginning of
the race and the starting boxes
(carceres) with their open gates.
In the other panels can be seen
an obelisk and the dolphin lap-
counter, which were part of the
decoration of the spina.

100
(J" I HI STYRTI,C LL\JEWITH BtN HUR; CHARIOT-R,\C1NC IN THE CiRCUS MAXIMUS

in their track. The drivers, while they wield the reins, ply 113

the lash; now they stretch forward over the chariots with lamp with circus victory

stooping breasts, and so they sweep along, striking the procession


Firstcentury ,\[)
horses' withers and leaving their backs untouched. VVith
Pottery
charioteers so prone it would puzzle you to pronounce
British Museum, London,
whether they were more supported by the pole or the
GR 1Ii5612-26.479
wheels. Now as if flying out of sight on wings, you had
traversed the more open part, and you were hemmed in by Saidto be from Pozzuoli,
this lamp showsa victorious
the space that is cramped by craft, amid which the central
lead-horse frorn a chariot tearn
barrier has extended its long low double-walled structure.
surroundedby jubilant
VVhen the farther turning-post freed you from all restraint
supporters,somewith palm-
once more, yow partner went ahead of the two others, branches.The figure in front
who had passed you; so then, according to the law of the carriesa banner or placard that
circling course, you had to take the fourth track. The bore the horso'<name and the
drivers in the middle were intent that if haply the first man, number of races it had won.

embarrassed by a dash of his steeds too much to the right,


should leave a space open on the left by heading for the
surrounding seats, he should be passed by a chariot driven
in on the near side. As for you, bending double with the
very force of the eHort you keep a tjght rein on your team
and with consummate skill wisely reserve them for the
seventh lap. The others are busy with hand and voice, and

by any classical author of a chariot-race is in a poem everywhere the sweat of drivers and flying steeds falls in

by Sidonius Apollinaris, writing in the titth century ,YI). drops on 10 the field. The hoarse roar from applauding

It describes an amateur race in the court circus won by partisans stirs the heart, and the contestants, both horses

Consentius, the poet's friend, but til(' coneluct of the and men, are warmed by the race and chilled by fear. Thus

race differs only very slightly from that of a profes- they go once round, then a second time; thus goes the third

sional event. There are only four qu,nlrig,/c at the start, lap, thus the fourth; but in the fjfth turn the foremost man,

with the corours White and Blue racing together unable to bear the pressure of his pursuers, swerved his car

against Red and Green, as was often thl' C,lse; aside, for he had found, as he gave command to his fleet

Brightty gleam the colours, white and hluo. grl'l'n .ind reel, team, that their strength was exhausted. Now the return

your several badges. Servants' hands hold moull) ami reins half of the sixth course was completed and the crowd was

and with knotted cords force the twisted 111,1Ill',10 hide already clamouring for the award of the prizes; your

themselves, and all the while they incill' 111(',tl'l'lb, l',lgerly adversaries, with no fear of any effort from you, were

cheering them with encouraging pats .uid ilbtilling ,1


scouring the track in front with never a care, when

rapturous frenzy. There behind the barlll'r, ch,lIe those suddenly you tautened the curbs all together, tautened your

beasts, pressing against the fastenings, "hil(, a vapOWI' chest, planted your feet firmly in front, and chafed the

blast comes forth between the woodeu h.irs .inr l oven mouths of your swift steeds ... Hereupon one of the others,

before the race the field they have not wt "Iltl'rec! i, Iii led clillging to the shortest route round the turning post, was

with their panting breath. They push, 11,,'1'


hust!. tlwy hustled by you, and his team, carried away beyond control

drag, they struggle, they rage, they jUlll!" thev 1",11 ami are by their onward rush, could no more be wheeled round in

feared; never are their feet still, hut rE'sllc'"lv Ilwy 1,1shthe a harmonious course. As you saw him pass before you in

hardened timber. At last the herald w;lh loud hl,m' of disorder, you got ahead of him by remaining where you

trumpet calls forth the impatient teams "ndldunl hes the were, cunningly reining up. The other adversary, exulting

fleet chariots into the field ... The groulld gil'(" way under in the public plaudits, ran too far to the right, close to the

the wheels and the air is smirched with Ihe dUSIthat rises spectators; then as he turned aslant and all too late after

101
GLADIATORS AND CAESARS

114
Jar with chariot-race
Second century AD
Pottery
British Museum, London,
PRB1857.8-6.1

This colour-coated pottery jar


from Colchester is decorated
with a Iively depiction of a
quadriga race. The four factions
are shown, each charioteer
clad in helmet, jerkin and
trousersand holding whip and
reins. No circus has yet been
identified in Britain, but the
spirited rendering of the race
shown on this locally made pot
indicates a familiarity with the
sport in the provi nce.

long indifference urged his horses with the whip, you sped BASUTHATEO ALEO SAMABETHOR ... Bind the horses
straight past your swerving rival. Then the enemy in whose names and images on this implement I entrust to
reckless haste overtook you and, fondly thinking that the you; of the Red [team]: Silvanus, Servator, Lues, Zephyrus,
first man had already gone ahead, shamelessly made for Blandus, Imbraius, Dives, Mariscus, Rapidus, Oriens,
your wheel with a sidelong dash. His horses were brought Arbustus; of the Blues: Imminens, Dignus, l inon, Paezon,
down, a multitude of intruding legs entered the wheels, Chrysaspis, Argutus, Diresor, Frugiferus, Euphrates,
and the twelve spokes were crowded, until a crackle came Sanctus, Aethiops, Praeclarus. Bind their running, their
from those crammed spaces and the revolving rim power, their soul, their onrush, their speed. Take away their
shattered the entangled feet; then he, a fifth victim, flung victory, entangle their feet, hinder them, hobble them, so
from his chariot, which fell upon him, caused a mountain that tomorrow morning in the hippodrome they are not
of manifold havoc, and blood disfigured his prostrate brow. able to run or walk about, or win, 01' go out of the starting
(To Consentius, Letters 13, 305-4260.) gates, or advance either on the racecourse or track, but
The other text is from a lead curse tablet probably of may they fall with their drivers, Euprepes, son of
the third century AD found in a tomb in Carthage. Such Telesphoros, and Gentius and Felix and Dionysios 'the
tablets, bearing texts in which charioteers or their fans biter' and Lamuros. Bind their hands, take away their
invoke demons, asking them to bring misfortune on the victory, their exit, their sight, so that they are unable to see
horses and drivers of the other factions, were found in their rival charioteers, but rather snatch them up from their
considerable numbers in many parts of the Roman chariots and twist them to the ground so that they alone
empire: fall, dragged along allover the hippodrome, especially at
I invoke you, spirit of one untimely dead, whoever you are, the turning points, with damage to their body, with the
by the mighty names SALBATHBAL AUTHGEROTABAL horses whom they drive. Now, quickly.

102