Horse races

P171Horse racing was the most prestigious competition in the games. Only the very rich could afford to keep racing horses and to transport them to Olympia or elsewhere. The owners did not participate in person, but a jockey drove in their place. Nevertheless the owners were proclaimed as victors. In this way also women, children and even cities could become Olympic victors.
In the horse races there were different events: the four-horse chariot, the two-horse chariot and the horse with rider.

P078The horse races took place in the hippodrome. A simple hippodrome could be constructed on any more or less flat surface for a single occasion. The plain had to be sufficiently wide for a large number of participants (sometimes up to fifty). Two turning points were built at the ends. These were the most dangerous points. Because everyone wanted to take the inner side of the turn, accidents were most likely to occur here. There were no seats for the spectators. They watched from the surrounding hills. At Olympia a starting mechanism made all the horses start at the same time.
From the Roman period onwards the Greek races lost their popularity because of the competition with the Roman horse races, but in the first place because the contest-circuit was now more international, and while the athletes could afford travelling widely across the Mediterranean, this was far more difficult and expensive with horses.

© KU Leuven, 2012