Roman horse races

Roman horse races differed in several respects from the Greek races. The Romans drove, just like the Greeks, two-horse and four-horse chariots, but they did not have a race of horses with riders. The main difference lies in the diverging views of Romans and Greeks on sport.
P269 For the Greeks, sport was organized in the first place for the participants. Rich amateurs spent a lot of money to participate in the games and got prestige in return. That the spectators also enjoyed themselves was of secondary importance. The Romans organized sport events mainly to entertain the spectators. Among the participants were slaves and freedmen, no distinguished men. The authorities supplied money for this entertainment. Besides horse races also gladiator fights were very popular with the public.
These views affected the infrastructure of the race track. A Greek hippodrome was just a racing track, without buildings and without seats. The Roman circus was a complex building with thousands of seats for spectators. In the middle of the race track, the two turning points were connected by a wall, the spina, which was decorated with sculptures and columns. There was place for only twelve chariots.

In the Roman world, the horses were not owned by a private person and the horses and jockey did not run to increase the prestige of the owner. Instead four factions or stables, each recognisable by its colour, namely the Whites, the Reds, the Greens and the Blues, participated with several chariots. The crowd supported a colour or a faction, not an individual chariot. Politicians tried to increase their popularity with the crowd by connecting themselves to one of the factions. The Blue and Green factions were the most important ones, and remained so in the Byzantine period.

© KU Leuven, 2012