The prestige of the horse races

The horse races were the most expensive sport of all. Breeding thoroughbreds - preferably for a four-horse chariot - and transporting them to the organizing city - sometimes oversea - costed a fortune. The race with four-horse chariots was, therefore, the elite-sport par excellence. Moreover, the horse races were the only sport in which a good result could be obtained by a participant who had other important occupations and could not spend all his time on sports. A rented charioteer trained the horses and drove them during the race. Money was the best guarantee for success.

Nearly all victors of the horse races belonged to the highest nobility. The important noble families from sixth-century Athens (the Alcmaeonids, the Kerkyres and the Philaids) sent four-horse and two-horse chariots to the games to uphold the family prestige and regularly appear on the victors lists. In the first half of the fifth century the Sicilian tyrants Gelon and Hieron of Syracuse, Theron of Akragas and Anaxilas of Rhegion obtained a series of victories. In the fourth century BC, the Macedonian king Philip won several racing events. In the first century AD the Roman emperors Tiberius and Nero participated with their horses.

Also noble ladies excelled. Both Spartan and Ptolemaic princesses won Olympic victories in the horse races.

© KU Leuven, 2012