History : Jul-Aug 2018
NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC HISTORY 15 piloted the quadriga, a chariot drawn by four horses. Often traveling at highly dangerous speeds, each chariot raced around a track about 150 feet wide. Shorter races lasted about 15 minutes, marked in laps around the central spina (spine) of the racecourse. The Hippo- drome’s spina was crowned with the an- cient Egyptian Thutmose obelisk, the so- called Constantine Obelisk, and a bronze pillar composed of three entwined snakes that had been looted from Delphi. The most dangerous moment was the sharp, full turn at each end of the spina, a ma- neuver that involved slowing the horses, but which was still executed at nearly 20 miles an hour. These brutal contests were A Day at the Roman Races THE TYPICAL EVENTS at the Hippodrome promised nonstop spectacle and excitement for the fans of chariot racing. The number of races might range from eight to 25 in the course of a day, giving viewers the chance to see many of their favorite racers risk their lives. In the quest for victory a charioteer faced plenty of hideous fates: crashing his vehicle, becoming tangled in the reins and being throttled or maimed; or falling out and being crushed under stampeding horses’ hooves. The number of laps varied, but a seven-lap race could last as long as 15 minutes. There were several categories of race, typically broken up by the age of the driver: teenagers, charioteers in their early 20s, and very experienced pilots ages mid- 20s and older. Bets were placed on which team or driver would win, and although the charioteering was top billing, there was plenty of activity to keep the crowd amused between races: Food vendors, acrobats, dancers, and animal tamers, all were a part of the noisy scene at the Hippodrome.