Chariot Racing

The biggest show in town (and by town, I mean ancient Rome). The Daily Telegraph agrees. Hmmm. The ludi circenses (literally ‘circus games’ – any game at which there was chariot racing) were part of major religious festivals. The Roman historian Livy has this to say about the institution of the  Ludi Apollinares in 212 BCE, along with its chariot races:

Then the second prophecy was read. It was not only more obscure than the first because the future is more uncertain than the past, but it was also more unintelligible because of the language it used. It ran as follows:

“If, Romans, you desire to drive out the enemy who came from far away to mar your land, then see that ludi be held in honour of Apollo as each fourth year comes round; and your Republic shall bear its part and all your people shall share this sacred work, each for himself and his. Your praetor, who shall justice do for each and all, shall be in charge. Then let there be Decemviri[1] selected who shall offer sacrifice in Greek fashion. If you will do this then you shall always rejoice and your state shall prosper; and the god will destroy the enemies who now consume your land. Then shall you rejoice forever.”

They spent one day interpreting this prophecy; the day after that, the Senate passed a resolution that the Decemviri should inspect the sacred books with reference to the institution of Games to Apollo and the proper form of sacrifice. After the Decemviri had completed their investigations and reported to the Senate, a resolution was passed “that Games be vowed and celebrated in honour of Apollo, and that when they were finished, 12,000 asses[2] were to be given to the praetor for the expenses of the sacrifice and two large sacrificial victims.” They also passed a second resolution that “the Ten should sacrifice according to Greek ritual the following victims: to Apollo, an ox with gilded horns and two white she-goats with gilded horns, and to Latona[3] a heifer with gilded horns.” When the praetor was about to celebrate the Games in the Circus Maximus he gave notice that during the Games the people should contribute a gift to Apollo according to the amount they each wished. Such is the origin of the Ludi Apollinares, which were founded for the cause of victory and not, as is generally thought, in the interests of the public health.

Livy, From the Founding of the City 25.12

[1] A board of ten.

[2] A small, copper Roman coin.

[3] Another name for the goddess Diana, who was Apollo’s sister.



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