The ancient Romans loved entertainment. They would put on plays in the theater, watch animal fights in the arena and watch gladiators battle to the death.
They would also hold huge celebrations and public games in festivals. The oldest and most important past time was chariot racing.
A chariot is a small cart with two wheels which is pulled by a team of horses, driven by a person in the cart.
The Romans would watch young men race chariots through the streets of Rome. Often there were collisions between chariots or even with other people walking on the street!
To control the races and stop accidents in the streets, the Romans built race tracks called circuses.
The biggest track was the Circus Maximus, built between the Palantine and Aventine hills in Rome.
The Circus Maximus was built by Lucius Tarquinius Priscus in 7 BC, over 2,500 years ago.
It was initially made of wood but burned down twice, so the Romans remade it from concrete and marble, which were more sturdy and more extravagant.
All the chariot racers wanted to compete at the Circus Maximus. It was a great honour to race there and if you won, you were considered the best chariot racer in Rome.
It was the best, biggest circus around. The track was 621 m long, with two turns at each end, with a race lasting 7 laps of the track.
The Circus Maximus had the biggest audience of all arenas, seating nearly 250,000 people at once! As entertainment was such a big part of Roman life, attendance was free; even slaves attended.
The rich had the seats higher up to keep them away from bad smells and shading them from the sun.
People would support their favourite team by wearing their team’s colours and waved a piece of cloth of that colour in the air.
Chariot racing was very dangerous. Many riders died at the Circus Maximus. Chariot racers tied the reigns around their wrists to keep control of the horses.
However, if the chariots crashed, the riders would be dragged along behind the horses.
Sometimes, the other team would try to smash a rival racer into a stone column on the track or destroy his chariot.
The most famous chariot racer was Gaius Appuleius Diocles. He took part in over 4,000 races and won at least 1,000 of them! He stopped racing when he turned 42 years old.
By this time, he had won £10 billion – more than any other sports-person since!
Facts about Circus Maximus
- A chariot is a small two-wheeled cart drawn by at least four horses.
- Chariot racing was the biggest, most loved sport in Rome.
- The Circus Maximus was the biggest ever arena for chariot racing.
- The Circus Maximus was initially built from wood, then rebuilt in marble to be more extravagant.
- The Circus Maximus sat around 250,000 people and was 621 m long.
- Entertainment in arenas was free for everyone and anyone could attend the games for the day.
- Chariot racing was very dangerous because you could get dragged along behind your horse or squashed into the sides of the arena.
- The most famous chariot racer won over 1,000 races, earning £10 billion.
- What was the biggest arena called where chariot racing was held?
The Circus Maximus because it was the biggest circus, or track!
- Where was the Circus Maximus built?
Over 2,500 years ago between the Palantine and Aventine Hills in Rome.
- How did people support their favourite teams?
They wore their team’s colours, waved handkerchiefs of that colour and cheered!
- Why was chariot racing so dangerous?
Racers could get crushed against stone in the arena or fall from their chariots and dragged along behind their horses.
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