Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 01, Part 9 of 9

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

It was often said: "The great spectacle at the circus is not the game but the spectators." The games were the great emotional outlet for the mob and they made the most of it.

During a race, the crowd literally went mad. Women collapsed or had sexual orgasms. Men bit themselves, tore their clothes, did mad dances, bet until they ran out of money; and then bet themselves to a slave dealer to raise more.

One man fainted when the White team fell behind. When the Whites came forward to win in the last lap, the man had to be revived to be told of his good luck.

Travelers approaching Rome could hear the roar of triumph when the race was over before they could see the city towers. If a faction thought that its team had got a raw deal. they staged a riot—on one occasion setting fire to the Circus Maximus and burning it to the ground.

It was after that a law was passed saying that all amphitheaters had to be built of stone, although the upper tiers were still frequently made of wood.

This mania even had a name—it was called Hippomania: horse-madness. When Felix, a famous charioteer for the Reds, was killed in a race and his body burned on a funeral pyre, a man threw himself into the flame so he could perish with his idol.

A nobleman's little boy, when asked what of all things on earth he wished as a gift, asked for the tunic worn by a famous charioteer for the Greens.

When the Germans were attacking Carthage, the people refused to defend the walls because they were busy watching a chariot race. When Treves was burned by the barbarian hordes, the city council pointed out that the disaster had its good side.

"Now we'll have room to build a really fine chariot course in the middle of the city," the governor pointed out.

To show how the passion for chariot racing grew:

In 169 B.C. there was one race a day during the games, held late in the afternoon as a climax to the sport. Under Augustus Caesar at the time of Christ, there were twelve races a day. Under Caligula forty years later, there were twenty-four races a day.

Two more racing corporations were formed so that six chariots competed instead of the usual four. Later, the number was increased to twelve and even sixteen chariots; but by then the mob had lost all interest in real driving and only wanted to see a lot of smash-ups.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Two, Part 1 is next.

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