The four corporations who controlled the races were known as the White, Red, Green, and Blue, and the charioteers wore tunics of their corporation's color like a jockey's racing silks.
All Rome was divided into these four factions; in fact, our word faction originally meant a group supporting a chariot team. People wore colored flowers, ribbons or scarfs to show which team they were backing.
So devoted were the people to their faction that they often had it engraved on their tombstones: 'Memmius Regulus was a good man, a devoted husband and a staunch supporter of the Reds.'
Nero, who always backed the Greens, had the arena sand dyed green to honor them and the Emperor Vitellius had fifty people killed because they booed the Blues.
On the day of the race, the city was almost deserted, nearly everyone being at the Circus Maximus. Troops had to patrol the empty streets to prevent looting by thieves.
The races began at dawn and lasted until sunset. First there was a procession around the arena, led by the editor (the man giving the games), who was usually a politician running for office and needing votes.
The editor rode in a chariot dressed in a purple toga as though he were a member of the nobility. Only as an editor of games could an ordinary man wear the purple.
Around the chariot walked the editor's wardheelers in white robes carrying palm branches and after him rode a group of young aristocrats to show that men of wealth and breeding were also supporting the editor.
Then came a long procession of priests carrying images of the gods on litters, swinging incense burners, and chanting hymns. The crowd had been given handkerchiefs or placards with the editor's political slogan stamped on them ("Vote for Eprius Marcellus, the people's friend') and claques had been organized under cheer leaders to shout a slogan together.
As the editor made the rounds, bowing and smiling, the claques all gave their cheers and the rest of the crowd stood up and waved the handkerchiefs or placards and shouted.
When the procession was over, the crowd sat down to study their racing forms and make last-minute bets with the bookies who ran up and down the aisles. Some of the forms, engraved on ivory or brass for the use of the nobility, are still in existence.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter One, Part 7 is next.
Roman Events: Those about to Die, Index or Table of Contents