Chariot Racing in the Ancient World

By Bennett, Dirk | History Today, December 1997 | Go to article overview

Chariot Racing in the Ancient World


Bennett, Dirk, History Today


Dirk Bennett sheds new light on the origin and history of chariot racing as a sport, and explores its popular and political role from pre-classical Greece to the fall of the Roman Empire.

Antilochos the fourth driver, the glorious son of Nestor, that king of lofty heart, the son of Neleus, got ready his horses with gleaming coats. Swift horses born in the land of Pylos drew his chariot. And his father, standing by his side, giving good advice to one who was himself naturally prudent, spoke wisely thus: `Antilochos, although you are very young, Zeus and Poseidon have both loved you and taught you all kinds of skills at driving a chariot; therefore we need not teach you, for you know how skilfully to turn around the post. But your horses are the slowest. I therefore think that the race will be sorrowful to you. True, their horses are swifter, but the drivers do not know more than you. And so, my son, contrive a plan in your heart, so that the prize will not elude you ... Drive chariot and horses so close to this (the post) as to graze it, and lean the wellwrought car slightly to the left horse, and calling upon the right horse by name, prick him with your goad and let out its reins from your hand. Let your horses graze the post so that the hub of the well fashioned wheel will seem to touch it. But avoid making contact with the stone, so that you will not injure your horses and wreck your chariot, which would be a joy for your opponents and a distress to you'.

(Homer, Iliad 23, 334-348)

Horse racing, the ancient equivalent to Formula One, does not, however, begin here. The history of equestrian sports could change our perception of the ancient world in general, and our idea of Greece as the cradle of European civilisation in particular. In fact, when the first horses appeared from Central Asia in Mesopotamian and near Eastern societies in the 2nd millennium BC, Greece and Italy, as well as the rest of Europe, lay very much on the outskirts of the civilised world.

In the beginning there was no question about using the animals in sport. However, a technological revolution in warfare comparable maybe to the introduction of battle tanks in the twentieth century took place that was to have a far reaching and lasting impact. The old chariots pulled by mules or oxen did not stand a chance against the swift new horse-vehicles. The armies of the empires of Sumer, Egypt, Ur, the Hittites and others increasingly relied on contingents of charioteers. In the battle of Kadesh (c. 1275 BC), the Hittite army consisted of 20,000 soldiers, 3,500 of whom were charioteers. It is roughly at this time that we get the first hint that chariots must have been known to the predecessors of the classical Greeks. In a letter to the `Wanax Agamemnon' the great Hittite king mentions that the brother of the Greek king, Eteokles, had been riding on the same chariot with his driver. Even if this is not Homer's Agamemnon, this letter is a strong indication that Homer, in the Iliad, does not simply write from the point of view of his times (ie c. seventh century BC), as some might have it, but actually describes a much older society.

All of this, however, is little proof of the use of horses in a sporting environment. There are leisurely activities like hunting or shooting at targets from chariots by the great kings of Persia, the Egyptian pharaobs or the Hittite kings, but they have little to do with what we would regard as real competitive sport. These pastimes served more as imperial propaganda, displaying the skills and strength of the rulers.

To find the origins of actual chariot racing we have to turn to Greece and the islands of the Aegean. In the fourteenth to twelfth centuries BC, first the Minoan, and later the Mycenean, culture inhabited what was subsequently seen as the cradle of European civilisation. The ongoing excavations and exciting discoveries of the last hundred years are still changing our view of the world before the classic age. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Chariot Racing in the Ancient World
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.