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Chariot racing in ancient Rome

Chariots often crashed making a turn.Chariots often crashed making a turn. Chariot races were held in the town’s circus, a large, oval-shaped arena with a stone barrier down the middle, called a spina. The races were very dangerous. The drivers raced their horse-drawn chariots at top speed round the arena. They were allowed to ram and bump into each other, and chariots often overturned, resulting in what the Romans called a naufragia, or shipwreck. Even though drivers wore protective clothing, they were often killed.

Model of ancient Rome, with Circus Maximus in frontModel of ancient Rome, with Circus Maximus in front

The circus course

The course was a long rectangular shape with rounded corners. There was a central barrier, called a spina, running down the middle, around which the chariots raced. At either end of the spina was a three-pillared turning post, called a meta. On top of the spina in the Circus Maximus in Rome there were statues of various Roman gods and an Egyptian obelisk, a tall, thin stone monument with a small pyramid at the top.

Also on the spina were counters to show how many laps had been run. A large wooden egg was removed from a column and a metal dolphin was turned over every time a lap was completed. Each race usually lasted about eight or nine minutes.

There is evidence that spectators buried lead tablets enscribed with curses around the stadium. The tablets cursed the team opposing the one they were supporting.

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