Roman Chariot Facts: Find Out What Were They Used For

Abhijeet Modi
Nov 01, 2023 By Abhijeet Modi
Originally Published on Apr 05, 2022
Bronze statuette of the Roman war in a chariot

Chariot racing was the most popular spectator sport in ancient Rome.

Owners of chariot racing teams used to keep their scouts to gather the best talent from all over the Roman realm. It was more popular than gladiatorial fights.

So, one can assume the excitement it brought to the people of Rome and other cities when the public officials announced races on street squares.

The primary purpose of chariots was to win races, and to do that, racers often resorted to unfair means and tactics. In a standard racing theater or circus, there used to remain twelve gates, through which the participants used to emerge out in the open to the joy of the cheering crowd.

A complete race was called a 'missus,' It was fulfilled only when the racers had finished seven laps around the racing track. These laps were called 'curricula.'

Successful chariot racers in ancient Rome were akin to today's celebrities. Upon retirement, they were usually very wealthy and garnered tremendous respect in public life. So, life in the chariot racing sport was not only about glory and fame but also about money and riches.  

History And Origin Of Roman Chariots

When we study Roman history, we find that the people of ancient Rome were smart enough to teach cultural traits and values of other great civilizations of their time. One such case was chariot racing, which the Romans most likely borrowed from either the ancient Etruscans or the Greeks or both.

From the time when Rome was a kingdom, before the sixth century BC, men from wealthy and noble families used to race on chariots all over the city of Rome. It is now known precisely when this leisure activity was transformed into a sport.

Still, historians believe that by the time the Roman Empire became the major power in Europe and the Mediterranean world in the first millennium AD, designated places for chariot racing, called 'hippodromes,' were built in several parts of the republic.

The most famous circus for staging chariot races was the Circus Maximus in Rome, translated to 'biggest circus.' The Circus Maximus could accommodate more than 200,000 people.

Purpose Of Roman Chariots

In general, there were no admission charges to these racing events. People of all classes were allowed to actively participate in the spectacle of chariot racing all across the empire.

Even enslaved people had the right to enter the venues of these races involving chariots. The sport itself was hazardous, and in many instances, the men handling the chariots met with their end on the field of action. But all said and done, riders who manned these chariots yearned for the glory of winning these races.

Since chariots taking part in races represented certain factions, each had a recognized supporters' group. The racing teams were almost always divided into groups based on colors.

There were generally four factions that competed in each chariot race. They were blue, green, red, and white, and the charioteers wore jackets representing team colors.

Each faction could have more than one team representing it on the field. Being a sport of uncertainty, the practice of betting and gambling on race days was widespread in ancient Rome.

It was a great occasion for people to wager money and get rich instantly once the results were drawn in.

According to sources emanating from ancient Rome, horse racing using chariots was such a massive hit in Rome that the government of the day had to deploy armed guards all over the city to quell disturbances and protect public and personal property.

Reconstruction, in arenas, of a Roman chariot race

Chariot Racing Rules

The chariots used in ancient Rome for racing were light and made of wood and leather. The Roman military also used chariots during their operations, but they were heavier and had metal parts.

The act of controlling a racing chariot required high levels of skill and experience on the part of riders. It all came down to how well one rider could handle the horse while standing on the wooden axle.

Before starting a race, riders would maneuver their reins around the waist. The carrying of a knife was expected as it was used by the rider to cut free the reins in case of an emergency.

The most common chariots used in races had two horses tied in the front, and they were called the 'bigae' in the Roman tongue. On other occasions, four horses were also employed to pull chariots.

They were fitted with four horses and were termed as 'quadrigae.' Although rare and used significantly less, there existed chariots that had three, six, or even seven horses pulling them. They were known as 'triage,' 'sejuges,' and septemjuges,' respectively.


How many horses pulled a Roman chariot?

A Roman chariot was attached to two or four horses on most occasions. But there were instances when riders attached up to seven horses.

How long was a Roman chariot race?

It depended on the number of scheduled races for a particular day. A single Roman chariot race consisted of seven laps. At times, as many as 24 races were held on a single day.

What present-day event does roman chariot racing compare to?

The present-day automobile racing events, such as Formula 1, MotoGP, and NASCAR, are similar to Roman chariot racing.

How to make a roman chariot from a wooden garden cart?

To transform it into a Roman chariot, one would require at least a couple of horses to attach to the wooden garden cart.

What colors did roman chariot teams race under?

They raced under four colors- blue, white, green, and red.

How much did a roman chariot weigh?

It weighed about 55-66 pounds (25-30 kg).

How does roman chariot suspension work?

A typical Roman racing chariot did not have suspension, and it consisted of a wooden body that rested directly on top of the beam or axle that connected its wheels.

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Written by Abhijeet Modi

Master of Computer Science

Abhijeet Modi picture

Abhijeet ModiMaster of Computer Science

An experienced and innovative entrepreneur and creative writer, Abhijeet holds a Bachelor's and Master's degree in Computer Application from Birla Institute of Technology, Jaipur. He co-founded an e-commerce website while developing his skills in content writing, making him an expert in creating blog posts, website content, product descriptions, landing pages, and editing articles. Passionate about pushing his limits, Abhijeet brings both technical expertise and creative flair to his work.

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