15 Kasım 2012 Perşembe

Roman Circuses: Arenas for Chariot Racing and ASİA MİNOR

Many different kinds of book could be written on the subject of Roman circuses and chariot racing. There are two excellent books by Alan Cameron on certain aspects of sport : Circus Factions treats the organization of the sport and the role of the factions and their supporters particularly in the late Roman and Byzantine periods : Porphyrius the charioteer, a study of the famous charioteer of Constantinople of the late fifth and early sixth centurie, starts from a colleciton of monuments to charioteers erected on the barrier at Constantinople but includes discussion of the place of the charioteer in late antique society and his connections with the emperor and the imagery of victory. 

This book is primarily archaeological.

5000-year-old Mesopotamian car in Ur

Asia Minor and Greece

In Greece and Asia Minor the picture is rather different from that seen farther east where several monumental hippodromes clearly modelled to a considerable degree on Roman circuses were built particularly during the second and third centuries AD. 

In the Classical and Hellenistic periods many towns of Greece and Asia Minor witnessed chariot racing as part of traditional Greek-style games, but the fields used for such races seem rarely to have been upgraded into fullybuilt circuses during the Roman period and we may suspect tahet equestrian events became a less and less important part of those games, despite the fact that the games did continue through much of the Roman period. This hypothesis is suggested by a general dearth of inscriptions referring to be confirmed by what happened at Olympia (and presumably at other Crown Games) where chariot races were actually discontinued on various occasions during the first century AD.


As Cameron has pointed out, the few Roman period are either Romans perhaps no longer able to enter at Rome or Greeks from the host city or the immediate neighbourhood. This statement is particularly well illustrated by an agonistic catalogue of victors at the Romaia games at Xanthos in Lycia recently discussed by Louis Robert.

These games to the goddes Roma were founded in the early second century BC. and the inscription in question belongs to the late second century BC. or a little later. The equestrian events were for ridden horse, bigae and quadrigae, in each type of race there being colt and adult horse categories. 

A Persian horseman attacks two Scythians in a chariot,from Mesopotamia,London

The five recorded victors were all Lycians, although one was a Roman citizen living at Telmessos and another a lady of Ephesus who lived at Apollonia in Lycia.

Thus wealthy Lycians would send their teams and dreivers to the local games at the federal sanctuary of Lycia bu would be unlikely to travel around Asia Minor and Greece to the major festivals taking their stable on the road. At the major games in Greece equestrian victors from Asia Minor are noticeably absent, despite the wealth of agonistic inscriptions from Asia Minor.

There are other examples of equestrian events forming part of new festivals introduced in the Roman period, festivals which often had a particular connection with an emperor or the imperial cult.

Thus chariot races were held at Ankara, capital of the province of Galatia, from the time of Tiberius, put on by the priest of the imperial cult.

Scythian wooden chariot found in Pazyryk mound, 5th century BC.

The inscription in question, placed on the anta of the Temple of Augustus, also mentions specifically the hippodorme, which may perhaps have been upgraded at that time. From Lapethus on Cyprus comes a reference to horse races as part of Epinikia celebrated to commemorate the anniversary of the battle of actium won by the god Augustus

Similarly, the games instituted by Augustus at Nikopolis in Epirus to commemorate the same battle included chariot races, and we may assume that some kinde of hippodrome was built then. 

But in all of these cases we may suspect that most of the competitors were local rsidents or wealthy Romans. Many of the hippodromes which clearly ecisted during the Greek and Hellenistic periods probably fell into disuse in the late Hellenistic or early Roman period. This is probably true for the one at Sardis, which is mentioned in passind in 215 BC in connection with the drawing up of troops in battle order.

Chariot race on a Panhellenic amphora 403 BC.

The Sardis hippodrome was probably never monumentalized and thus has not been located, despite intensive survey of the city and its environs.

The same is probably, true of a hippodrome at Seleucia Pieria, the port of Antioch and the capital of Seleucus I in the early third century BC ; mentioned by Polybius in his account of the fourth Syrian war under the year 219 BC. 

It lay about five stades from the town and was selected by Antiochus for this encampment. Probably it was simply a level field. Races at the site are never mentioned in ancient sources, and one may suspect that interest soon shifted to Daphne and later to Antioch's monumental circus.

The situation at Aphrodisias is less clear, since there is supposedly some evidence for chariot racing in the third century AD. but any hippodrome there remains to be found and perhaps it too was not a monumental building.

The entertainment building which is present in large numbers among the Roman cities of Asia Minor is not the hippodrome bu the stadium. Those which are particularly well preserved include Didyma, Ephesus, Magnesia, Perge, Aspendos, Aizanoi, Aphrodisias, as well as Kourion on Cyprus.

Roman chariot mosaic

That at Aphrodisias has been recently excavated : it measures c.262 m by 59 m, both ends were curved, and its long side bowed out slightly. The width of the track porper was c.25 m, much less than the width of the smallest known hippodrome or circus. The identification of these buildings as stadia is also based upon the absence of a continuous barrier or turning posts for horses, and upon the absence of starting gates for horses. Athletic performances which were always a key ingredient in the Greek-style games were the chief event held in these buildings.

One site in western Asia Minor, however may have possessed a monumental building which doubled as a hippodrome and stadium. In the plain below the acropolis of Pergamon, and in close proximity to one another, were located the Roman theatre, amphitheatre and stadium. The latter is shown on the recent plan of the city as more than c.280 m in lenght and c.58 m in width, although dimensions of the buildin including the seating tiers. The width of the track of a stadium usually ranges from 10-33 m while the lenght of the track is usually no more than c 210 m. A final verdict on whether this building housed chariot races must be suspended, but the extraordinary Romanization of Pergamon may favour the hypothesis. Amphitheatres too are extremely rare in this region.

Among the provinces of Asia Minor, Cilicia and Cappadocia in the southeast are the best candidates for possessing built hippodromes. The cities of Cilicia had particularly close links with Rome and were within range of Antioch where a circus was built as early as 67 BC. A widespread interest in horse races at the cities of Cilicia and Pamphylia is confirmed by Philostratus riting in the third but porbably referring to the the first century. Cilicia became a Roman province in AD 74 with its metropolis at Tarsus, and Tarsus itself must be a good candidate for a built hippodrome, although none has yet been reported. At Anazarbus (or Caesarea by Anazarbus) however, a keen rival of Tarsus in the third century and the chief town of Cilicia Secunda, the hippodrome is visible today although remaining unexcavated. It lay outside the city wall in the plian to the south near some cemeteries and was not far from the theatre to the northeast and the amphitheatre to the south, all three making ectensive use of the hill slope. That slope was cut back considerably to provide a straight south side for the hippodrome.

The building was oriented roughly northeast-southeast and measured c. 410 by 64 m. Its use for chariot races is indicated both by its lenght and by the discovery of a concrete barrier about 200 m long running down the centre. Corinthian columns found nearby may derive from monuments which decorated the barrier. However, the building could also have functioned as a stadium (no other stadium is known at the site). The seating on the long side was carved into the hillside. Two sections of rock-hewn stands with eight of nine tiers of seats approached by small flights of steps are still visible, while other seats were created in between cut at random on the hillslopes.

Roman relief of Chariot race

An inscription in front of one of he stands suggests that it was in use into the fourth century. Holes in the sheer rock face behind may have held an awning or beams to roof a walk. The seating on the opposite (north) side is not preserved ; it may have been raised either on stone or concrete substructures or on wooden bleachers. There was an entrance on that side approached by a colonnaded street leading from a gate in the city wall. Entrances in the middle of the long sides are found in some stadia (e.g.Kourion), which helps confirm a dual role for this building. A more elaborate gate stood at the centre of the southwest end. The design of this hippodrome calls to mind that at Cyrene, where seats were again placed on the naturak slopes. It constitutes a much less monumental and regular hippodrome than Antioch, Tyre or Caesarea. Its date is unknown but possibly is to be connected with important games established here in the reign of Hadrian. That chariot racing continued to the fifth or sixth century in this part of Cilicia is confirmed by an honorary epigram for a charioteer and horses now in the Adana museum.

Race in the CİRCUS MAXİMUS  2-3 century/ ROME

Another circus in Cilicia is attested by a literary source at he town of Aegeae (Ayash) on the coast sour-theast of Adana. It was located near the temple of Hadrian outside the town, and may also be due to Hadrian, who probably visited the town four times, or alternatively may belong to the mid-third century when important games of Asclepius were created by Valerian at the site of the famous cult of that god.

In Rough Cilicia, not far along the coast to the west, Seleucia ad Calycadnum (Silifke) probably possessed a hippodrome, according to the early nineteenth century traveller Pierre Tremaux, who estimated its lenght at 400 m.

In Cappodocia, and particularly at its capital Caesarea (Kayseri) chariot racing was fanatically popular in the fourth century (even among lower-class women,much to the distress of the church fathers). There is a wealth of references to chariot racing, race horses and games in the writings of Saint Basil (bishop of Caesarea) Gregory of Nysa and Gregory Nazianzen, who attacked the races as causing strife and social unrest.

Hittite lion-hunt relief  at Aslantepe/Turkey

Chariot races were held at Caesarea in what is referred to as a stadium ,which may in fact have been a combination hippodrome-stadium designed to accommodate both types of events. Chariot races were certainly held there from the early fourth century, but in view of the long tradition of horse-breeding in the area (as also in nearby Phrygia) going back to the calssical Greek period, we may suspect that races began much earlier, since the horses would have needed tp practise in local races before they were exported. By the third century AD if not before, the best studs were imperial property, and laws were enacted to control tightly the sale of horses, even horses not fit for racing. Particularly famous were the equi Palmati (Pammati?) and equi Hermogeniani and horses which pastured in meadows on the lower slopes of Mount Argaeus near Caesarea.

In Greece proper equestrian events continued to be held at various games but there is no evidence that any of these hippodromes were remodelled in the Roman Style. At Isthmia chariot races continued to the late second century AD while at Ambryssus in Phocis they continued into the third. They existed also in Thessaly. Pausanias, writing in the second century, mentions hippodromes at Mount Lykaios, Maenalus and Mantineia in Arcadia and at Thebes, but only that at Mantineia may still have been in use in his day since games in the nearby stadium were established by Hadrian in honour of Antinous. Hadrian also built there a sanctuary to Poseidon Hippios, the patron of Mantineia. It may be that most of the games in honour of Antonous included equestrian events.

Roman Circuses: Arenas for Chariot Racing
by John H. Humphrey (page 525-528) online read:

 "The Undefeated " Porphyrios,Constantinople The Blues/The Greens

Denarius 1 Century BC

the other books:
Alan Cameron : Porphyrius the Charioteer, 1973

Alan Cameron : Circus Factions, Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium, 1976,


Muğla'nın Yatağan ilçesindeki Stratonikeia Antik Kenti'nde devam eden kazı çalışmaları kapsamında, 2 bin yıllık 'Araba Yarışı Sahnesi' bulundu. 

 Chariot relief ,Stratonikeia-Muğla Turkey

"Bulunan araba yarışı sahnesi bizim için çok önemli. Bulunan kabartma ile antik dönemin kültürel hayatı ve sportif faaliyetleri hakkında bilgi sahibi oluyoruz. Bulunan araba yarışı sahnesi figürü sayesinde yaklaşık 2 bin yıl önce kullanılan yarış arabalarının özellikleri, koşum takımları gibi detaylar hakkında bilgi sahibi olacağız." 

Doç. Dr. Bilal Söğüt

Stratonikeia Antik Kenti Kazı Başkanı 
Pamukkale Üni.Fen Ed.F.Arkeoloji Bölümü Öğretim Üyesi (2011 basın)