Chariot races were one of the main forms of public entertainment in ancient Rome and they were exciting and exhilarating events that drove the crowds of Romans wild. They can be compared to modern day sports in several ways, although I cannot agree that every single aspect we wind enjoyable about sport was present in the chariot races.
The races were held in the Circus Maximus, which was a huge arena that could hold 250000 spectators or a quarter of the population of Rome. This was a massive size and would have increased the thrill of the races on a colossal scale. Similarly, we now have stadiums such as Wembley stadium, which is in fact smaller than the Circus Maximus. However, the excitement of events taking place in large arenas is certainly present in the chariot races of ancient Rome.
An important aspect that we find interesting and exciting about sport nowadays is team support; for example in football, where fans support their favourite team and root for them to win each match to win championships. This was present in the chariot races as there were four different factions (red, white, blue and green) to which charioteers belonged to, and fans supported one of these factions. What faction you supported was highly important and provided a sense of collaboration and team support; an aspect that sports fans nowadays find extremely exciting.
Most importantly, we know that during the races, the circus went crazy; there were deafening roars or cheering and chanting and the atmosphere was fantastically loud and alive. Of course this all played a part in making the races as exiting as they were said to be, and spectators today perceptibly believe that rowdier and wilder crowds make games or races all the more exciting to watch.
However, a feature that was certainly not as exciting now as it was in ancient Rome was that the Romans enjoyed the danger of crashes or ‘naufragia’, resulting in serious injuries or even death for the horses and the charioteers. In a chariot race, the most likely place for crashes to happen was at the turning point of the spina. Nowadays, although we do enjoy the competition, we are not as bloodthirsty as the Romans in that we mostly enjoy the thrill of winning or losing each game rather than enjoy dangerous side of it.
A modern sport that can almost be compared to the chariot races of ancient Rome is horse racing, which involves horses and jockeys racing to a finish line. This is quite a dangerous sport in itself although the jockey has more control over the horse than the charioteer would have had over their chariot pulled by around four horses. Sports involving animals are quite unusual and exciting even in modern times, and successful horses in ancient Rome were highly prized and honoured, similarly to successful horses nowadays.
In addition, gambling was an important and exciting aspect of chariot races, as the fans would often bet on which horse they predicted would win. Even today fans do bet on which team will win the championships or which horse/jockey will win each race, adding more thrill to the games or races.
Chariot races were also a rare occasion where men and women could sit next to each other, giving them a chance to socialise. Although it is undoubtedly not as rare an occurrence as it was then, men and women still do enjoy socialising during sport events and enjoy meeting new people.
Another important aspect about the charioteers was that they were awarded very large prizes of gold depending on how well they did in races, making the competition to win races much higher for them and more exiting for the fans. Sportsmen and women today are also extremely well paid if they have a long succession of good matches or races.
Although the races were exciting for the majority of Rome, we also know that many poets and writers disapproved of the chariot races, saying that charioteers did not deserve the amount of credit they were given and that it as unfair that athletic skill was favoured over academic skill. This is also similar nowadays as some people struggle to see how fans can make such a riot out of one football match, and how some sportsmen can be idolised more than good writers for example.
In conclusion, many aspects that were found to be exiting about chariot races in Rome are also exiting to us now when we watch sports matches or races, with some exceptions such as the fact that we do not enjoy the brutality of the sport as the Romans did. On the other hand, the ethos of watching sport remains generally the same, and we still enjoy having a wild and passionate crowd.