Monday, December 02, 2002

I saw an interesting program on The Learning Channel last night called Chariot Race 2002. It included some interesting historical tidbits as well as a documentary about the preparation for an actual chariot race at the conclusion of the program.

It mentioned that Roman boys as young as 9 began racing two-horse chariots in preparation to become professional charioteers. As their skills developed they eventually advanced to four-horse chariots.

The program also mentioned that the Emperor Nero so admired charioteers that he even drank a mixture of wine and boar's dung(!) that charioteers considered a healing concoction. Nero was also responsible for the tradition of beginning a race by dropping a napkin. "Once, when Nero had taken too long at lunch and the crowd grew restive, he threw out his napkin from the royal box to signify that he had finished and the games could begin. The tossing of the napkin thereafter signaled the official start of the races. "

I also wasn't aware that most racing horses came from Iberia. The program's race actually took place in the ancient capital of Antequera in Spain which contains one of the best preserved hippodrome ruins.

I found myself, like my ancient Roman counterparts, cheering wildly for the blue team. My husband only rolled his eyes and shook his head! My blue team won but I was also impressed by the older lady driving the white team. She seemed so small and fragile that I thought she was a bit mismatched to be a charioteer but she put up an admirable challenge. Her team actually cornered better than the blue team and she fought off a challenge by the red team twice before she was finally passed. The racing chariots seems awfully small but I guess they were designed based on a bronze figurine of a two-horse chariot excavated from the Tiber River.

The program, http://tlc.discovery.com/convergence/chariotrace/chariotrace.html, repeats on Thursday, December 5 and again on Sunday, December 8.