What Happened in a Hippodrome/Circus — Part 1

On a recent trip to France, we visited the archaeological museum in Lyon, France (ancient Lugdunum).  Among the many wonderful archaeological objects on display in that modern, wonderful, museum was a mosaic from the second century A.D.

The Large Chariot Race mosaic from the second century A.D.  The central porton of the mosaic depicts nine chariots, each being pulled by four horses, running a race in a counterclockwise direction around the “spina.” Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

The second-century Roman Mosaic was discovered in Lugdunum (modern Lyon) in 1806. On it, the details of a chariot race in the circus, or hippodrome, of Lugdunum is depicted. It is 16 feet long and 9 feet wide.

The mosaic is surrounded by a floral design, inside of which is a guilloche pattern, and inside of that the arena of the circus where 9 chariots are racing. No seating of the circus is represented and indeed the circus of Lugdunum originally had wooden seats that were destroyed by fire.

On the left side of the image the starting stalls are represented. The central porton of the mosaic depicts nine chariots, each being pulled by four horses, running a race in a counterclockwise direction around the “spina.” The spina is composed of two rectangular pools in which there was water.  In the lower left and upper right of the mosaic two chariot crashes are represented!

View of the eight (maybe nine?) starting stalls that are on the left side of the mosaic.  Click on image to Enlarge and/or Download.

Above the center “stall” are thee sponsors of the games. The chief sponsor, in the middle, can be seen dropping a cloth to start the race.  To the left of the three officials—from our perspective—is a man dressed in blue manipulating a lever that will open (at the same time) the gates to the eight stalls from which the chariots, pulled by their four horses, emerged.

Below the three sponsors is a man, standing erect and again in blue, who seems to be supervising the contest.  Above the three sponsors is a large vase from which the plants that surround the mosaic spring forth.

More on the mosaic in the next post.

One response to “What Happened in a Hippodrome/Circus — Part 1

  1. Four strong horses pulling a flimsy frame on wheels (crashed team in upper right). Had to be excellent teamwork among the horse team. I wonder if one horse could have done as well or better.

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