Tag Archives: Hippodrome

What Happened in a Hippodrome/Circus — Part 2

In our previous blog, we had a look at the general picture of the chariot race depicted in the central portion of the large mosaic discovered in Lyon (ancient Lugdunum).  Here are some additional observations!

The central portion of the mosaic. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In this view, there are many interesting details of a chariot race that may not be visually represented anywhere else.

We know that in general there were four major “teams” that were in play in the Roman world: the reds, whites, blues, and the greens.  In the lower-left, note that charioteers are clad in red and white.  The two charioteers above the spina are clad in blue and green!

There are two rectangular pools that form the basis of the spina.  They were filled with water which seems to be a unique arrangement.  Note also, the pyramid in the left portion of the spina—many Hippodromes/Circuses had pyramids or obelisks).

In the lower right, there is a figure with two jugs—evidently, he wet down the track and may have cooled down the axles of the chariots.  In the upper left, the standing person may have a whip to urge the teams on—or it may be some type of cutting instrument that could be used to free horses and charioteers from chariots that had crashed.

 

Detail of the “spina.” Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

In this image note the two figures (children?) dressed in blue between the two portions of the spina.  They are ready to present the winner of the race with the prizes of a palm branch and a laurel wreath.

In the left rectangle note the obelisk and then the rack that holds seven “balls” and the blue man attending it.  In the typical seven-lap race the balls were lowered to keep count of the laps.  In the right rectangle of the spina there is a similar counting contraption.  Also, in the right portion there are seven dolphins—I am not certain of their function.  In the left rectangle there are also seven dolphins, but those are spewing water out of their mouths (click here to view).


The whole mosaic. Click on Image to Enlarge and/or Download.

This large second century Roman Mosaic that 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.

It 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.

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.

Hippodromes/Circuses Part 1

In the Late Roman Period through the Early Byzantine (Christian) Era chariot racing was one of the most popular events of the public.  “Hippodrome” comes from two Greek words: hippos (meaning horse) and dromos (meaning “course”).  In Greek times they were used for horse races and chariot races.

The Latin equivalent to a Hippodrome was a “Circus,” meaning “circle,” that took over the functions of the Hippodromes and was also used for other events.  The most famous, and largest, of the Circuses, is the Circus Maximus in Rome.

One end of the Circus Maximus in Rome.

The Circus Maximus was over 2,000 feet long and could accommodate over 150,000 people!  It was used for Chariot Racing, Religious Festivals, and Political and Military Processionals.

In Rome the Flavian Amphitheater, aka. the Colosseum, was used for Gladiatorial contest and other public spectacles: mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, etc.

The Flavian Amphitheater in Rome could seat 65,000+ spectators.

For those readers of this blog, many of you have visited Caesarea Maritima.  The west, or seaside, Hippodrome/Circus, evidently dates to the days of Herod the Great (r. 37 t0 4 B.C.).

View looking north from the Promontory Palace where the governor of Caesarea Maritima resided.

This Hippodrome/Circus was 950 [290 m.] feet long and 165 feet [50 m.] wide. The prominent position of this Palace, from which this picture was taken overlooking the circus, was a reminder to those attending the chariot and foot races that Rome (the Emperor as represented through the governor) was the great benefactor of the games and of the political order.

In the second century A.D., a much larger (30,000-capacity) hippodrome was constructed in another section of Caesarea and the southern third of the Circus was converted to an Amphitheater that was used for gladiatorial contests.

View looking south along the length of the 1,476 ft. [450 m.] long hippodrome.

On both the right (west) and left (east) side of the image, the slopes outlining the hippodrome are visible. This is where the seating for 30,000 people was located.

The re-erected obelisk is clearly visible and beyond the hippodrome are three smokestacks from the electrical power plant at Hadera.  The hippodrome is now either used for agricultural purposes—note the stubble of the harvested crop.

In addition, some of you have visited Istanbul/Constantinople and the outline of the large Hippodrome in the Sultanahmet district.

The Hippodrome in Constantinople was 440 yards. 480 m.] long and 107 yrds. [117 m.] wide.  Some believe it could hold 100,000 spectators.

The Hippodrome was first constructed around A.D. 200 by the Roman Emperor Septimius Severus as part of his rebuilding of the city of Byzantium.  Constantine the Great and his successors later expanded it. The royal box was close to where the entrance to the Blue Mosque is now situated.

Today a park covers most of the hippodrome and it still reflects its elongated shape.  Here chariot races and other extravaganzas were held: including victory parades and coronations.  Here also the Nike riot of 532 began, and it was here that some 30,000 partisans were slaughtered.

What really happened in an ancient Hippodrome/Circus?  Well, we have the next best thing to an ancient photograph or video.

Erecting an Obelisk

TWMRISHP11Have you ever wondered how the ancients actually set up an obelisk?  In the Late Roman/Byzantine hippodrome in Byzantium/Constantinople/Istanbul there is still standing the top third of an obelisk of the Egyptian ruler Thutmose III (r. 16th century B.C.).  This obelisk was brought from Egypt to Constantinople and erected by the Byzantine Emperor Theodosius around A.D. 390.

One of the reliefs on its marble base depicts the erection of the obelisk with the emperor and his family watching.

TWMRISHP06For additional images of the obelisk and the hippodrome area Click Here.

Connections: Istanbul and Delphi

Today we spent time in Istanbul visiting the Hippodrome, the Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, and the Archaeological Museum.

obelisk-and-serpentine-column

Istanbul: from the south end of the hippodrome looking north. The obelisk of Thutmose III and in the foreground the “Serpents’ Column” from Delphi. On the right is one of the six minarets of the “Blue Mosque.”  In the distance are two minarets of the Hagia Sophia.

When visiting the Hippodrome we “ooh and ah” at the obelisk of Thutmose III and  south of it the “Serpentine Column.”

serpentine-column-detail

A detailed view of the “Serpentine Column” from Delphi that is now located in the Hippodrome in Istanbul.

Constantine brought the Serpentine Column from Delphi (Greece) to his New Rome (Constantinople/Istanbul) after he had established his capital there.

Snake Delphi

An artist’s drawing of what the original column may have looked like. Note the “tripod” on top of the three serpents’ heads.

This column/tripod had three intertwined heads (see diagram above; two heads are now missing).    It originally stood near the Temple of Apollo at Delphi (Greece; see picture below).

altar-and-serpent-column

Delphi (Greece): view looking down on the remnants of the altar associated with the Apollo (just to the left of the two people in the lower right portion of the image). Just to the left of the altar is a square base on top of which a circular base rests. This is where the Tripod (Serpentine Column”) of the Plataeans rested.

The column and tripod were dedicated in 479 B.C.  They commemorated the victory of 31 Greek cities over the Persians in the battle at Plataea in 479 B.C.  One of its surviving heads is in the Archaeological Museum in Istanbul.

serpent-s-head

One of the three Serpents’ Heads that graced the Bronze Serpent Column that originally formed the base for a “trophy” that was dedicated to the god Apollo after the victory of the Greeks over the Persians in the battle of Plataea in 479 B.C.

The Archaeological Museum in Istanbul has been under renovation for over three years.  And during that time selected artifacts are on display in a narrow winding maze.  Unfortunately, most people pass by, without even noticing, the one remaining serpent’s head from the Serpentine Column.