Constantine Lecture: Greek Chariot Racing

5:00PM 1st Floor Cocke Hall, Gibson Room
Susan Stephens
Stanford University

'Greek Chariot Racing: A Sport for Kings (and Queens)'

Ancient chariot racing was thrilling, violent, and frequently lethal. For Greek spectators its drama enmeshed them in a cycle of hope, anxiety, terror, then elation or despair as the favored team might win, place, or crash. So popular was chariot racing within the Roman empire that it enjoyed imperial sponsorship and evolved into the team sport essential for entertainment for the masses (the circus part of “bread and circuses”). But within the Greek city-states it had a different trajectory: it was as the sport of privilege that it came to be embedded within civic and political institutions throughout the Greek world until the end of antiquity. This paper traces the course of chariot racing as it first manifests itself in Homer, the significance of its formal inclusion within the Olympic games (particularly for Sparta and later the Ptolemies), and finally how it was adapted by an Athenian democracy.