Category Archives: Sports and Games

Running of the Bulls: A Spanish Event Like Nothing Else

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Back in November 2016, we shared a piece entitled Bullfighting: Having Roots in Ancient Rome. That was a bit more graphic than what we will be discussing, but there is still a clear and present danger involved.

Today we head to Hispania as we partake in Pamplona’s world famous Running of the Bulls!pamplona-spain-running-bulls

The Running of the Bulls is known in Spanish as Encierro, from the verb Encerrar (to corral, to enclose). It is a practice that involves running in front of a small group of cattle (typically 6) of the Toro Bravo breed that have been let loose on a course of a sectioned-off subset of a town’s streets.

Saint Fermin
Saint Fermin

The most famous Running of the Bulls is the 8-day festival of Sanfermines in honor of Saint Fermin in Pamplona, although they are also traditionally held in other places such as towns and villages across SpainPortugal, in some cities in Mexico, and southern France during the summer.

The origin of this event comes from the need to transport the bulls from the fields outside the city, where they were bred, to the bullring, where they would be killed in the evening. During this ‘run’, youngsters would jump among them to show off their bravado.

In Pamplona and other places, the six bulls in the event are still those that will feature in the afternoon bullfight of the same day.

Spanish tradition says the true origin of the run began in northeastern Spain during the early 14th Century. While transporting cattle in order to sell them at the market, men would try to speed the process by hurrying their cattle using tactics of fear and excitement.

After years of this practice, the transportation and hurrying began to turn into a competition, as young adults would attempt to race in front of the bulls and make it safely to their pens without being overtaken. When the popularity of this practice increased and was noticed more and more by the expanding population of Spanish cities, a tradition was created and stands to this day.

The Pamplona Encierro is the most popular in Spain and has been broadcast live by RTVE, the public Spanish national television channel, for over 30 years. Held every year from July 6–14, it is the highest profile event of the San Fermin festival.

The first bull running is on 7 July, followed by one on each of the following mornings of the festival, beginning every day at 8 am. Among the rules to take part in the event are that participants must be at least 18 years old, run in the same direction as the bulls, not incite the bulls, and not be under the influence of alcohol.

In Pamplona a set of wooden fences is erected to direct the bulls along the route and to block off side streets. A double wooden fence is used in those houses where there is enough space for it, while in other parts the buildings of the street act as barriers.

The gaps in the barricades are wide enough for a human to slip through, but narrow enough to block a bull. The fence is composed of around 3,000 separate pieces and while some parts are left for the duration of the fiesta others are mounted and dismounted every morning.

Spectators can only stand behind the subsequent fence. The space between the 2 fences is reserved for security and medical personnel and also to participants who need cover during the event.

The Encierro begins with runners singing a benediction. It is sung 3 times, each time being sung both in Spanish and Basque.

The benediction is a prayer given at a statue of Saint Fermin, patron of the festival and the city, to ask the Saint’s protection. Translated into English it is as follows: “We ask Saint Fermin, as our Patron, to guide us through the Encierro and give us his blessing”.

singingThe singers finish by shouting “Viva San Fermín!, Gora San Fermin!” (Long live Saint Fermin!). Most runners dress in the traditional clothing of the festival which consists of a white shirt and trousers with a red waistband (faja) and neckerchief (pañuelo). Also some of them hold the day’s newspaper rolled to draw the bulls’ attention from them if necessary.

Runners in typical attire plus standouts
Runners in typical attire plus standouts

Another common dress practice, seen as a risk by some but as a daring depiction of courage by others is dressing in a conspicuous manner. Many runners that want to be perceived as daring wear colors other than white.

The most daring color alternative is blue for it is thought by some to draw the bulls’ attention. Others include large logos on their shirt to capture the attention of the bulls, anything to make yourself stand out in a photo.

Revellers on the town hall balcony hold up red scarves during the start of the San Fermin Festival in PamplonaA first rocket is set off at 8 am to alert the runners that the corral gate is open. Another rocket signals that all 6 bulls have been released.

The 3rd and 4th rockets signal that all of the herd has entered the bullring and its corral, respectively, marking the end of the event. The average duration between the initial rocket and the end of the running is 2 minutes, 30 seconds.

The Encierro is usually composed of the 6 bulls to be fought in the afternoon, 6 steers that run in herd with the bulls, and 3 more steers that follow the herd to encourage any reluctant bulls to continue along the route. The function of the steers, who run the route daily, is to guide the bulls to the bullring at an average speed of 15 mph.

Entering the bull ring from the callejón
Entering the bull ring from the callejón

The length of the run is 957 yards. It goes through 4 streets of the old part of the city (Santo Domingo, Ayuntamiento, Mercaderes and Estafeta) via the Town Hall Square and the short section just before entering into the bullring through its callejón (tunnel). The fastest part of the route is up Santo Domingo and across the Town Hall Square, but the bulls often became separated at the entrance to Estafeta Street as they slowed down.

Runners are not permitted in the opening 55 yards of the Encierro, which is an uphill grade where the bulls are much faster.

On the Estafeta
On the Estafeta

One or more would slip going into the turn at Estafeta, resulting in the installation of anti-slip surfacing. Now most of the bulls negotiate the turn onto Estafeta ahead of the steers, thus making for a quicker run.

Every year, between 50-100 people are injured during the run, but not all of the injuries require taking the patients to the hospital. In 2013 50, people were taken by ambulance to Pamplona’s hospital, with this number nearly doubling that of 2012.

goredGoring is much less common but potentially life threatening. In 2013 for example, 6 participants were gored along the festival, in 2012 only 4 runners were injured by the horns of the bulls with exactly the same number of gored people in 2011, 9 in 2010 and 10 in 2009; with one of the later killed.

As most of the runners are male, only 5 women have been gored since 1974. Previously to that date running was prohibited for women.

Another major risk is runners falling and piling up at the entrance of the bullring, which acts as a funnel as it is much narrower than the previous street. In such cases injuries come both from asphyxia and contusions to those in the pile and from goring if the bulls crush into the pile.

pile-upThis kind of blocking of the entrance has occurred at least ten times in the history of the run, the last occurring in 2013 and the first dating back to 1878. A runner died of suffocation in one such pile up in 1977.

Overall, since record-keeping began in 1910, only 15 people of the several thousand runners have been killed in the bull running of Pamplona, most of them due to being gored. To minimize the impact of injuries every day 200 people collaborate in the medical attention making it possible to have a gored person stabilized and taken to a hospital in less than 10 minutes.

sun-also-risesThe Encierro of Pamplona has been depicted many times in literature, television or advertising, but became known worldwide partly because of the descriptions of Ernest Hemingway in books The Sun Also Rises and Death in the Afternoon. The cinema pioneer Louis Lumière filmed the run in 1899.

City Slickers

The event is the basis for a chapter in James Michener‘s 1971 novel The Drifters. The run is depicted in the 1991 Billy Crystal film City Slickers where the character “Mitch” (Crystal) is gored (non-fatally) from behind by a bull during a vacation with the other main characters.

Running with the Bulls, a 2012 documentary of the festival filmed by Construct Creatives and presented by Jason Farrel, depicts the pros and cons of the controversial tradition. Since 2014 the Esquire Channel has broadcast the running of the bulls as a show in the US, with both live commentary and then a recorded ’round up’ later in the day by NBCSN commentators the Men in Blazers, including interviews with noted participants.

In 2014, the eBook guide Fiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona caused headlines around the world when one of the contributors was gored by a bull soon after its publication. Maybe one should take the advice given here with a grain of salt.

Many opponents argue that bulls are mentally injured by the harassment and voicing of both participants and spectators. Despite all this, the festivities seem to have wide popular support in their villages.

Many animal rights activists oppose the event. PETA activists created the “running of the nudes”, a demonstration done 2 days before the beginning of San Fermín in Pamplona.pamplona

We hope you enjoyed today’s adventure, and maybe you’ve been inspired to participate in the future. No matter what we’d like to have any stories you may have on the event and to check us out again for a new journey.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Alonso, Gorka. “Los encierros se saldan con 50 heridos trasladados y 6 corneados” (in Spanish). Noticias de Navarra. 15 July 2013.

Coviello, Will. “Running of the Bulls 2012”. Gambit Weekly.

Editorial Staff. “Pamplona, bull running, bull gorings, Esquire TV and poetry from New York”. The Pamplona Post. 10 July 2015.

Fiske-Harrison, AlexanderFiesta: How To Survive The Bulls Of Pamplona. Mephisto Press, 2014.

Marszalek, Keith I. “Big Easy Rollergirls to reinact [sic] famed bull run”. 24 June 2007.

Vadillo, Jose Luis. “Así son los corredores de elite en San Fermín”. El Mundo. 6 July 2015.

“Bull gores man to death in Spain”. BBC. 10 July 2009.

“Encierro bullrun San Fermin festival Sanfermines tourist information on Navarre”. Government of Navarre.

“One dead in the running of the bull’s in Pamplona” 10 July 2009.

Running of the Bulls 2011 Live Stream (Event Information)

“Running of the Bulls”. Esquire TV.

“Running Of The Bulls 2015: A Democratic Sport”. Esquire TV.

“Running of the Nudes”PETA official site.

“San Fermín in Nueva Orleans, The Running of the Roller Girls”. 20 July 2008.

“San Fermín So Far – 2014”The Pamplona Post. 12 July 2014.

“The Bull Run”. Ayuntamiento de Pamplona (Council of Pamplona). Archived from the original on 29 May 2008.

“The last person killed at Pamplona”. BBC. 14 July 2005.

Gaius Appuleius Diocles: The World’s 1st Sports Billionaire

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

In today’s world we see many professional athletes showcasing their talents in their respective sport, and also in media through various endorsement deals.

These sports superstars are idolized, seen as role models, and are envied for the life in which they live in comparison to the average working person. Not much has changed over the course of 2 millenia.

The sports stars of the past were gladiators and charioteers instead of players of American Football, soccer, golf, basketball, tennis, baseball, etc. The fame and fortune was there, but on a completely different level.

With that we uncover the life of the world’s 1st sports billionaire, Gaius Appuleius Diocles!diocles2

As a modern example, in 2009 golfer Tiger Woods was heralded as the first athlete to earn over $1 billion. That is nothing to scoff at, but it’s small potatoes when compared to the earning potential of those in the Circus Maximus.

One charioteer, Gaius Appuleius Diocles, amassed a fortune 35,863,120 sesterces in prize money. That would be the modern equivalent of $15 billion (£9.6 billion.

Just take a moment to let that sink in.

We’ll come back to explain how Diocles was able to earn so much money. Let’s start though by taking a look at the man.

dioclesGaius Appuleius Diocles, a most likely illiterate man, was an ancient Hispano-Roman during the 2nd Century AD. In 104 AD, he was born In Lamecum (current Lamego) belonging to Emerita Augusta, capital of Lusitania (now Mérida, Spain).

As a child, Diocles lived at Lamecum with his father who worked and owned a transport business. It was here that the boy would race chariots.

His main renowned victory outside of Lusitania was in Ilerda (now LleidaCatalonia, Spain). This success gave him international fame and encouraged him go to Rome, where he was known as the Lamecus (since he was born in Lamecum).

Within Lamecus a statue of Diocles was erected on top the fountain in front of the garden, known as Jardim do Campo, located in the center of town. One can still see the tile panel painted by the famous painter Jorge Colaco where he portrays Diocles fitness as the supreme racing athlete driving quadrigas.

Diocles as a Green
Diocles as a Green

According to Roman author Tertullian, chariot racing originally just 2 teams, White and Red, sacred to winter and summer respectively. This grew into 4 teams (Red, White, Green, and Blue), with each team having up to 3 chariots each in a race.

Members of the same team often collaborated with each other against the other teams, for example to force them to crash into the spina (a legal and encouraged tactic). Drivers could switch teams, much like athletes can be traded to different teams today.

At age 18, Diocles began driving for the White team. After 6 years, he switched to the Green team. After 3 years with Green, he began driving for the Red team where he stayed

There is evidence which suggests that Diocles sought not only money but personal glory, another supposedly modern condition, with his choice of team. Of all the teams, the Greens and Blues were the most successful and popular.

Diocles as a Red
Diocles as a Red

Diocles began his career at age 18 as a White, before making a move to the Greens at age 24. This was a seemingly plum spot for any young charioteer.

Yet he transferred to the less popular, and potentially less stacked, Reds at age 27. This move had to have made financial sense and may have had personal motivations as well, since it was the worst of the 4 factions.

It is entirely possible, considering his weakness for showmanship, Diocles wished to be a single, shining star. His switch from the Greens, where he was one of many popular charioteers on a team with a storied history of them, so that he could write his own history with the Reds makes sense.

Diocles remained a Red until his retirement at age 42. That length as a charioteer was an accomplishment in itself.

Racing the Quadriga
Racing the Quadriga

The higher level of pay did not come without its perils for Diocles and his contemporaries. With little more than a leather helmet, shin guards and simple chest armor for protection, racers endured 7 grueling laps of competition, which often ended in the deaths of rivals unfortunate enough to be upended.

He most commonly came from behind to win his races. Records show that he won only 34% or 1,462 out of the 4,257 quadriga races he competed in though.

quadrigaThe Roman chariot racer’s career earnings, marked down with admirable permanence in a stone inscription erected in Rome in 146 AD by his fellow charioteers and fans, totaled 35,863,120 sesterces. With his earnings, Diocles could do any of the following: feed grain to all of Rome for an entire year; compensate the 5 most handsomely paid Provincial Governors’ salaries; or could bankroll the Roman Army, then at its world conquering height, for a fifth of a year.

Dr. Peter Struck, from the University of Chicago, said “By today’s standards that last figure, assuming the apt comparison is what it takes to pay the wages of the American armed forces for the same period, would cash out to about $15 billion.”

Champion Charioteers
Champion Charioteers

The 2nd Century “Champion of all Charioteers” made his fortune even without the sponsorship and marketing fees that bolster the pay of his modern counterparts in the sporting world. That’s something Tiger Woods could not claim.

Spurned by Forbes’s glee at Tiger Woods approaching the one billion mark, Struck’s brief article in Lapham’s Quarterly caught like wildfire. The GuardianThe Daily Telegraph, and the Discovery Channel were but a few of the outlets to breathlessly report Diocles’s immense wealth.

Aside from the romance which still smolders in the West for the Classical Era, the sheer size of the figure demanded enthusiastic attention. Fifteen billion dollars is such a sum, for one man, as to be staggering.

It is like the distance between stars, or the death tolls of certain Eastern Front battlefields. These are numbers so large as to be almost concepts.

While the news outlets salivated over Diocles’s immense fortune, it missed an important lesson encoded within his statistics. The Romans, as devout followers of sport as any modern society, kept meticulous records with regards to chariot racing; not only the charioteers of the 4 factions, but also stats on the horses as well, which were famed athletes in their own right.

Circus Maximus
Circus Maximus

Roman obsession with panem et circenses (bread and games) showed what the people valued most, the grain dole and chariot races in the Circus. The very phrase panem et circenses denotes this unhealthy preoccupation with materialistic stuff, a scope whose parallel can certainly be drawn in our modern terms.

Some races were worth more than others, and records show Diocles to have been a rather singular talent. 1,064 of his wins came in high stakes single entry races, wherein the Reds, Greens, Blues, and Whites would each offer unto the cruel Circus their best charioteer, who would fend of his adversaries without the aid of his teammates.

Charioteer relief
Charioteer relief

Diocles also notched 110 victories in opening races following grand processions in which the racers were a part. Such contests were like a Heavyweight Title Fight, where a bigger draw yields a bigger paycheck.

The life expectancy of a charioteer was not very high, so drivers could become celebrities throughout the Empire simply by surviving. One such celebrity driver was Scorpus, who won 2,048 races before being killed in a collision with the meta when he was about 27 years old.

Because many charioteers died quite young, this made Diocles’ career unusually long and stand out even more. By the time of his rather unusual death (calm and quiet after retirement), Diocles passed away in Praeneste, (present Palestrina, Italy)

Diocles and his ducenarius
Diocles and his ducenarius

Diocles is also notable for owning an extremely rare ducenarius, or a horse that had won at least 200 races.

We’re glad you joined us on today’s adventure. Make sure to join us again for who knows what we’ll uncover next.

And please be sure to follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Mandal, Dattatreya. “Gaius Appuleius Diocles – Possibly The Highest Paid Athlete In The History Of Mankind”. Realm of History. 21 May 2016.

Potter, David Stone. Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire. University of Michigan Press, 1999. ISBN 0-472-08568-9.

Van Duisen, Michael. “The Highest-Paid Athlete Of All Time Is An Ancient Roman”KnowledgeNuts. 11 September 2013.

Wardrop, Murray. “Wealth of today’s sports stars is ‘no match for the fortunes of Rome’s chariot racers’”., 13 August 2010.

Zarley, B. David. “The Fifteen Billion Dollar Athlete”. Vice Sports. 23 March 2015.


The Twelve Tasks of Asterix

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

Recently we ventured from Rome across the Alps and into Gallia, where we discovered Roman Gaul: Paving the Way for Modern Europe. We then took an animated journey with Asterix the Gaul!

Today we continue to follow the exploits of Asterix the Gaul as we watch The Twelve Tasks of Asterix!

After a group of Legionaries is once again beaten up by the Gauls, they imagine: “With such huge strength, they can’t be human… they must be gods“.

ulius Caesar is informed, and laughs. He makes a decision with his council and goes to Armorica, to speak with Vitalstatistix. He gives the Gauls a series of 12 tasks, inspired by Hercules (but new ones, since the 12 Labours are outdated).

Vitalstatistix assembles their best warriors, Asterix and Obelix, to do the job. The Roman Caius Tiddlus is sent along with them to guide them and check they complete each task.

If you do not care to watch the film, yet are still interested to know what the Twelve Tasks are then click here.

We hope you enjoyed today’s animated journey and look forward to having you back soon. You can also follow us on Facebook and Twitter.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Bullfighting: Having Roots in Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

The world of Ancient Rome was filled with lots of interesting things, both good and bad as seen through modern eyes. Having not actually lived during those times, and having not participated in any events, it should not be for us to condemn but simply understand.

Our discussion today will involve some items that might be considered offensive to some. If you do not like to hear or see any sort of violence come to any type of animal, then it is best that you just join us again tomorrow.

For those still here, today we explore the origins and tradition of Bullfighting!solo

Known in Spanish as either Corrida de Toros or simply Toreo is a traditional spectacle of SpainPortugal, parts of southern France and some Latin American countries (Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Peru).

At the basis of this event is where a single or multiple bulls are fought by humans in a bullring. Although it can be defined as a blood sport, within the areas where it is practiced it is considered a highly ritualized cultural event and art form which some see as deeply tied to Hispanic culture and identity.

The bullfight, as it is practiced today, involves professional Toreros who execute various formal moves which have a meaning, or at least a name, according to the bullfighter’s style or school. The most senior of these professionals is the Matador, who actually kills the bull.

It has been alleged that Toreros seek to elicit inspiration and art from their work and an emotional connection with the crowd transmitted through the bull. The close proximity places the bullfighter at risk of being gored or trampled by the bull.

After the bull has been hooked multiple times behind the shoulder by other Toreros in the arena, the bullfight usually concludes with the killing of the bull by a single sword thrust called the Estocada. Sometimes, however, the life of the bull is spared due to his braveness (Indulto) and once the animal has been treated, it is returned to live in the Dehesa.

special breed of cattle is used for bullfighting. Theses special bulls are bred in large ranches, in conditions as similar as possible to the way they would behave in the wild.

There are many historic fighting venues in the Iberian Peninsula, France and Latin America. The oldest venues are the Plazas of Béjar and Ronda, in the Spanish provinces of Ávila and Málaga.

Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven.
Gilgamesh and the Bull of Heaven.

Bullfighting traces its roots to prehistoric bull worship and sacrifice in Mesopotamia and the Mediterranean Basin. The first recorded bullfight may be the Epic of Gilgamesh, which describes a scene in which Gilgamesh and Enkidu fought and killed the Bull of Heaven.

Bull leaping was portrayed in Crete, and myths related to bulls throughout Greece. The killing of the sacred bull (Tauroctony) is the

Mithras killing a bull.
Mithras killing a bull.

essential central iconic act of Mithras, which was commemorated in the Mithraeum wherever Roman soldiers were stationed.

The oldest representations of what seems to be a man facing a bull is on the Celtiberian tombstone from Clunia and in the cave painting El Toro de Hachos, both found in Spain.

Bullfighting is often linked to Rome, where many human-versus-animal events were held as competition and entertainment, the Venationes. These hunting games spread to Africa Proconsularis, Roman Gaul and Asiana.

Mosaico Trabajos Hércules (M.A.N. Madrid) 07
Mosaico Trabajos Hércules (M.A.N. Madrid) 07

There are also theories that it was introduced into Hispania by the Emperor Claudius, as a substitute for gladiators, when he instituted a short-lived ban on gladiatorial combat. The Picadores are related to warriors who wielded the Pilum, but their role in the contest is now a minor one limited to “preparing” the bull for the matador.

Spanish colonists took the practice of breeding cattle and bullfighting to the American colonies, the Pacific and Asia. In the 19th Century, areas of southern and southwestern France adopted bullfighting, developing their own distinctive form.

medieval-fightingReligious festivities and royal weddings were celebrated by fights in the local plaza, where noblemen would ride competing for royal favor, and the populace enjoyed the excitement. In the Middle Ages while European Knights were jousting, in Spain they began to fight bulls.

In Medieval Spain bullfighting was considered a noble sport and reserved to the rich, who could afford to supply and train their animals. The bull was released into a closed arena where a single fighter on horseback was armed with a lance.

This spectacle was said to be enjoyed by CharlemagneAlfonso X the Wise and the Almohad caliphs, among others. The greatest Spanish performer of this art is said to have been El Cid.

According chronicle of the time, in 1128 “… when Alfonso VII of León and Castile married Berengaria of Barcelona daughter of Ramon Berenguer III, Count of Barcelona at Saldaña among other celebrations, there were also bullfights.”

Matador Pedro Romero by Francisco de Goya.
Matador Pedro Romero by Francisco de Goya.

Francisco Romero, from Ronda, Spain, is generally regarded as having been the first to introduce the practice of fighting bulls on foot around 1726, using the Muleta in the last stage of the fight and an Estoque to kill the bull. This type of fighting drew more attention from the crowds.

Thus the modern corrida, or fight, began to take form, as riding noblemen were replaced by commoners on foot. This new style prompted the construction of dedicated bullrings, initially square, like the Plaza de Armas, and later round, to discourage the cornering of the action.Spain Bullfights vs Schoolbooks

The modern style of Spanish bullfighting is credited to Juan Belmonte, generally considered the greatest Matador of all time. Belmonte introduced a daring and revolutionary style, in which he stayed within a few inches of the bull throughout the fight.

Although extremely dangerous, Belmonte’s style is still seen by most Matadores as the ideal to be emulated. It should be mentioned thought that Belmonte was in fact gored on many occasions

Originally, at least five distinct regional styles of bullfighting were practiced in southwestern Europe: Andalusia, AragonNavarre, AlentejoCamargueAquitaine. Over time, these have evolved more or less into standardized national forms.

Spanish-style bullfighting is called Corrida de Toros (Running of Bulls) or La Fiesta (The Festival). In the traditional Corrida, 3 Matadores each fight 2 bulls, each of which is between 4 – 6 years old and weighs no less than 1,014 lbs.

cuadrillaEach matador has 6 assistants: 2 Picadores (Lancers on Horseback); 3 Banderilleros (known along with the Matador as “Bullfighter”); and a Mozo de Espadas (Sword Page). Collectively they comprise a Cuadrilla (Entourage).

In Spanish the more general Torero is used for the lead fighter, and only when needed to distinguish a man is the full title Matador de Toros used. In English, Matador is generally used for the Bullfighter.

The modern Corrida is highly ritualized, with 3 distinct stages or Tercios (Thirds), each of which is started by a bugle sound. The participants enter the arena in a parade, called the Paseíllo, to salute the presiding dignitary, accompanied by band music.

Torero costumes are inspired by 17th Century Andalusian clothing, and Matadores are easily distinguished by the gold of their Traje de Luces (Suit of Lights). The lesser Banderilleros are known as Toreros de Plata (Bullfighters of Silver).

Death of the Picador – Francisco de Goya, c. 1793.
Death of the Picador – Francisco de Goya, c. 1793.

Spanish-style bullfighting is normally fatal for the bull, but it is also dangerous for the Matador. Matadores are usually gored every season, with Picadores and Banderilleros being gored less often.

With the discovery of antibiotics and advances in surgical techniques, fatalities are now rare. Over the past 300 years, 534 professional bullfighters have died either in the ring or from injuries sustained there.

Some Matadores have been seriously gored many times, and according to Ernest Hemingway, Belmonte’s legs were marred by many ugly scars. A special type of surgeon has developed, in Spain and elsewhere, to treat cornadas (horn-wounds).

The bullring has a chapel where a Matador can pray before the Corrida, and where a priest can be found in case a sacrament is needed. The most relevant sacrament is called the Anointing of the Sick, but was formerly known as “Extreme Unction” or the “Last Rites”.

Muerte del Maestro (Death of the Master) – Jose Villegas Cordero, 1884.
Muerte del Maestro (Death of the Master) – Jose Villegas Cordero, 1884.

The media often reports the more horrific of bullfighting injuries, such as the September 2011 goring of Matador Juan José Padilla‘s head by a bull in Zaragoza, resulting in the loss of his left eye, use of his right ear, and facial paralysis. Padilla returned to bullfighting 5 months later with an eyepatch, multiple titanium plates in his skull, and the nickname ‘The Pirate’.

Many supporters of bullfighting regard it as a deeply ingrained, integral part of their national cultures. Bullfighting is seen as a symbol of Spanish culture and in Spain it is called La Fiesta Nacional (The National Festival).

The aesthetic of bullfighting is based on the interaction of the man and the bull. Rather than a competitive sport, the bullfight is more of a ritual of ancient origin, which is judged by aficionados (bullfighting fans) based on artistic impression and command.muleta-and-estoque

Ernest Hemingway said of it in his 1932 non-fiction book Death in the Afternoon, “Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter’s honour.”

Those who oppose bullfighting maintain that the practice is a cowardly, sadistic tradition of torturing, humiliating and killing a bull amidst pomp and pageantry. Supporters of bullfights claim they respect the bulls, that the bulls live better than other cattle, and that bullfighting is a grand tradition and form of art.

In Spain, opposition to bullfighting is referred to as the antitaurino movement with supporters of a ban on bullfighting remaining in the minority. Despite its slow decrease in popularity among younger generations, it remains a widespread cultural activity with millions of followers throughout the country.

posterThe question of public funding is particularly controversial in Spain, since widely disparaged claims have been made by supporters and opponents of bullfighting. According to government figures, bullfighting in Spain generates 1600 million euros a year and 200,000 jobs, of which 57,000 are directly linked to the industry.

Critics claim often that bullfighting is financed with public money. However, despite bullfighting involving around 25 million spectators annually, it represents just 0.01% of those state subsidies allocated to cultural activities, and always under 3% of the cultural budget of regional, provincial and local authorities.

The bulk of subsidies are paid by local town halls where there is a historical tradition and support for bullfighting and related events, which are often held without charge to participants and spectators. The European Union does not subsidize bullfighting but it does subsidize the cattle farming in general, which benefits also benefit those who rear Spanish fighting bulls.

Late-19th Century / early-20th Century Spanish Regeneracionista protested against what they called the policy of Pan y Toros (Bread and Bulls), an analogue of Roman Panem et Circenses (Bread and Circuses) promoted by politicians to keep the populace content in its oppression. Such belief was part of the wider current of thought known asanti-flamenquismo whereby they simultaneously campaigned against the popularity of both bullfighting and flamenco music, which they believed to be “oriental” elements of Spanish culture which were responsible for Spain’s backwardness as compared to the rest of Europe.

Barcelona ca. 1900
Barcelona ca. 1900

Bullfighting has been seen as intertwined with religion and religious folklore in Spain at a popular. Bullfighting events and festivities are as a rule celebrated as a core element of religious festivities celebrating local Patron Saints, always along a range of other jovial activities.

bullfighting-posterOn the other hand, the Bullfighting world is also inextricably linked to religious iconography involved with religious devotion in Spain. Bullfighters often seek the protection of various Virgins and are regularly members of religious brotherhoods.

State-run Spanish TVE had cancelled live coverage of bullfights in August 2007 until September 2012, claiming that the coverage was too violent for children who might be watching, and that live coverage violated a voluntary, industry-wide code attempting to limit “sequences that are particularly crude or brutal”. Having the national Spanish TV stop broadcasting the events, after 50 years of history, was considered a big step for its abolition, but other regional and private channels keep broadcasting it with good audiences.

deathintheafternoonBullfighting has been a popular theme in both literature and film. Some highlights include the following: The opera Carmen features a bullfighter as a major character, a well-known song about him, and a bullfight off-stage at the climax; Llanto por Ignacio Sánchez Mejías (Lament for Ignacio Sánchez Mejías, 1935) a poem by Federico García Lorca;  Ernest Hemmingway had a trio of novels with bullfighting as a key focus of the story (The Dangerous Summer, Death in the Afternoon, and The Sun Also Rises); Shadow of a Bull, book by Maia Wojciechowska about a around_the_world_in_80_days_1956_film_posterbullfighter’s son, Manolo Olivar; the 1956 film Around the World in 80 Days included scenes of Cantinflas bullfighting in Chinchón; also another film from 1956 The Brave One; and Talk to Her, film by Pedro Almodóvar, contains subplot concerning female matador who is gored during a bullfight.

The bullfight is regarded as a demonstration of style, technique and courage by its participants and as a demonstration of cruelty and cowardice by its critics. While there is usually no doubt about the outcome, the bull is viewed by bullfighting supporters as a worthy adversary, deserving of respect in its own right.

Whether or not you believe Bullfighting to be an art or the most vulgar spectacle on the planet, it is deeply ingrained in some cultures. The biggest fact of the matter is that it has roots in Ancient Rome.

Bull-leaping - Fresco from Knossos, Crete.
Bull-leaping – Fresco from Knossos, Crete.

We thank you for sticking around for today’s adventure. This may not have been your cup of tea, but we have new journeys and explorations to showcase involving various other topics as soon as tomorrow.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Fiske-Harrison, Alexander‘To the Spanish bullfighting is much more than a sport’. Daily Telegraph. 25 November 2011.

Fiske-Harrison, Alexander. “Perhaps bullfighting is not a moral wrong: My talk at the Edinburgh International Book Festival”. The Last Arena: In Search of the Spanish Bullfight blog. 25 July 2012.

Fiske-Harrison, Alexander. “The Last Matador”. British GQ. 13 September 2012.

Fiske-Harrison, Alexander. “533 professional bullfighters killed in the ring since 1700”The Last Arena: In Search of the Spanish Bullfight blog. 7 April 2013.

Govan, Fiona. “Bullfighting’s Future in Doubt“. The Telegraph. 20 December 2006.

Hudson, Simon. Sport and Adventure Tourism. Haworth Hospitality Press, 2003. ISBN 978-0-7890-1276-0.

The Bulletpoint BullfightISBN 978-1-4116-7400-4.

“Bullfighting ban and the horns of a dilemma for Spain”. 28 July 2010.

“Plaza de Toros de Las Ventas”.

Ludi Saeculares: Celebrating Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe!

If the Romans were one thing, they were proud of being Roman. Aside from their ability to conquer other peoples, the Romans loved to celebrate. If the celebration was for a triumph or just to celebrate being Roman, it was bound to become a festival worth remembering.

Today we take a look at Rome’s Secular Games – the Ludi Saeculares!Secular Games

Originally called Ludi Terentini, the Ludi Saeculares was a Roman religious celebration, involving sacrifices involving sacrificii and theatrical performances, held in ancient Rome for 3 days and 3 nights.

The Secular Games were to mark the end of a saeculum and the beginning of the next. A saeculum, supposedly the longest possible length of human life, was considered as either 100 or 110 years in length.

Held infrequently but supposedly soon after the expulsion of the kings, the Ludi Saeculares was on a schedule determined variously by the Libri Sibyllini and the influence of the Etruscan Great Year (a 110-year cycle, as explicated by the Augustan Quindecimviri). It was also to mark important occasions such as the 800th and 900th anniversary of the Founding of Rome.She-wolf_suckles_Romulus_and_Remus

The Secular Games was last held in AD 397 under the Christian Emperor Honorius. Even though they involved sacrifices to the underworld gods, Honorius permitted them to be conducted because of tradition.

According to Roman mythology, the Secular Games began when a Sabine man called Valesius of the Gens Valeria prayed for a cure for his children’s illness and was supernaturally instructed to sacrifice on the Campus Martius to Dis Pater and Proserpina, deities of the underworld. Some ancient authors traced official celebrations of the Games as far back as 509 BC, but the only clearly attested celebrations under the Roman Republic took place in 248 and 148 BC.

The Games were revived in 17 BC by Rome’s first emperor Augustus. The nocturnal sacrifices held on the Campus Martius were transferred to the Fatae (Fates), the Ilythiae (goddesses of childbirth), and the Terra Mater (Earth Mother).

The Games of 17 BC also introduced day-time sacrifices to Roman deities on the Collis Capitōlīnus and the Collis Palatium. Each sacrifice was followed by theatrical performances.Choregos_actors_MAN_Napoli

Later Emperors held celebrations in AD 88 and 204, after intervals of roughly 110 years. However, they were also held by Claudius in AD 47 to celebrate the 800th Anniversary of Rome’s Foundation.

According to Varro, an antiquarian of the 1st Century BC, the Games were introduced after a series of portents led to a consultation of the Sibylline Books by the Quindecimviri. In accordance with the instructions contained in these books, sacrifices were offered at the Tarentum on the Campus Martius over three nights, to the underworld deities of Dis Pater and Proserpina.MarcusAureliusSacrificeRelief

Varro also states that a vow was made that the Games would be repeated every hundred years, and another celebration did indeed take place in either 149 or 146 BC, at the time of the Third Punic War. Following the 248 BC Games this sequence would have led to a celebration in 49 BC, but the civil wars apparently prevented this.

Before the Games themselves, heralds went around the city and invite the people to “a spectacle, such as they had never witnessed and never would again” (which is true since it was only once every 100 years). Offerings of wheat, barley, and beans were made.

The Quindecimviri sat on the Capitoline Hill and in the Temple of Apollo on the Palatine handing out torches, sulphur and asphalt to the civitas to be burnt as a means of purification. This may have been modeled on the purification rituals of the Parilia, the Anniversary of Rome’s Foundation.

The Senate decreed that an inscribed record of the Games should be set up in the Tarentum, a site in the Campus Martius. This inscription has survived, and offers information about the ceremonies.Inscription

Date Time Location Deities Sacrifices
May 31 Night Campus Martius Moerae 9 female lambs, 9 she-goats
June 1 Day Capitoline Hill Jupiter Optimus Maximus 2 bulls
June 1 Night Campus Martius Ilythiae 27 sacrificial cakes (9 of each of three types)
June 2 Day Capitoline Hill Juno Regina 2 cows
June 2 Night Campus Martius Terra Mater Pregnant sow
June 3 Day Palatine Hill Apollo and Diana 27 sacrificial cakes (9 of each of three types)

The key roles were played by Augustus and his best friend (and son-in-law) Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa, in their capacity as members of the Quindecimviri. Augustus participated alone in the night-time sacrifices but was joined by Agrippa for those during the day.

After the sacrifices of 3 June, choirs of boys and girls sang the Carmen Saeculare, composed for the occasion by the poet Horace. This hymn was sung both on the Palatine and then on the Capitoline, but its words focus on the Palatine deities Apollo and Diana, which were more closely associated with Augustus.

Each sacrifice was followed by theatrical performances. Once the major sacrifices were over, the days between June 5 and June 11 were devoted to Greek and Latin plays, and June 12 saw chariot racing and displays of hunting.Terracotta_con_venatio

Under subsequent Emperors, the Ludi Saeculares was celebrated on both the Augustan and the Claudian systems. Domitian held his in AD 88, possibly 110 years from a planned Augustan celebration in 22 BC, and he was followed by Septimius Severus in AD 204, 220 years from the actual Augustan celebration.

On both occasions, the procedure used in 17 BC was followed closely. Antoninus Pius in AD 148 and Philip I in AD 248 followed Claudius in celebrating the 1000-year Anniversaries of Rome’s Foundation. These involved rituals at the Temple of Venus and Roma instead of the Tarentum, and the date was probably changed to April 21, the Parilia.PalazzoTrinci

By AD 314, 110 years from the Games of Septimius Severus, the Christian Constantine I was now in charge and no Secular Games were held. The pagan historian Zosimus, who wrote the most detailed extant account of the Games, blamed this neglect of the traditional ritual for the decline of the Roman Empire.

No matter what schedule was held or what events were attended, the Ludi Saeculares held something for every Roman. We hope you enjoyed today’s celebration and look forward to having you back again.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Beard, Mary; John North; Simon Price. Religions of Rome. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-30401-6. (vol. 1). ISBN 0-521-45646-0.

Braund, David C. Augustus to Nero: A Sourcebook on Roman History 31 BC–AD 68. Totowa: Barnes and Noble, 1985. ISBN 0-389-20536-2.

Chisholm, Hugh. “Secular Games“. Encyclopædia Britannica. Cambridge University Press, 1911.

Feeney, Denis. Literature and Religion at Rome: Cultures, Contexts and Beliefs. Roman literature and its contexts. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN 0-521-55921-9.

Jones, Brian; Robert Milns. Suetonius: The Flavian Emperors: A Historical Commentary. London: Bristol Classical Press, 2002. ISBN 1-85399-613-0.

Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome

Welcome to Rome Across Europe! Have we got a great video in store for you.

Ancient Rome provided lots of things, from art to architecture, that are still relevant today. Some of us know how magnificent the Imperium Rōmānum was, while some of us are still learning.

In any case, today is something anyone with a varying knowledge of Rome can appreciate. Today we are taking a look at the Seven Wonders of Ancient Rome!

Circus Maximus: Latin for greatest or largest circus, this is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue. Its located in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine Hills in Rome.

Forum Traiani: This Imperial Fora was the world’s 1st shopping center.

Roman Aqueducts: The Romans constructed numerous aqueducts in order to bring water from distant sources into their cities and towns, supplying public baths, latrines, fountains and private households, while also having waste water removed by complex sewage systems thus keeping the towns clean and free from effluent.

Thermae Caracalla: The second largest Roman public baths, or thermae, built in Rome.

Viae: Built from about 500 BC through the expansion and consolidation of the Res Publica Romana and the Imperium Rōmānum, these roads provided efficient means for the overland movement of armies, officials, civilians, as well as the inland carriage of official communications and trade goods.

Pantheon: Having been in continuous use since its creation around AD 126, the Pantheon’s dome is still the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. This is true over 2,000 years after it was built!

Amphitheatrum Flavium: Known to people today as the Colosseum, it is the largest amphitheatre ever built and is considered one of the greatest works of architecture and engineering.

We hope you enjoyed these 7 wonders and look forward to having you back to check them out again, in-depth.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

The Secret Lives of Rome’s Gladiators

Hello and welcome back to Rome Across Europe! Here in America we are now into Week 2 of the NFL regular season and Week 3 of NCAA Football Action.

If you are a fan of Soccer or International Football, especially the Everton F.C. Dogs of War, then you’re well into the season. The point is that we LOVE sports!

It’s our thing, we mean, aside from Roman history. Obviously.

That’s why we are going back to look at the sports icons of the past. Today we are taking a look at gladiators!

A Gladiator (from gladius) was an armed combatant who entertained audiences during the Res publica Romana and Imperium Rōmānum in violent confrontations with other combatants, wild animals and condemned criminals.

Some gladiators were volunteers who risked their lives and their legal and social standing by appearing in the arena. Most were despised as slaves, schooled under harsh conditions, socially marginalized and segregated even in death.

The origin of gladiatorial combat is open to debate. There is evidence of it in funeral rites during the Punic Wars of the 3rd Century BC. Thereafter it rapidly became an essential feature of politics and social life, and its popularity led to its further use in ever more lavish and costly games.

Gladiatorial games lasted for nearly a thousand years, reaching their peak between the 1st Century BC and the 2nd Century AD. The games finally declined during the early 5th Century after the adoption of Christianity as state church of the Roman Empire in 380.

We hope you enjoyed the spectical and look forward to having you back again soon for further entertainment. Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Colosseum – A Gladiator’s Story

Welcome back to Rome Across Europe! Today we are venturing back to the year 80 AD.

We are going back to ancient Rome and the opening of the Amphitheatrum Flavium. Come join us as we see what it was like to be both a Gladiator and a fan of these original games.

We know it’s not the movie Gladiator, but it’s still a cool visual presentation. Hopefully you enjoyed your journey and will see you soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!

Tesserae – Can You Cast Lots?

Welcome back to Rome Across Europe. We all love to have fun and be entertained, the Romans were no different. Today we’ll be taking a look at Roman dice (datum) and dice games, or Tesserae.

Roman entertainment was a development of the world they had around them. As the depth and breadth of this world expanded so too did their entertainment.Mosaic of Gamblers

It can’t be said that the Romans actually invented any of the more common games, but they certainly adopted them with a vengeance. In addition to using dice to settle disputes or impartially distribute goods, they were also used for entertainment and gambling.

Roman Statesman and Historian Cato the Elder refers to gaming (dice) as only being fit for the elderly given that the young should be out in the fields practicing their arms. The only use of dice which probably wasn’t restricted was to elect what lyric poet Horace calls the “arbiter bibendi” (the rule maker at a drinking party).

Playing dice was very popular among the Romans. The Romans called these Tesserae, but they also played with Tali (knucklebones). The sheep knuckle bones, were easily found and usually free.astra

Each bone had 4 distinct sides and expert players may have been able to throw them to get the result they wanted. Romans would also make them from brass, silver, gold, ivory, marble, wood, bone, bronze, glass, terracotta, and precious gems.

Like the 6-sided dice we use today, opposite sides of the ancient Roman dice always added up to 7.  If it’s been a while since you played Monopoly, the opposite sides of our dice are 1 and 6, 3 and 4, and 2 and 5.Roman Dice

Tali was very much like the familiar dice game Yahtzee. The count of the dice was scored like poker hands to get a winner, but special boards weren’t needed.

A round consists of each player throwing and the winner of that round was the person with the best hand. Multiple hands could be added for a total score to determine the winner.

A Venus was the highest hand and consisted of a 1, 3, 4, and 6. A Senio was a 6 with any combination of other numbers.

Vultures was a hand where all the tali came up with the same numbers. The worst score you could get, Canis, was all 1s.

The Tali and Tesserae were shaken and thrown from a cup called a Fritillum, Pyrgus, Orca or Turricula. Bets were placed in much the same manner as they are today. Roman wall paintings indicate they played with 3 dice, while the images of Achilles on vases suggest the Greeks played with 2 dice.Achilles and Ajax

Soldiers, like everyone else in Rome, liked to play games with dice. The simplest dice games entailed throwing the highest numbers. But, dice were also used in more complicated games such as the “Game of 12” and the “Game of Brigands”.

Dice games were played in taverns as well as gambling houses, brothels and on the street. The Emperor Commodus, who was especially fond of gambling with dice, turned the Imperial Palace into a brothel and gambling house to raise money for the treasury when he bankrupted the Empire. In this he may have followed a precedent set by the mad Emperor Caligula.Drinking and Gambling

Aristotle, in the Nichomachean Ethics, describes the moral distinction between wicked rulers who sack cities and other types of greedy people:

But the dicer and the footpad or brigand are to be classed as mean, as showing sordid greed, for both ply their trade and endure reproach for gain, the robber risking his life for plunder, and the dicer making gain out of friends, to whom one ought to give; hence both are guilty of sordid greed, trying to get gain from the wrong sources.

Games were so much a part of Roman life that laws had to be made in order to restrict them. In ancient Rome, all gambling, except betting at the circus and races, were forbidden by law. Gambling with dice was forbidden in the streets and Roman soldiers often fined the gamblers or made them move inside.Playing Knucklebones

Amongst others, the Lex Cornelia, Lex Publicia and Lex Titia forbade the game of dice and the penalty could have the perpetrator sent to jail or fined. Fines were a multiple of the amount of money being bet.

Furthermore the law didn’t recognize gambling debts or damages to property arising from gambling. The only time that the population could legally let off steam was during the carnival feast known as Saturnalia when all such games were allowed.

This led to the invention of gambling chips, as seen used in modern times, and the gamblers weren’t playing for money exactly. Total loophole, right? The chips were marked with specific symbols indicating their value, but that didn’t seem to bother the authorities.

This was both during the Republic (510 – 27 BC) and the Imperial (27 BC – AD 476) periods, partly because tempers often flared and led to violence and even riots. But, the government was also afraid of magic, which some gamers used to ensure victory.

The laws, however, did not stop Emperors themselves from playing games of chance and betting heavily. Emperor Augustus once lost 30,000 sestertii (30 times the amount a soldier earned in a year).

Emperor Claudius even wrote a book about games. Claudius also traveled in a carriage that was especially designed to allow him and his friends to gamble while on the road.Lawrence_Alma-Tadema_A_Roman_Art_Lover

Another Emperor who was fond of games of chance was Caligula. Not surprisingly, Emperor Caligula was also well known for cheating.

Emperor Lucius Verus, though, was the most passionate gambler of all. He appears to have gambled every single night.

Laws, of course, have never stopped people from using magic or from gambling. The passion for gambling was such that it often provided fodder for writers of satire.

One author, who was well aware of the huge payments made by or to gamblers, noted that carrying a money bag was not enough, gamblers needed the whole safe!

And while graffiti, which could be found all over the city, criticized the emperors’ fondness for games of chance and betting, Romans themselves continued to pursue and play their own smaller-scale games of chance.Graffitti

Since the ancient Romans spent a lot of time playing games and watching the races, they seemed to have no qualms about cheating even if it meant using magic.

Gamers in the past were no different from gamers today who look for cheat codes. Cheating must have been extremely widespread because a device was eventually invented to cut back on cheating with loaded dice.

First the dice were shaken, not in a dice box as was customary, but in a horn (pyxis cornea). Then they were thrown into a tower with a funnel at the top and a spiral staircase inside. The “cleaned” dice then landed on the gaming surface.

The backside of a bronze mirror was found inscribed with an image of Venus playing Tali with Pan. This mirror dates from 350 BC and comes from Greece, where Venus was known as Aphrodite.taliven

In Biblical terms, the rolling of the dice is known as casting lots. It’s a rather popular term, appearing in Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, 1 Samuel, 1 Kings, 1 Chronicles, Nehemiah, Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ezekiel, Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, Nahum, 2 Esdras, all 4 of the Passion narratives, and in Acts where the Apostles must choose a replacement for Judas.

The Biblical view of dice is probably best expressed in Proverbs 16:33, “The lot is cast into the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord.”roman_soldiers_lots

As for early Christians, they lived in a world dominated by Roman culture. In matters other than faith, they most likely did what their fellow Romans did.

Care to play?

(6,4,3,1): Venus – All 4 tali with different sides.
(6,6,6,4): Total = 22
(6,6,6,3): Total = 21
(6,6,4,4): Total = 20
(6,6,6,1): Total = 19 (high)
(6,6,4,3): Total = 19
(6,6,3,3): Total = 18
(6,6,4,1): Total = 17
(6,6,3,1): Total = 16
(4,4,4,3): Total = 15
(6,6,1,1): Total = 14 (high)
(4,4,3,3): Total = 14
(4,4,4,1): Total = 13
(4,4,3,1): Total = 12
(4,3,3,1): Total = 11
(4,4,1,1): Total = 10 (high)
(3,3,3,1): Total = 10
(4,3,1,1): Total = 9
(3,3,1,1): Total = 8
(4,1,1,1): Total = 7
(3,1,1,1): Total = 6
(6,x,x,x): Senio — A single 6 and anything else
(6,6,6,6): Vultures — All 4 tali the same (high)
(4,4,4,4): Vultures — All 4 tali the same
(3,3,3,3): Vultures — All 4 tali the same
(1,1,1,1): Canis — Lowest of the Vultures

Surprisingly, only 1 ambiguity occurs with the above numerical precedents, at the value 14. In this case the highest pair (the 6s) is assumed to have numerical precedence over the other highest pair (of 4s).

It could also be assumed that descending numerical values decided the winners of each throw, although this wouldn’t actually change the character of the game, being merely an inverted perspective.

It could also be assumed that the rules of Knucklebones can never be known to us, but such extreme skepticism takes the game away altogether. If ancient shepherds could invent this game, so could we.Roman Die

Next time you are stuck indoors or want some new game to play, simply look to the past. We hope you enjoyed today’s article and look forward to having you back again soon.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



Chariots on Fire

With the Kentucky Derby going on later today, Rome Across Europe wanted to take a look back at another sport of racing within Ancient Rome.

Ludi circenses, known to us as chariot racing, was the most popular sport in Rome, appealing to all social classes from slaves to the emperor himself. Possibly the oldest Roman spectacular sport, chariot racing dates back at least to the 6th Century BC.Bas-relief

It was quite popular among the Etruscans, who contributed greatly to many aspects of Roman civilization. Depictions of chariot racing can also be seen among the Lucanians of Sicily in the 5th Century BC, where races were associated with funeral games.

They too had religious ties in Rome, particularly to the chariot-driving deities Sol and Luna, and to a god called Consus. Originally chariot races were held only on religious festivals like the Consualia, but later they would also be held on non-feast days when sponsored by magistratus and other Roman dignitaries.

The 1st Century AD satirist Juvenal wrote, “Long ago the people shed their anxieties, ever since we do not sell our votes to anyone. For the people—who once conferred imperium, symbols of office, legions, everything—now hold themselves in check and anxiously desire only two things, the grain dole and chariot races in the Circus” (Satires 10.77-81).

Juvenal’s famous phrase, panem et circenses (bread and circuses) has become a common way to describe those who give away significant rights in exchange for material pleasures.

Juvenal found the most important aspects of Roman chariot races: their immense popularity and the pleasure they gave the Roman people, and the political role they played during the Empire in diverting energies that might otherwise have gone into rioting and other forms of popular unrest.circo-massimo

The appeal of ludi circenses was no doubt enhanced by the private betting that went on, although there was no public gambling on the races. Everyday items like terra-cotta lamps, signet rings, glass bowls, and children’s toys have been found depicting victorious chariots in procession or a circus-scene reflect the popularity of chariot racing.

Races were held in a circus, so named because of its oval shape. The oldest and largest circus in Rome was the Circus Maximus, which was built in the long valley stretching between the Aventine and the Palatine Hills.Circus Maximus and Palatine Hill

By the time of Augustus, the entire building was 678 yards long and about 159 yards at its widest point. The seating capacity reached approximately 150,000 spectators.

Originally there was just a flat sandy track with temporary markers. Spectators simply sat on the hill slopes on either side of the track.

Gradually the area developed into a well-maintained stadium-style building with a central divider, starting gates at one end and an arch at the other, surrounded on three sides by stands.circus_maximus

Most Roman charioteers, called aurigae or agitatores, began their careers as slaves. Just like gladiators, though, those who were successful soon accumulated enough money to buy their freedom.

The 4 Roman racing companies or stables (factiones) were known by the racing colors worn by their charioteers, typically Red, White, Blue, and Green.

Fans became passionately attached to a faction, proclaiming themselves “Partisans of the Blue” in the same way as people today would be “Texas Longhorns fans.” The factions encouraged this sort of loyalty by establishing what we might call “clubhouses” in Rome and later in other cities of the empire.

Rivalries between factiones sometimes resulted in fights between spectators. On one occasion, Emperor Vitellius, who was a strong supporter of the Blues, had several spectators executed for shouting out rude comments about his team.Blue

Stables competed for the services of the best charioteers, whose popular celebrity surpassed even that of modern sports heroes, with many of said charioteers being depicted in statues and monuments.

All the stables had an apprenticeship scheme to train good drivers. They also employed talent-scouts who would search the Roman Empire looking for potential stars.

In the 1st Century AD, the Roman writer and statesman Pliny the Younger criticized the political partisanship that began to be associated with the races (Letters 9.6):

I am the more astonished that so many thousands of grown men should be possessed again and again with a childish passion to look at galloping horses, and men standing upright in their chariots. If, indeed, they were attracted by the swiftness of the horses or the skill of the men, one could account for this enthusiasm. But in fact it is a bit of cloth they favor, a bit of cloth that captivates them. And if during the running the racers were to exchange colors, their partisans would change sides, and instantly forsake the very drivers and horses that they were just before recognizing from afar, and clamorously saluting by name.

One famous charioteer of the 2nd Century AD, Gaius Appuleius Diocles, left a detailed record of his career. He began driving for the Whites at the age of 18. After 6 years, Diocles switched to the Greens for 3 years, and then drove 15 years for the Reds before retiring at the age of 42.

He won 1,462 of the 4,257 races in which he competed, and his winnings totaled nearly 36 million sesterces. Diocles’ career was unusually long for many charioteers died quite young.White

Charioteers wore little body protection and only a light helmet. The practice of wrapping the reins tightly around their waists to use their body weight to control the horses was exceedingly dangerous in the case of accidents, since they could be dragged and trampled before they could cut themselves loose.

Roman four-horse racing chariots (quadrigae) were designed to be as small and lightweight as possible. Unlike military chariots, which were larger and often reinforced with metal, racing chariots were made of wood and afforded little support or protection for the charioteer, who basically had to balance himself on the axle as he drove. More than 4 horses were uncommon since the horses were always harnessed abreast.Modern

Horses had to be very brave to run so close to the walls of the spina and the most important horse was the one at the front on the left. The best horses were imported from Roman Africa and Hispania.

The lead-horse would be named on the race card, and during the race the crowd would chant the name of this horse, the driver or the faction.

The ceremonies began with an elaborate procession (pompa circensis) headed by the dignitary who was sponsoring the games, followed by the charioteers and teams, musicians and dancers, and priests carrying the statues of the gods and goddesses who were to watch the races.Pompa Circensis

Each faction would provide as many as 3 chariots for every race. If more than one from each faction was used, the drivers raced as a team rather than as individuals.

Before the race started the driver would wrap the reins around his waist and then hold them with his left hand. In his right hand he would carry his whip.

There were usually 12 races scheduled for a day, though this number was later doubled to 24. The charioteers drew lots for their position in the starting gates and got their horses ready. Just like in NASCAR today, the white cloth (mappa) was dropped by the sponsor of the games to start the race.

At this signal, the gates were sprung and up to 12 teams of horses roared onto the track. The strategy was to avoid running too fast at the beginning of the race, since 7 full laps had to be run.

The goal of the drivers was trying to hold a position close to the barrier and round the turning posts as closely as possible without hitting them. The successful charioteer was not only able to persuade his horses to go fast but was also skilled at impeding his rivals.Shipwreck

As the race neared its end the tactics became more violent as charioteers would try to “shipwreck” the leader by either whipping their horses into the back of his chariot or driving your chariot into his wheels to break your rival’s axle. If he was shipwrecked, the charioteer had to quickly draw his dagger and cut the reins to avoid being killed or seriously injured.

As the race progressed, passions were intense both on and off the track. There were plenty of ways that teams from a stable could foul their opponents during a race, and sometimes even before it started. Attempts to dope or poison horses and charioteers were not unknown.

Fanatical partisans sometimes even resorted to magic, seeking to “hex” the rivals of their favorites. The following curse tablet represents an attempt to incapacitate the drivers of the Red faction:

Help me in the Circus on 8 November. Bind every limb, every sinew, the shoulders, the ankles and the elbows of Olympus, Olympianus, Scortius and Juvencus, the charioteers of the Red. Torment their minds, their intelligence and their senses so that they may not know what they are doing, and knock out their eyes so that they may not see where they are going—neither they nor the horses they are going to drive.Red

Spectators could follow the progress of a race by watching the egg or dolphin counters. When the race was finally over, the presiding magistrate ceremoniously presented the victorious charioteer with a palm branch and a wreath while the crowds cheered wildly. The more substantial monetary awards for stable and driver would be presented later.Winner

Around 30 BC, the Latin poet Virgil penned a poem in 4 books, Georgica. In this poem Virgil said, “As when the chariots burst from the stalls and meet on the course, the driver, vainly seeking to hold back his team, is carried away by them and the chariot heeds not the reins.”

Hopefully you too caught carried away learning a bit more about chariot racing. Come back soon to check out what else Rome Across Europe has in store.

Till next time, Don’t Stop Rome-ing!



A. Harris, Sport in Greece and Rome, 235-36.

William Melmoth, H. A. Harris, Sport in Greece and Rome (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1972), 220-21).

Barbara F. McManus, The College of New Rochelle

John Simkin ( © September 1997 (updated August 2014).