Date:

How Chariot Racing Teams Saved Constantinople From the Huns

Chariot Racing “ludi circenses” was one of the foremost sports of the Roman and Byzantine Empire, where competing teams would race either in four-horse chariots (quadrigae), or two-horse chariots (bigae) around a hippodrome or circus.

The Roman’s imitated the sport from the ancient Greeks, turning the races into a grand spectator event watched by hundreds of thousands, in venues like the Circus Maximus in Rome, and the Hippodrome of Constantinople.

- Advertisement -

Once the cloth known as a “mappa” was dropped, the charioteers jostled to move in front of each other, in an attempt to cause their opponents to crash into the central “spinae”, whilst being the first to complete 7 laps of the race (later reduced to 5).

The races created a rivalry between spectators, who passionately supported their favoured chariot team (distinguished by a different colour: red, white, blue, and green), often leading to violence between the supporters of the competing factions. The races also became heavily politicised, both through the associations of social and religious ideas, but also through the direct patronage and management by wealthy benefactors or state officials.

With the collapse of the Western Empire, the races faded along with the decline of Rome, but in the Eastern Empire, the races continued to thrive, and even celebrated on a grander scale. To the Byzantines, the races were seen as a way to reinforce social class and political power, and for the Emperor, a focal event to bring their subjects together in celebration.

Theodosian Walls – Image Credit : Martin Holland – CC BY 2.0

In AD 447 to 448, the Constantinian and Theodosian walls of Constantinople were severely damaged by a series of earthquakes. The city was already under threat of invasion by the Huns, led by their leader Attila.

- Advertisement -

Theodosius II ordered the praetorian prefect, Constantine Flavius to quickly repair the walls (that previously took nine years to build). Realising the monumental task before him, Constantine Flavius reached out to the factions of the chariot teams for aid, gathering a work force of some 16,000 supporters.

Each faction was tasked with a stretch of wall, working in competition to complete their section before the other, winning the honour of victory for their team. The “Blue” team worked the stretch of walls from the Gate of Blachernae to the Gate of Myriandrion, and the “Greens” from there to the Sea of Marmara. In just sixty days, the great walls of Constantinople were restored, and the defensive moat cleaned of debris.

Callinicus, in his Life of Saint Hypatius, wrote: “The barbarian nation of the Huns, which was in Thrace, became so great that more than a hundred cities were captured, and Constantinople almost came into danger and most men fled from it.”

Hearing of the completion of the walls, the Huns abandoned their plans for conquest of Constantinople, and instead turned their attentions further west into the Balkans capturing many Byzantine cities and settlements. Theodosius was forced to sue for peace, leaving Attila to focus on invading the former lands of the Western Roman Empire.

Header Image Credit : Public Domain

- Advertisement -
spot_img
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 7,500 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.
spot_img

Mobile Application

spot_img

Related Articles

Study confirms palace of King Ghezo was site of voodoo blood rituals

A study, published in the journal Proteomics, presents new evidence to suggest that voodoo blood rituals were performed at the palace of King Ghezo.

Archaeologists search for home of infamous Tower of London prisoner

A team of archaeologists are searching for the home of Sir Arthur Haselrig, a leader of the Parliamentary opposition to Charles I, and whose attempted arrest sparked the English Civil War.

Tartessian plaque depicting warrior scenes found near Guareña

Archaeologists from the Institute of Archaeology of Mérida (IAM) and the CSIC have uncovered a slate plaque depicting warrior scenes at the Casas del Turuñuelo archaeological site.

Archaeologists find a necropolis of stillborn babies

Excavations by the National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (Inrap) have unearthed a necropolis for stillborn and young children in the historic centre of Auxerre, France.

Researchers find historic wreck of the USS “Hit ‘em HARDER”

The Naval History and Heritage Command (NHHC) has confirmed the discovery of the USS Harder (SS 257), an historic US submarine from WWII.

Archaeologists uncover Roman traces of Vibo Valentia

Archaeologists from the Superintendent of Archaeology Fine Arts and Landscape have made several major discoveries during excavations of Roman Vibo Valentia at the Urban Archaeological Park.

Archaeologists uncover crypts of the Primates of Poland

Archaeologists have uncovered two crypts in the collegiate church in Łowicz containing the Primates of Poland.

Giant prehistoric rock engravings could be territorial markers

Giant rock engravings along the Upper and Middle Orinoco River in South America could be territorial markers according to a new study.