Spektakelshows in Rome and Constantinopel
Spectacles at Rome and Constantinople
At the beginning of the imperial age, the minimum annual income of a Roman citizen was between 100 and 125 sesterces. A common foot soldier earned around 1,000 sesterces a year; successful artisans twice that amount. In a single race at the Circus Maximus, however, a good chariot racer could win 50,000 sesterces. Calpurnianus, the Johan Cruyff of Roman chariot-driving, won a total of 1.2 million sesterces in first prizes alone, which constituted only a portion of his lifelong income. The professional contender Diocles actually raked in the astronomical sum of 36 million sesterces during his career.
In Chariot Racing , Fik Meijer presents the chariot racers as the soccer stars of the ancient world. The comparison applies not only to their incomes, but also to their popularity and usually humble origins. Such analogies are typical of the refreshing, down-to-earth way Meijer writes on his favourite topics. The subject of chariot races, the main act of Roman public life, also seemed an important companion to his previous book Gladiators . And because historians have until now tended to focus on the ‘bread’ of Juvenal’s ‘bread and circuses’, Meijer’s book explores previously uncovered ground.
Meijer has made thorough use of scarce – and sometimes obscure – sources in his lively narrative. He provides a wealth of statistics – the number of victories for the competing stables (the Whites, Blues, Reds and Greens), the prize money, the number of races held on a single day – and does not shy away from drawing conclusions, even on the basis of information found only in carefully preserved mediaeval manuscripts. Meijer sees the contests not so much as an opium for the people, but as a political barometer; the Circus Maximus was the only place in the autocratically ruled empire where the supreme leader, the Caesar, was confronted with the people’s approval or disapproval.
And fortunately, Meijer is truly interested in the sport itself. Who were the superstars? What did an exciting race look like? Why did they race round pillars? Why did they use such small horses? Why did the Reds win so often? How long was the track, what were the risks, the techniques, the training methods, the dirty tricks? This host of detail bears witness to Meijer’s contagious enthusiasm for all things related to daily life in ancient Rome.