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ViaGregorio

Politics in the Circus

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In Republican Rome, what link was there between politics and the circus races? Did campaigning politicians benefit in some capacity from the quality of the races, or from the victory of a specific stable faction? Thanks advance for any input!

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There is a link, although one more subtle than the direct sponsorship of games as we observe in the development of munerae. Chariot racing was quite an old Roman pastime. There's some confusion between this and horse-back racing, especially when dealing with legends of Rome's origins.

 

Anyway, the chariot races were a popular adjunct to certain festivals that took place every year. These festivals grew in scope and number during the 3rd century BC, and certainly by the 1st century BC, there are established rivalries between chariot racing factions.

 

This is where politcs comes in. Whereas chariot races weren't normally staged by direct sponsorship, having an even stronger religious theme than gladiatorial contests, the powerful politicians might gain kudos by their support of a certain faction, a practice that continued into imperial times.

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Excellent, thanks so much for your feedback. I'm in the middle of creating a project based Roman unit for my World History class and I'm going to have a chariot race involved. I'm going to literally turn my class into the Circus Maximus. I'm going to get several remote controlled cars and use paper to cover the car and make it appear to be a team of horses, and I'm going to build mini chariots to hitch to the back of the remote controlled cars which the students will race. The winner of the race will have an impact on the political outcome of the overall simulation (winning their politician popularity points and perhaps some money as well). This is going to be fun.

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The kudos gained by politicians with respect to chariot racing was definitely one of association. Politician benefit from social networking within the factions supporters by 'being part of the club'. Also, he might have the winning charioteer nearby in social situations, creating an odd situation by modern standards where a man of senior standing in the community is hanging around a celebrity slave (or at least making it look the other way around).

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Ave Civitas,

 

You might want to take a look at "Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium"

By Alan Cameron

 

It is expensive, but I got it through an inter-library loan. Had some interesting data among its pages.

 

Tom

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Another book worth reading on the topic is Meijer's 'Chariot Racing in the Roman Empire'. It's a bit disorganized, but puts the major points across well.

 

As to what extent campaigning politicians used the circus (as opposed to the arena) the answer is 'not much', unless you count the emperor as a campaigning politician. What happened in the circus was of considerable importance to the Caesars - which is why all of them from the dictator Julius onward, invested heavily in larger and better racetracks.

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(It's probably too late but maybe it'll help someone else.) I've got a copy of 'Bread and Circuses': Euergetism and municipal patronage in Roman Italy - Routledge Classical Monographs. I've never done anything more than crack it open to peruse through it. About a dozen essays on the subject by several scholars. Seems more geared towards the Principate then the Republic but looks like it might address some of the topic.

Edited by Virgil61

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While the Circus races themselves weren't that important, the Roman politicians used the chariot teams as a way to further their social agenda in an enclosed circle. By joining a certain faction's supporters, they were able to guarantee themselves support from those supporters. Meijer's Chariot Racing in the Roman Empire is a good resource if you're interested in the circus. I agree with Maty that it's a little disorganized, but Meijer has some good points and it certainly addresses your question. You should also read Porphyrius the Charioteer by Alan Cameron. It's a good book that addresses many aspects of Chariot Racing in the 5th and 6th centuries CE.

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