Our Little Roman Cousin of Long Ago - Julia D. Cowles

The Chariot Race

"I saw the horses and the chariots that are to take part in the races," cried Marcus as he came in from school. "They were just coming through the gates, into the city, as I was on my way to the Campus."

Lucius' eyes shone. "Oh, I wish I had been there!" he exclaimed. "But what do you think? Father says we are all to go and see the races to-morrow."

"Did he?" said Marcus, and away he ran to see if Terentia had heard the good news.

The Roman races were held in the circus, which was a very large uncovered space, with rows of raised seats along the sides. The seats held many thousand people, for the Romans were very fond of sports which were dangerous and exciting.

When Gaius and his family took their places, the seats were already crowded, and for some time the children found plenty to interest them in the big assembly of people who were laughing, talking, and greeting friends.

After Gaius had spoken to friends who were near, he turned to the children. "You see the gates at the upper end of the circus," he said. "Those close the stalls where the horses and their drivers are waiting for the signal to begin the race.

"Notice, too," he said, "the pedestal near the stalls. There are seven balls upon its top. The chariots will be driven seven times around the course, and each time one ball will be taken from the pedestal."

Suddenly the talking and laughing stopped, for the signal for the race had been given.

[Illustration] from Our Little Roman Cousin by Julia D. Cowles


The doors of the stalls flew open. Lucius' eyes shone, for this was the first chariot race he ever had seen. He looked eagerly at the gay trappings of the prancing horses, at the handsome chariots, and at the drivers standing erect and holding firmly the reins of the restless horses.

"How strangely the drivers are dressed," he said to Marcus, for he had noticed that each man wore a close fitting cap, that leather cords bound the short tunic about the body, and that the shoulders, hips, and legs were protected with heavy leather coverings.

"That is to keep them from being too badly hurt, if they should happen to be thrown from their chariots," said Marcus.

Lucius' eyes opened more widely still, but there was no time then for further questions, for, at that moment, the starting signal was given, and the chariots, each with its four horses abreast, began their wild race.

Many times it seemed as though the wheels of the chariots must lock, or crash together, as the horses plunged ahead, and each driver tried to secure the shortest turn.

"I hope the red will win," said Marcus, watching eagerly the four black horses which bore his favorite color.

Six balls had been taken from the pedestal, and the last lap of the race was being driven. The black horses were ahead; their driver was strong and daring, and with a cry of triumph, which was echoed by thousands of the people, he crossed the line. The red had won!

The other horses and chariots were driven into their stalls, but the victor, standing very erect, drove once more down the length of the circus. But he drove slowly this time, and as he passed, the people threw flowers and gifts into the chariot, until he reached the end of the course and passed out through the arch of triumph.

"That was a fine race," said Lucius, as the boys made their way through the throng. "I am glad none of the drivers were thrown out."

"Ho," scoffed a boy who was near them. "You are no true Roman. There should have been at least one chariot smashed to make it really exciting.

"Have you never seen a fight of gladiators?"

"No," answered Lucius, "not yet."

"Well," replied the boy, "after you have seen a fight between gladiators and wild beasts in the arena, you will think a chariot race like this a pretty tame affair."