This Horse Was the Gold Standard for Roman Chariot Racers
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This Horse Was the Gold Standard for Roman Chariot Racers

August 12, 2019

[MUSIC PLAYING] NARRATOR: Horsepower– some
of the best chariot horses were not native to Italy. They were across the
Mediterranean Sea in Rome’s African territories. Evidence shows this
was a rich breeding ground for race horses. CAROLYN WILLEKES: We know
that, given the importance of the circus, the Roman circus,
throughout the Roman Empire, thousands of horses
were being produced, because you needed a
huge volume of horses to run a single day of races. NARRATOR: For Scorpus
and all charioteers, there was one
particular type of horse that had the speed, strength,
and stamina they needed– a horse so tough that it’s
been the breeding stock for the modern
thoroughbred, standard bred, and the American quarter horse. It’s called the
Berber, for Barb. They can resist to
the cold, to the heat. They can live in the desert,
in the mountain, everywhere. They have a good cardiac rhythm Oh, yeah, their heart–
KHADIJA DRISS: Yeah. Very strong hearts. KHADIJA DRISS:
Very strong horse. CAROLYN WILLEKES: What are
the physical characteristics that identify a Barb
from other horses? KHADIJA DRISS: The
first thing is the head. So the head is a convex profile. CAROLYN WILLEKES:
The head comes out. KHADIJA DRISS: Yeah. The eye is like an almond. CAROLYN WILLEKES: An almond?
OK. KHADIJA DRISS: Yeah. With this neck, who is
large, and it’s very strong. CAROLYN WILLEKES: Very strong. So it can pull really well. KHADIJA DRISS: It can
pull, yeah, the chariots. They have a very
strong hoof too. NARRATOR: But the
supply of Berber horses was only one part
of the equation. Like IndyCar or Formula One,
behind the charioteer were the all-powerful factions– huge teams that approached
racing like a business. CAROLYN WILLEKES: The anatomy
of a stable or the idea the horse world in
antiquity getting a horse to the racetrack,
this is where it started. You have the whole
faction stable, which is just an incredible
beehive of workers. You have the stable
managers, who are in charge of the whole operation. You have their assistants. You have the trainers. You have grooms working
with the horses. You have veterinarians
and doctors. You have the chariot
makers, the harness makers, the blacksmiths, the
senior charioteers and the junior charioteers
and the apprentices– all sort of working together
in this environment to try and produce the race horses. So it’s this huge industry
just to get one team of horses from basically
birth to the circus.

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