The Emperor and His People at the Chariot Races in Byzantium

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The hippodrome, where Byzantine chariot races took place, was central to the relationship between the emperor and his people. They all watched races and cheered for their favorite racing teams, with both people and emperors sometimes notorious for their rabid fandom. Some of the direct dialogue between emperor and people in the hippodrome also revolved around racing–for example, which racing team might be ‘gifted’ a particular skilled charioteer. In addition to conversation about the sport, the people expected the emperor to hear their complaints and requests and even exercised their collective power in the hippodrome to try to topple an emperor on occasion. The emperor showed up, despite the potential danger of the peoples’ anger, because this dialogue with the spectators was an important part of the legitimization of his power. To refuse to attend the races would have been to cut himself off from the people, which would have been considered unacceptable and caused him even more serious problems. Among many examples of this phenomenon, the dialogue between Emperor Anastasius and the people in the hippodrome in 512 stands out (John Malalas, Chronographia 16.19).




Parnell, D. A. (2020). The Emperor and His People at the Chariot Races in Byzantium. International Journal of the History of Sport, 37(3–4), 233–245.

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