[March 14, 2023] In 1960, a small group of boys sat in a movie theater to watch the second movie any of them had seen; the first was King Kong. All I remember from it was the finale’s Roman chariot race in MGM film Ben Hur (1959). We sat there, eyes open wide and transfixed. It should be no surprise that today there is a new version of chariot racing. Manly sports!
Would any of us rather watch a modern basketball or football game or a chariot race? I don’t think anybody here would hesitate to pick the chariot race. Chariot racing involves a high probability of crashing – like modern car racing – and injury and even death. No wonder, so many Romans found the sport fascinating.
The chariots of old were made up of a driver, usually a slave or contract professional, pulled by a team of two or four horses. Despite the risk to riders, credit for the wins in these ancient races went to the horses and their wealthy owners. No one thought much about the riders, but if they were good enough, they could become celebrated and earn a lot of money.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, chariot racing declined and nearly went out of existence. The danger probably explains a lot of its decline.
In the 1920s, we saw horses being replaced with motorcycles. This new version of chariot racing began in Australia, and the movie Ben Hur: A Tale of Christ (1925) was the inspiration. Just imagine a man in a chariot pulled by motorcycles. Now that is something for the imagination, but that is precisely what happened.
The modern version includes a man in a chariot controlling motorcycles from his position. A bit dangerous. A motorcycle pulling chariots gained popularity until World War II, and then nearly died out but did not disappear.
You can see some videos of it here (29 seconds).
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