ancient sports fanatics -- 2/27/16

Today's selection -- from The End of Empire by Christopher Kelly. Professional athletes, sports teams, commercial endorsements, and the fanatical crowds that supported those athletes go back thousands of years. Here we see the charioteers of Constantinople (modern day Istanbul) in 443 AD:

"The Blues and the Greens [were] the two main sporting associations in the city, whose fanatical followers were more accustomed to cheering on their teams in the chariot races held in the hippodrome. Like modern football or baseball clubs, the Blues and the Greens were both well managed. They each had a professional staff of highly trained charioteers involved in talent spotting, coaching, selection, and the running of the games. More visible were the fans, who at the races sat together in designated rows. The most dedicated had identical haircuts and wore green (or blue) tunics with huge, baggy sleeves that billowed out like flags whenever they waved their arms to urge on their favorites.

Circus Games Mosaic

"Successful charioteers were celebrities in Constantinople. Stat­ues were erected in their honor and their lavish lifestyles admired and imitated. In the hippodrome, the entry of these superstars might be greeted with as much applause as the appearance of the emperor; after all, it was the races that the crowd had come to see. Excited supporters shouted in praise of their heroes and their ath­letic prowess -- both on and off the racetrack -- and insulted their opponents. The rhythmic chanting of the cheer squads and their obscene verbal sparring were all part of the entertainment. They added to the thrill of watching charioteers expertly maneuver their horses along the narrow straights and around the danger­ously tight turns at either end of the course. Sometimes the intense competition between the Blues and the Greens spilled out into the city. Residents of Constantinople regularly blamed fires, street fights, and vandalism on hooligans leaving the hippodrome."


Christopher Kelly


The End of Empire: Attila the Hun & the Fall of Rome


W. W. Norton & Company


Copyright 2009, 2008 by Christopher Kelly


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