Equestrian Events

(bareback and chariot events)

Poseidon, the patron deity of the equestrian competitions, is said to have sired the famous horse Areion with which Herakles defeated Kyknos, the son of Ares, in a horse race at Troizen. According to tradition, the earliest chariot race was between Pelops and Oinomaos, the king of Pisa. In addition, Homer includes the chariot race among the games organized by Achilles in honor of Patroclus.


There was no special equipment besides the horse and the chariot.

Rules of the Game

The equestrian events took place in the Hippodrome, a wide, level, open space with two pillars at the ends, one marking the start and the finish, and the other marking the turning post. The course itself was divided along its axis by a partition of stone or wood, called the
embolon, in which the horses and chariots ran. A distance of 4 stades (769 m) was covered on each circuit.
Horse Races:
The horse races were held at Olympia. They included the following: the
keles, a race for fully grown horses with a rider (648 BC onwards); the kalpe (trot), or race for mares (496 BC onwards); and a race for foals (256 BC onwards).
Chariot Races:
Chariot racing has its origins from the warlike manner of the Achaeans. The following is a list of chariot races in chronological order: the
tethrippon, (four-horse chariot, 680 BC onwards); the apene, a chariot pulled by two mules (500 BC onwards); the synoris, a chariot pulled by a pair of horses (408 BC onwards); the tethrippon for foals (384 BC onwards); and the synoris for foals (268 BC onwards).


The chariot was a small wooden vehicle, wide enough to hold two standing men and open at the back. It rested on an axle, the ends of which were fastened with two strong wooden wheels. The strongest, fastest animal was placed on the right-hand side to make it easier to go around the turns. The horses were branded with a hot iron on the hoofs or thighs, either with the archaic letter kappa, which labeled them as koppaties, or with the letter sigma, which labeled them as samphores. Horses were also given other names, such as Boukephalas (ox-head), the name of Alexander the Great's war-horse.

Though a true war chariot carried two men, the charioteer and the warrior, both the four-horse and the two-horse chariots used in the races, only carried the charioteer.

During the race, the charioteer was concerned with using the inside of the hippodrome so as to cover the shortest distance. All charioteers strove to do this, which caused many accidents and collisions at the turning-post. This was also the point that revealed the skill and technique of the good charioteer, as well as the strength and speed of the horses.

Very little is known of the rules of the chariot races and horse races. It is known that swerving in front of others was not allowed unless you were ahead, in order to prevent collisions.

The distance covered is not known, and it is thought that the distance varied according to the size of the race-course. The perimeter of the race-course at Olympia was 8 stades (1,538 m) and one stade and four plethra broad (320 m). The tethrippon for horses completed twelve circuits of the race-course (deduced from Pindar, who calls the race dodekadromos, or of twelve courses). The synoris for horses and the tethrippon for foals ran eight circuits, and the synoris for foals ran three circuits.

Characteristics of a Good Charioteer
A successful charioteer had to drive the chariot without swerving, which was difficult with four horses of varying strength. He also had to know how to use the whip and hold the reins securely and avoid collision or falling out of the chariot at the turning-post.


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