In this section you will learn
- the (often short) careers of famous charioteers
- the enormous amount of money charioteers could earn over their careers
Charioteers could gain wide celebrity and have long careers, moving from faction to faction over the course of their time racing. However, they started their careers as slaves and could be sold to another faction by their masters, rather than picking and choosing between offers like a modern athlete (once freed they could presumably move as they wished). Given the incredibly dangerous nature of chariot racing many of them could also die as slaves, never managing to be given or buy their freedom. One short lived but extremely successful charioteer of the 1st century CE was Scorpus, about whom Martial wrote several poems; the two on his death show the extent of Scorpus’ celebrity.
Poor Gaurus begged , a man he knew well from a long-standing friendship, for a hundred thousand sesterces, and told him that he only needed that sum to add to his three hundred thousand and qualify him to applaud the emperor as a full equestrian. Praetor replies, “You know, I shall have to give some money to Scorpus and Thallus; and would that I had only a hundred thousand sesterces to give them!” Ah! shame, shame on your ungrateful chests, filled to no good purpose! That which you refuse to an equestrian, Praetor, will you give to a horse?
Martial, Epigrams 5.67
Tragic Victory: shatter your Idumaean palms. Favour, strike your bare chest with wild blows. Honour, change your clothing. Sad Glory, cast your crowned locks as a gift for the unjust funeral pyre. Alas for the shame of it! Scorpus, cheated and cut down in your youth and so quickly yoking the horses of death. Your wheels always hastened the race – but why was the finishing line of your life so close?
Martial, Epigrams 10.50
O Rome, I am Scorpus, the glory of your noisy circus, the object of your applause, your short-lived favourite. The envious Lachesis, when she cut me off in my twenty-seventh year, considered me, judging by the number of my victories, to be an old man.
Martial, Epigrams 10.53
This inscription, which commemorates the charioteer Scirtis and his wife, Carisia Nessis, a freedwoman, dates from 13-25 CE and shows the fondness for listing all victories in exhaustive detail that the more detailed honorific inscriptions for charioteers have; however, the sum total of wins is not great and reflects that this was not a good period for spectacles – Scirtis raced during Tiberius’ reign and Tiberius was notoriously cheap about giving spectacles.
Scirtis, freedman, charioteer for the Whites.
In the of Lucius Munatius and Gaius Silius, in the four horse chariot 1 victory, 2nd 1 time, 3rd 1 …
In the consulship of Sextus Pomepius and Sextus Appuleius, 1 victory, 2nd 1 time, 3rd 2 times
In the consulship of Drusus Caesar and Gaius Norbanus, 2 victories, was recalled once, 2nd 5 times, 3rd 3 times
In the consulship of Gaius Caelius and Lucius Pomponius, 2 victories, was recalled once, 2nd 8 times, 3rd 6 times
In the 3rd consulship of Titus Caesar and the 2nd of Germanicus Caesar, 2nd 7 times, 3rd 12 times
In the consulship of Marcus Silanus and Lucius Norbanus, was recalled once, 2nd 5 times, 3rd 5 times
In the consulship of Marcus Valerius and Marcus Marcus Aurelius, 2nd 3 times, 3rd 4 times
In the 4th consulship of Titus Caesar and the 2nd of Drusus Caesar, 2nd 2 times, 3rd 5 times
In the consulship of Decimus Haterius Agrippa and Sulpicius 2nd 3, 3rd 4
In the consulship of Gaius Asinius and Gaius Antistius Vetus, was recalled once, 2nd 1 time, 3rd 5 times
In the consulship of Servilius Cornelius Cethegus and Lucius Visellenius 2nd 1 time, 3rd 4 times
In the consulship of Cossus Cornelius Lentulus and Marcus Asinius 3rd 2 times
… Grand total: 7 victories in a four horse chariot, was recalled 4 times, second 39, third 60. He once raced during an official suspension of public business, and twice raced in a six horse chariot.
The following inscription is from 35 CE and comes from Rome; given that his career was quite short, Fuscus was clearly quite successful, although he died without gaining his freedom.
Fuscus, charioteer for the Greens, lived 24 years, he won 53 times at Rome, twice in the for the goddess Dia, once in the ludus given at Bovillae. He won one palm, after he was called back twice. He was the first of all the drivers to win on the first day he raced. His fellow slave, Machao, set this up in the consulship of Gaius Cestius and Marcus Servilius to preserve his memory.
The following inscription was found at the Porta Flaminia on the Via Flaminia in Rome; the inscription itself has been largely destroyed, although some fragments remain, including the reliefs of five horses (Palmatus, Danaus, Ocean, Victor, Vindex). It dates from the late second century CE.
Publius Aelius Gutta Calpurnianus, son of Marcus Rogatus. I won with these horses for the Blues: Germinator, black from Africa, 92; Silvanus, roan from Africa, 105 times; Nitidus, chestnut from Africa, 52 times; Saxo, black from Africa, 60 to,es. And I won major purses: 50,000 sesterces once, 40,000 9 times, 30,000 17 times.
Publius Aelius Gutta Calpurnianus, son of Marcus Rogatus. I won 1,000 palms for the Greens with these horses: Danaus, bay from Africa, 19 times; Ocianus, black, 209 times. Victor, roan 429 times; Vindex, bay 157 times. And I won major purses: 40,000 sesterces 3 times. 30,000 3 times.
I won 1,127 palms as described above.
For the Whites I won 102 times, was called back 2 times, won 30,000 sesterces once, 40,000 sesterces once, in the first race of the day 4, times with novice horses 1 time, in races for single chariots 83 times, in races for pairs of chariots 17 times, in races for chariots 3 times, for four 1 time.
For the Reds I won 78 times, was called back 1 time, 30,000 sesterces 1 time, in races for single chariot 42 times, in races for pairs of chariots 32 times, in races for three 3 times, for four 1 time.
For the Blues I won 583, 30,000 sesterces 17 times, once with six horses, 40,000 sesterces 9 times, 50,000 1 time, in the first races of the day 35 times, with three horse chariot won 10,000 sesterces 1 time, 25,000 sesterces 1 time, with novice horses 1 time, at the quinquennial sacred games 1 time, called back 1 time. In races for single chariots 334 times, for pairs 184 times, for three chariots 64 times.
I set up this monument for myself while alive.
Diocles raced from the age of 18 and achieved immense success over the 24 years his career spanned as this monument from 146 CE details:
Gaius Appuleius Diocles, charioteer for the Reds, born in Lusitania, Spain, aged 42 years, 7 months, 23 days. He first drove for the Whites during the consulship of Acilius Aviola and Corellius Pansa [122 CE]. He first won for the same faction during the consulship of Manlius Acilius Glabrio and Gaius Bellicius Torquatus [124 CE]. He first drove for the Greens during the second consulship of Torquatus Asprenatis and the first of Annius Libo [128 CE]. He first won for the Reds during the consulship of Laenatis Pontianus and Antonius Rufino [131 CE].
His wins: drove a four-horse chariot for 24 years. He started 4,257 races, won 1,462, he won the first race of the day 110 times. In races for single four horse chariots he won 1,064 times, and in this he took the largest purse 92 times; he won the 30,000 sesterces prize 32 times (3 of them in a 6 horse chariot), the 40,000 sesterces prize 28 times (twice in a 6 horse chariot), the 50,000 prize 28 times (one in a 6 horse chariot), the 60,000 sesterces prize three times. In races for pairs of four horse chariots he won 347 times; and won 15,000 4 times in a three horse chariot. In races for three chariots he won 51 times. He gained honours 1,000 times.
He was second 861 times, third 576, fourth with 1,000 sesterces once, and took no prize 1,351 times. He won jointly with a charioteer for the Blues ten times; with one from the White 91, and shared the 20,000 purse twice. His total winnings were 35,863,120 sesterces. He also won 1,000 sesterces in a two-horse chariot, jointly with a White charioteer once and with a Green twice.
He won while leading from the gate 815 times, coming from behind 67, after being passed 36, in different ways 42, and at the finishing line 502. He won against the Greens 216 times, against the Blues 205, and against the Whites 81 times. Nine horses had 100 wins with him and one had 200.
His notable achievements:
In the year when he first won twice driving a four horse chariot, he won at the finishing line twice. The acta say that Avilius Teres was the first in his faction to win 1,011, and he won most often in one year for single chariots, but in that year Diocles won over 100 victories, winning 103 races, 83 of them for single chariots. Increasing his fame he passed Tallus of his faction, who was the first in the Reds to…But Diocles is the most distinguished of the charioteers, since in one year he won 134 races with another charioteer’s lead horse, 118 races for single chariot, which puts him ahead of all the charioteers who compete in the games.
It is noted by all, with well-deserved admiration, that in one year with unfamiliar lead horses, with Cotynes and Pompeianus as the inside pair, he won 99 times, winning the 60,000 purse once, the 50,000 four times, 40,000 once, and 30,000 twice.
…for the Greens winner 1025 times, Flavius Scorpus, winner 2048 times, and Pompeius Musclosus, winner 3550 times. Those three charioteers won 6,652 times and won the 50,000 purse 28 times, but Diocles, the greatest charioteer ever, won the 50,000 purse 29 times in 1,462 wins.
The following inscription features a family of charioteers (a father and two sons); the inscriptions for the sons are translated below. In addition there is an inscription which says that both sons met their fate together and that the father had met a similar end.
Marcus Aurelius Polynices, slave by origin, lived 29 years, 9 months, and 5 days and won the victory palm 739 times in the following ways: he won 655 times as a Red, 55 as a Green, 12 as a Blue, 17 as a White; he won the 40,000 sesterces prize 3 times, the 30,000 sesterces prize 26 times, and the basic prize 11 times. He won with an eight-horse chariot 8 times, with a ten-horse chariot 9, with a 6 horse chariot three times.
Marcus Aurelius Mollicus Tatianus, slave by origin, lived 20 years, 8 months, 7 days and won the victory palm 125 times. He won 89 as Red, 24 as a Green, 5 as Blue, 7 as a White; he won the 40,000 sesterces prize twice.
CIL 6.10049, found on the Via Praenestina, Rome.
Not all charioteers met their end in the Circus; some went on to be trainers after retiring, as the following undated inscription from Rome notes.
Sacred to the memory of Aurelius Heraclides, charioteer for the Blues and trainer for the Blues and Greens. Marcus Ulpius Aposlaustianus set this up for a worthy colleague.
Bibliography and Further Reading
- Cameron, Alan. (1973) Porphyrius the Charioteer. Alan Cameron. Oxford University Press.
- Johnson, S. (1954). The Obituary Epigrams of Martial. The Classical Journal, 49(6), 265-272.
- Teeter, T. (1988). A Note on Charioteer Inscriptions. The Classical World, 81(3), 219-221. (Talks about Diocles’ inscription.)
- Equestrians had to have 400,000 sesterces in property to qualify for that rank. ↵
- Thallus is not mentioned elsewhere by Martial, although there is an inscription from 90 CE to a charioteer Thallus (ILS 3532). ↵
- Victory, Favour, Honour, and Glory were all Roman gods. Palms were often called Idumaean, because although they could be found in Southern Italy, they were said to be from Idumaea, a region in Judea. ↵
- One of the three Fates and the one responsible for allotting people the years that they would live. ↵
- 13 CE; each consulship after that represents a year. ↵
- Her sanctuary was around five miles south of Rome; Bovillae was 11 miles southeast of Rome on the Via Appia. ↵
- Charioteers were often called back for false starts. ↵
- Probably the agon Capitolinus or Capitolia, a Roman version of the Olympic games which occurred every four years; it was instituted by Domitian in 86 CE. ↵
- The Latin says he won from the pompa, that is right after the parade that opened the races. ↵
- Perhaps the 15,000 sesterces purse. ↵
The second most senior position in the cursus honorum, there was originally only one, but the number expanded to 8 and then 16 as the needs of the administration demanded more and more magistrates.
The chief military and civilian commander of Rome. Two were elected each year and competition to become consul was incredibly intense as it represented the apex of a political career. After their term in office consuls could go on to be governors of provinces, where, under the Republic, they were wont to rob the provincials blind in order to recoup the costs of their political campaigns.
A ludus may refer to any type of school, including a gladiatorial one. Ludi also refers to games, the public games held as part of religious rituals.