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Real Story of the Ancient Olympic Games
Only the very rich could afford to train the horses
and to hire the riders and drivers for horse and chariot
. Such races were the centerpiece events at the major Panhellenic
festivals. Philip II of Macedon's horse won the Olympic flat race in 356 BC,
supposedly on the day of his son Alexander's birth. Philip went on to achieve
victory in the four-horse chariot event at a number of Olympiads. The four-horse
chariot event carried the greatest prestige in the world of Greek athletics.
The running distance for teams of full-grown stallions was excessive by today's
standards: 12 laps or over 9 kilometers. Eight-lap events were staged for
teams of colts. Thus the emphasis was on the animals' endurance and their
driver's skill at avoiding collisions. The chariots were light two-wheeled
carts equipped with flimsy rails across the front and down the sides. Since
they had no springs, they must have bounced around when driven at speed. The
drivers wore no protective headgear. While the starting fields were large-in
later times consisting of as many as 40 teams-the risks were considerable
and many did not finish.
Attic Black Figure Amphora
Early 5th century BC
By the Diosphos Painter
On loan, Philadelphia Museum of Art
The goddess Athena driving a four-horse chariot or quadriga.
H. 18.8; Dia. 12.0 cm. UM neg. S8-2828.
ca. 342-336 BC
Philip II of Macedon
Young naked rider on a walking horse, carrying a long victory palm. This
commemorates Philip's victory in the horse race at Olympia in 356 BC Inscribed
philippou or "coin of Philip."
Dia. 26.0 mm. Photo courtesy D. White.
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