The Design and Color of Roman Chariots

Further Reading5 Facts About Roman Chariot Racing

When it comes to Roman Chariot racing many people ask several questions about the history of the sport. One of the most common revolves around the color and design of the chariots themselves. Believe it or not Roman chariots were a ‘colorful’ sport with each team having their own colors and fanbase following.

Generally speaking, for Roman chariot races the chariots were custom-built for the sport. Each chariot would be built to have a front-facing basket with insignia, a long yoke that was brightly decorated, and ornately designed wheels with decorated spokes. In essence, a Roman racing chariot differed greatly from traditional chariots used during battle.

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Without further ado, here is just about everything you would ever need to know about the design and color of Roman racing chariots.

Roman Racing Chariots Were Designed Differently Than Battle Chariots

One of the most popular myths of Roman chariots was that they were all designed the same. This was not the case. A Roman racing chariot was designed to appease the Roman Gods while also glorifying the Roman Republic or Empire. On the other hand, a chariot used in battle was designed to be as effective as possible.

While a battle chariot might have spokes on the wheels, an armored basket, and spots to place excess ammunition a Roman racing chariot would instead have bright colors, religious iconography, and a larger yoke to support more than 2 horses.

The Roman racing chariot was built first for speed and then to promote/reinforce Roman society. In 2012 an article titled “The Genesis and performance characteristics of Roman Chariots” was published that sought to answer the question of just for what purpose a Roman racing chariot was built.

What this article found out was that from the primary source evidence that we have it appears that Roman racing chariots were built for speed and iconography first. The rider’s safety was a secondary purpose that more than likely was not a major component of the chariot design.

Because of this if you attended a Roman chariot race then you would have seen the latest in chariot designs all covered with images of Roman gods such as Apollo, Jupiter, or Neptune. Upon closer inspection you would have noticed some chariots designed differently from others as the engineer in charge of building the chariot would have done anything to make their chariot better at racing.

In essence, you can think of chariots during the Roman Republic and Empire as modern cars. There were normal cars that were designed for daily purposes and then you had the racing chariots that were the latest in chariot design.

The Color of These Roman Racing Chariots

Unlike traditional chariots which were boring colors the Roman racing chariots were as colorful as you could imagine. This was because of 3 major reasons. First, the Roman charioteer would have wanted to build a fanbase so sticking out was a good idea. Second, the Roman people were largely illiterate and communicated through iconography and colors so chariot racers often would dress in ‘powerful’ colors. Third, often a Roman chariot race would involve several teams of racers and colors were designed to allow the crowd and riders to be able to distinguish who was on what team.

Historians are unsure of just how many colors were available for Roman chariot racers. We know that white was a popular color from uncovered frescos detailing chariot race winners wearing white, green, yellow, and red. However, what these colors mean can only be guessed.

We know that the primary colors of Rome were white and red. These colors held a place of importance among the Roman people so it goes without saying that the chariot racers in order to stand out would adopt these colors into their uniform to give praise to the Roman people.

One color that you more than likely would not see a chariot racer wearing would be purple. This was because the color purple was regal and reserved for either the Roman Emperor or consuls of the Republic. Since the Roman people communicated through image, speech, and iconography the color purple was an extremely powerful color that demonstrated Auctoritas which a low-class chariot racer (entertainer) would never have.

The Roman chariot racer would want to build a fanbase following. Many chariot racers who constantly braved the track and won would not only get extremely rich but also develop a cult of personality following. These racers would wear bright colors to distinguish themselves on the racetrack.

On top of this, the Roman people loved to gamble and would bet large amounts of money on individual racers. The wearing of bright colors would allow the crowd to be able to easily watch and cheer on their racer of choice.

As such, if you attended one of these chariot races during either the Roman Republic or Empire then you would have seen upwards of 25 chariot racers all wearing bright colors. A large crowd of perhaps 150,000 Roman citizens would be pilled into the Circus Maximus all cheering on their individual racer. The roar would have been deafening at each point of the race. On top of this, you would have seen Romans gambling in real-time as the horses circled the track. Brightly colored chariots and their riders would have allowed you to pick out the racer of your choice and follow along through the arena.


There you have it; the design and color of Roman Chariots.

Roman Chariot racing is a fascinating sport that many people forget about. When you visit the city of Rome chances are you go see the Colosseum but the largest sports arena in the city of Rome was instead the Circus Maximus. Today this massive arena can still be visited and is often treated as a giant field to show sports games on; I recommend that anybody who visits the city of Rome to visit the Circus Maximus and imagine yourself standing on a giant racetrack.

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