While the practice of racing chariots on circular or oval tracks enjoyed extreme popularity in the Roman Empire, particularly in the rural Southern provinces, historians claim its legitimacy as an athletic event was often a topic of heated debate among contemporary sports enthusiasts.
"Circus Maximus races captivated thousands of fans, but many Romans vehemently argued that, while standing in a chariot and being propelled by several horses may have taken a certain skill, the activity did not qualify as a sport," said Robert Page, a classics professor at the University of Cincinnati. "On the other hand, hardcore chariot-racing fans shot back that the heightened reflexes needed to avoid collisions, the hand-eye coordination required to maneuver the chariot itself, and the physical endurance necessary to withstand the long races all made it a viable athletic contest."
Despite the quarreling, chariot race results and news were covered in the Compositus Ludus, or Sports section, of the Roman daily gazette Acta Diurna.
"It was presented as a sport, certainly," Page said. "Still, many Romans felt that most plebeians merely watched it for the grisly equine collisions, and that ultimately there was no real strategy to chariot-racing other than whipping the horses and telling them to go fast."
Page also noted that a pattern emerged following the translation of hundreds of poorly written documents by chariot-racing aficionados: No matter how long or heated an argument became, it always ended with the defenders of chariot-racing declaring, "Have you ever even watched an entire race? No? So shut your fucking mouth."