Chariot racing (Greek: ἁρματοδρομία harmatodromia, Latin: ludi circenses) was one of the most popular ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine sports. Chariot racing was dangerous to both drivers and horses as they often suffered serious injury and even death, but these dangers added to the excitement and interest for spectators. Chariot races could be watched by women, who were banned from watching many other sports. In the Roman form of chariot racing, teams represented different groups of financial backers and sometimes competed for the services of particularly skilled drivers. As in modern sports like football, spectators generally chose to support a single team, identifying themselves strongly with its fortunes, and violence sometimes broke out between rival factions. The rivalries were sometimes politicized, when teams became associated with competing social or religious ideas. This helps explain why Roman and later Byzantine emperors took control of the teams and appointed many officials to oversee them. The sport faded in importance in the West after the fall of Rome. It survived for a time in the Byzantine Empire, where the traditional Roman factions continued to play a prominent role for several centuries, gaining influence in political matters. Their rivalry culminated in the Nika riots, which marked the gradual decline of the sport.
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