Chapter 16. The Spectacle of the Africo-Roman Chariot Races: II-VI Centuries AD


Ezzeddine Bouzid
University teacher-researcher, President of the Tunisian Association for the Safeguarding of Games and Heritage Sports, Tunis, Tunisia

Part of the book: Applications of Traditional Equestrian Sports in the World


Following our analysis of the ethnographic inventory of 240 iconographic productions made by the mosaics of Africo-Roman Tunisia, between the second and sixth centuries, on which we worked from 1989 to 20001 , we found that the illustration of the meaning of victory through the image is much desired by artists during this period of Tunisia’s history. Moreover, history informs us that from the foundation of Carthage, in the ninth century BC, the iconography of the horse becomes more and more abundant. Given that the data is very spread out from the historical point of view, in this communication, we focus on chariot races during the civilization of Africo-Roman Tunisia. Indeed, the African mosaicists managed to express the positions of weakness and superiority of the actors in different scenes of games (pugilat wrestling, Pancrase, horse race, amphitheater fight, running. etc …), and this by expressions of fear or pride and pride expressed by the faces of those who stared at the opponent. However, it is pointed out that the “virtus” victory also illustrates a prophylactic and beneficial sense. However, we have chosen to observe the work of the mosaicists of African-Roman Tunisia as a real production of ethnographers, able to perceive the ludo-cultural traditions of their civilization and their individual experience. Historians insist that mosaic documents are among the most expressive of African-Roman culture. They remarkably brought us sequences of sports game scenes of the time and in particular agonistic games: amphitheater games, athletic games, and circus shows. From Rome, the passion for games extends to all of Italy and the western provinces of the Empire, Africa, Spain, and Gaul. To the east of the Roman Maghreb, the Africa proconsular is of the Romans corresponded roughly to present-day Tunisia, which welcomed on its soil nearly fifteen civilizations, which marked the history of Tunisia, the horse had an important place in the life and imagination of the populations. This importance has been illustrated in frescoes, mosaics, coins, and various types of remains revealed following the various excavations and archaeological discoveries by several researchers from around the world. Among the peoples who most marked their passage in Tunisia, we can mention the Greeks until the year 146 AD, J-C,) and the Romans from the second to the sixth century, AD, J-C). Thus, in Africa, archaeological and epigraphic documentation has been provided by abundant iconographic documentation on the shows of chariot races, consisting of sculptures, reliefs, representations on lamps, and especially mosaic pavements. The mosaicists of Africo-Roman Tunisia were often interested in the different areas of daily life. In particular, they drew their inspiration from the realities of the time. The analysis of the internal logic of the chariot racing scenes, allowed us to highlight various relevant features that constitute the peculiarities of the internal logic of the mosaic games of Africo-Roman Tunisia. Among these peculiarities, we deal with the place of the actors (player, spectator, referee), the dress code, the space of the game, the accessories, the types of games, the structures of games, the motor interactions, the violence in the games of the time, etc. An additional effort is devoted to the symbolic meanings of chariot races in connection with the social logic of the time of belonging. So, what do the archaeological sites of Tunisia bring to the equestrian games? Do the artistic productions of African mosaicists speak of tank racing factions? The art of the Africo-Roman Mosaic, between the second and sixth century AD. Does J.-C talk about the behavior of the spectators-supporters of the circus games show and their symbolic meanings?

Keywords: heritage, equestrian game, cultural tradition, horses, winning auriges


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