Last weekend, a small town in the heart of Wales celebrated the ancient Roman tradition of chariot-racing, albeit with a modern twist.  Llanwrtyd Wells played host to the sixth annual World Mountain Bike Chariot Racing Championships, an event that received international news coverage. A team from Lampeter including Dr Kyle Erickson, Head of the School of Classics, took part and acquitted themselves honourably, if not necessarily successfully!

Not entirely authentically, the race track itself comprised a figure of eight, with long straights scattered with pot-holes, puddles, sharp corners, speed bumps, and plenty of mud.   The Lampeter Knights 928 started off well, winning their qualifying heat comfortably and making it through to the Grand Final with second fastest time of the day.

Unfortunately the final was over two laps rather than one, and after two nudges into the grass, the team finished fourth overall.  In addition to charioteer Kyle, the team consisted of trusty steeds/cyclists John McDonagh (Furniture Forever) and Kevin Evans (UWTSD: Repographics).

We hope that next year the School of Classics can enter at least one team, or perhaps even four, as the Romans did.  However, unlike the Romans, we’ll have to refrain from cursing the other teams with defixiones agonisticae, spells inscribed on lead tablets that were pierced with nails before being buried!

A Roman defixio
A Roman defixio

Not all Romans were enthused by chariot racing, however.  Pliny the Younger certainly didn’t get it:

‘I am the more astonished that so many thousands of grown men should be possessed again and again with a childish passion to look at galloping horses, and men standing upright in their chariots.  If, indeed, they were attracted by the swiftness of the horses or the skill of the men, one could account for this enthusiasm.  But in fact it is a bit of cloth they favour, a bit of cloth that captivates them.  And if during the running the racers were to exchange colours, their partisans would change sides, and instantly forsake the very drivers and horses whom they were just before recognizing from afar, and clamorously saluting by name’ (Letters 9.6).

The four ancient Roman chariot teams - Green, Red, White, and Blue
The four ancient Roman chariot teams – Green, Red, White, and Blue

As an added incentive for intrigued staff and students (and perhaps also means of facilitating celebrations/commiserations), Llanwrtyd Wells also hosts a Saturnalia Beer Festival on the evening of the competition.  So get cycling!

Kyle the Charioteer plus trusty steeds John and Kevin on Sky News

(They are the team directly in front of the camera!)


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