Roman chariot races return to Jordan after two thousand years

Ancient Site Features Roman Army Warfare Techniques, War Machines In Action and Seven Lap Roman Chariot Races (Click here, then click on "view slide show" to see photos)

January 18, 2005

JERASH, JORDAN (ANS) -- The ancient city of Jerash, Jordan, will once again come to life with authentic Roman chariot racing in the Spring of 2005.

Jerash is the only place in the World where fully armed legionaries and chariot performances can be experienced in a genuine Roman Hippodrome, according to a special website,, set up to publicize the event. (Pictured: A Roman chariot and charioteer in action. Courtesy: RACE website).

Jerash, previously known as the Roman city of Gerasa, is approximately fifty minutes drive to the north from Jordan’s capital Amman and displays some of the finest, most extensive and best preserved remains of the former Empire to be found worldwide, the website says.

The site says: “The Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE) is proud to introduce a show that will feature Roman Army warfare techniques, including war machines in action, in addition to authentic seven lap races with Roman chariots. The aim is to give the visitor a thrilling glimpse of the spectacle as experienced by the citizens of the ancient city, nearly two thousand years ago.”

The Performance: Sit where the Romans sat, see what the Romans saw

The magnificently preserved Roman City of Gerasa (modern Jerash) located about fifty minutes drive north from Amman is the exciting backdrop to a colorful demonstration of Roman military capability and that most Roman of all sports, chariot racing, the site says. (Pictured: Two Roman chariots side by side. Courtesy: RACE website).

It boasts: “At Jerash, the newly restored hippodrome with its original stone seating and carceres (starting gates) provides an ideal arena for a thrilling spectacle such as the citizens would have been able to see some twenty centuries ago.

“As you walk through the colonnaded streets and the great oval piazza letting your imagination create a scene peopled with the sounds of toga wearing crowds, suddenly there is a brassy blare of trumpets and the tramp of marching feet together with the rattle of shields, swords and armor. This is not your imagination at work though, but real, as into view comes a large body of Roman legionaries moving swiftly through the city towards the Hippodrome, announcing that, shortly, the performance will begin. Take your place on the very seats, on which the Romans sat and prepare to watch the show!”

The website says: “More martial music announces the arrival of the legionaries who march past before you to display their exciting and colorful equipment. They demonstrate training routines such as were actually used throughout the Roman Army, throwing pilae (spears) and wielding the famous short stabbing sword, the gladius.

“Suddenly, the Centurion cries out, ‘Are you ready for war?’ and the legionaries’ roar echoes around the hippodrome, ‘Ready, ready, ready.’”

“Unseen until now, an enemy force appears without warning to your left, on the South Tower,” the site says.

“The Romans bring their artillery, renowned for its accuracy and power, into action, delivering missiles at targets at the north end of the hippodrome and then engage the enemy with siege tower and battering ram.

“After a vigorous battle the South Tower is captured and the victorious commander rides through the serried ranks of his troops in a triumphal chariot drawn by four horses, accompanied, as was the custom, by a slave who reminds him of his mortality with the words, ‘Memento mori.’ "

The site announces that “As the legionaries withdraw, racing chariots appear in a whirl of dust, one for each of the fiercely supported factions, the Reds, Blues, Greens and Whites. Having paraded before you, they take up their position in the carceres. The starter is announced by a fanfare of trumpets and as he drops a white scarf, they burst forward into the first of seven laps, jostling for position at the turn. Choose your favourite colour and give them the most vocal support – you might even be able to hear a faint echo coming down the years!

It adds: “The winning charioteer receives the plaudits of the crowd and is crowned with the victor’s laurels passing before you bearing a palm frond, the classical symbol of triumph.

“This is what the hippodrome was built for and you will be reliving a moment in the life of people who were sitting in your place nearly two thousand years ago!”

The Project: Ambitious and entertaining, Roman Army and chariot racing spectacle at Jerash

Organizers of the event say the monumental hippodrome at the ancient city of Jerash in Jordan will, for the first time in over a thousand years, host a spectator event -- authentic replica Roman chariots racing in the Roman circus at Jerash.

They say that throughout history, Jerash has been occupied by a plethora of civilizations making it a must visit for every tourist coming to Jordan. This ancient city is rich with Greek, Roman, Byzantine, Omayyad and amazingly, Neolithic finds.

“Its locale and setting present a remarkable opportunity to give the discerning tourist a unique experience -- an authentic Roman Army performance and chariot racing live event staged at the hippodrome of Jerash,” they add.

Be impressed by the setting

The website boasts that Jerash, the Roman city of Gerasa, some fifty minutes drive to the north from Amman, “displays some of the finest, most extensive and best-preserved remains of the former Empire to be found anywhere. The colonnaded streets, temples, theatres, bathhouses and magnificent oval plaza are complemented by the superbly restored hippodrome which in Roman times seated up to fifteen thousand people.”

Let archaeology speak to you

Visitors may take a walk through Roman Gerasa “and hear the breeze gently whistling, a carpet of wild spring blossoms dotting the landscape, a clear blue sky, and a unit of Roman legionaries in full regalia marching in strict formation echoing the magnificent display of columns on either side of the stone paved streets passing stalls of fresh produce -- olives grown in the groves nearby, freshly pressed olive oil, wine, and grapes that will find their way to a lavish banquet. As the sun turns the city a golden hue, the temples and Corinthian columns cast their shadows on the spectators hurrying to take their seats at the hippodrome overlooking the arena.”

Organizers say the hippodrome is almost complete. The ten now fully restored carceres -- starting gates -- at the southern end of the arena, attest to the use of the hippodrome for that most favorite of Roman sports, the chariot race. They say original stone seating has been re-installed to a capacity of around four hundred people and accommodation for a further hundred will be installed in due course.

The website adds: “Even without any live event in progress, the restored hippodrome presents a magnificent sight for the imaginative visitor. Emotions will be stirred by the re-introduction of real, live chariot racing in the Roman style as part of a pageant telling the story of Gerasa and the hippodrome as it was in the first and second centuries AD.”

The Future

The Roman Army and Chariot Experience (RACE), in co-operation with the Jordan Ministry Of Tourism and the Jordan Tourism Board, say they “are proud to introduce a show that will feature Roman Army warfare techniques, including war machines in action, in addition to seven lap races with Roman chariots. Both bigae and quadrigae will be featured in realistic racing so as to bring to life events known to have resounded within this historic arena.”

They add: “A stable of up to twenty horses with chariots, harness and colorful costumes with sound effects, commentary, and lighting will give the visitor a thrilling glimpse of the spectacle as experienced by the citizens of Roman Gerasa nearly two thousand years ago.”

The Company: Roman Army and chariot experience

The organizers say that for an increasingly demanding tourist population in Jordan, a privately held company has been formed that will own the rights to and manage the staging of daily presentations of Roman warfare techniques and chariot races in the genuine Roman hippodrome in Jerash.

The formal name selected for this new entity is The Jerash Heritage Company, the website explains.

As per its agreement with the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities, RACE will lease the hippodrome and adjacent areas in Jerash from the Government of Jordan.

Organizers explain that RACE is a privately held, limited liability company, registered under the laws of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. With some fifty employees, it is one of the largest employers in Jerash, and enjoys the strong backing of the Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities and the Jordan Tourism Board.

Project Publicity: The Roman Army performance and chariot race; pre-launch events and reviews

HRH Prince Raad Bin Zeid formally unveiled the first Roman chariot prototype built for the Roman Army and Chariot Experience [RACE] at his residence on September 7, 2000. The Project, from then on, caught the interest of local news and high profile international TV media channels, the website says.

A press briefing organized at the hippodrome, in Roman Gerasa, to present the chariot pulled by two horses and two Roman legionaries was on that occasion filmed by an independent British TV producer.

The RACE project was also covered by the Jordan Times, Jordan TV, and was featured in footage for the BBC and Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC). The chariot harnessed with horses has appeared in a documentary by Britain’s Granada TV on Emperor Vespasian.

National Geographic Traveller published information about RACE in their March 2002 issue.

During the visit of Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden to Jordan, Roman legionaries raced the chariot at the hippodrome in a show followed two months later by a special presentation to HRH Princess Alia of Jordan.

Let the games begin!

The first performance is currently planned for Spring of 2005 AD.
For more information please contact the Jerash Heritage Co. Ltd.
P.O. Box 1074 Jerash 26111 Jordan or visit the website at