What is a Hippodrome?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

A hippodrome is a large enclosed facility designed for equestrian events, although hippodromes have also been used historically to host other types of athletic events. Numerous examples of ancient hippodromes can be found scattered around the Mediterranean, reflecting the Greek and Roman enthusiasm for equestrian sport, and a number of modern facilities are also known as hippodromes.

Woman holding a book
Woman holding a book

The word “hippodrome” comes from the Greek hippos, which means “horse,” and dromos, which refers to a racecourse or track. As the name implies, hippodromes were originally built for horse and chariot racing, and some were quite large, allowing as many as 10 chariots to race side by side. Hippodromes could also accommodate other gladiatorial events and parades, and some became quite famous and regionally important.

Two famous examples of hippodromes are the Hippodrome of Constantinople and the Circus Maximus in Rome. Both of these facilities are quite large, permitting numerous spectators to observe events. Greek and Roman racing was a bit different from modern racing, with riders being encouraged to foul each other, creating an element of danger and surprise. In addition, racing in a hippodrome could be quite perilous at the turnaround pole, where numerous horses and riders were injured.

As a general rule, hippodromes are open to the elements, and they are roughly oval in shape, with seating surrounding the stadium. Depending on where one sits, the quality of the view would vary, but most hippodromes are engineered to provide at least decent views from every seat, with closer seats tending to be more coveted because its easier to see when one is close to the stadium floor. In cooler climates, modern hippodromes sometimes have ceilings so that competitions can be held in inclement weather.

Some tourists enjoy visiting the sites of ancient hippodromes, because some of them are remarkably well preserved, and they are very interesting to visit. Many have astounding carvings, amazing views, and extensive surrounding complexes of buildings which can be intriguing to explore. Visiting a hippodrome can be especially interesting with a well-informed guide, who can provide information and context about the sights in the area.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I am doing a research paper and Empress Theodora's (wife of Justinian) dad was a bear keeper at the hippodrome in constantinople.

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