Welcome to the Hippodrome

1 04 2008


Post-race wallowing




 Recent archaeological discoveries in Italy have revealed that among the first events staged at Rome’s Colosseum were hippopotamus races. Efforts are now being made to resurrect the ancient sport later this summer. 


The hippo is generally regarded as the most dangerous animal in Africa, responsible for more human deaths each year than lions, crocodiles or elephants. Despite their enormous size, they can out-run a human on land and are even more formidable in water.

In ancient times, young hippos would be captured along the banks of Egypt’s upper Nile and transported to Rome, evidence shows. Here, they would be raised by surrogate mothers and trained for competition in the Colosseum. Murals depict vervet monkeys as jockeys with colourful saddles created not only to keep them on their rides, but also to identify them to spectators. A track was laid around the center of the arena and races generally lasted 5 or 8 laps. At its peak, hippo racing was even more popular than chariot racing and was a particular favourite of Emperor Titus. It was only an outbreak of trypanosomiasis – or sleeping sickness – in 80AD that wiped out the hippos and brought an end to the spectacle.

Although this summer’s organisers had originally planned on erecting a temporary track within the Colosseum, it has now been decided that July’s hippo races will instead be held at the open-air Circus Maximus. Hippos are being trained at a ranch in South Africa and in place of jockeys, small remote-controlled robots will be used. 

Photo and April Fool’s Day Post by: Simon Vaughan © 2008




One response

3 04 2008
Dave Edwards

You’re making this up as you go along, aren’t you?! Got me cracking up, anyway… Love your blog!

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