NEW YORK – March 14, 2019 – With new discoveries from the world of Roman chariot racing, ROME’S CHARIOT SUPERSTAR pieces together an epic view of the lost ancient sport – the most popular and longest-lived form of mass entertainment in the Roman world, yet also the most lethal. Smithsonian Channel’s new two-hour special offers a detailed account of the life of Flavius Scorpus, a real chariot star, and the racing contests he and other champions entered in the famed Circus Maximus arena. Drawing from expert knowledge, archeological evidence and written records, ROME’S CHARIOT SUPERSTAR rebuilds the world of chariot racing and its stars in graphic detail. The special premieres Sunday, April 21 at 8 p.m. ET/PT on Smithsonian Channel.
ROME’S CHARIOT SUPERSTAR focuses on the end of the first century AD, when the race-mad Roman emperor Domitian presided over one of the most popular and lucrative eras in sports history. Scorpus rose from a slave to become the charioteer all-star of his age, winning an astonishing 2,048 races and earning the modern equivalent of $15 billion in a decade. When he died, he was just 26 years old. Dramatic reconstruction brings to life the noise, the smell and the excitement of audiences turning up to see their favorite team – the gambling, the fanatical support and, above all, the adrenaline-fuelled nine minutes of each race from start to finish.
The first part, FROM SLAVE TO STAR, examines how Scorpus rose to become one of the greatest chariot racers of all time. He likely grew up on a stud farm or stables and chose in his mid-teens to try to make it as a charioteer – or die trying. Chariot racing at the time was dominated by four commercial “factions,” which like modern sports teams had scouts throughout the Empire looking for talent. By his late teens, Scorpus would have been testing his skills in the Roman equivalent of the minor leagues.
In the second hour, CIRCUS MAXIMUS, Scorpus takes his place on chariot racing’s greatest stage. The famed Roman arena held audiences topping 150,000 – more than three times the capacity of Yankee Stadium. As Sinclair Bell, AIA National Lecturer and Associate Professor of Art History at Northern Illinois University, puts it, “the circus games weren’t just athletic competitions, or political stagecraft or a religious ritual. They were all three wrapped into one spectacular package.” This half deconstructs not just how the races were won and lost, but how the spectacle was used by the unpopular Emperor to keep his subjects complacent.
The two-part special uses rare evidence and experimental archaeology to reveal the world of chariot racing and bring the sport vividly back to life, traveling to the great sites of Carthage, Caesarea and all across the Roman Empire. Expert coachbuilder Robert Hurford uses a 2,000-year-old Roman bronze toy to build a replica chariot to be tested by race historian Mike Loades. Loades thunders around a circuit with four horses pulling a Roman chariot at maximum speed with ancient-style harnesses to rediscover the incredible skills required, the danger involved and the sheer spectacle created on the track.
ROME’S CHARIOT SUPERSTAR is produced by Lion Television Limited and Smithsonian Networks in association with ZDF, Arte and Channel 4. Executive producers for Lion Television are Bill Locke and Richard Bradley. Charles Poe and David Royle serve as executive producers for Smithsonian Channel.
Smithsonian Channel™, owned by Smithsonian Networks™, a joint venture between Showtime Networks Inc. and the Smithsonian Institution, is where curiosity lives, inspiration strikes and wonders never cease. This is the place for awe-inspiring stories, powerful documentaries and amazing factual entertainment, available in HD and 4K Ultra HD across multiple platforms. Smithsonian Channel, winner of Emmy® and Peabody awards for its programming, combines the storytelling prowess of SHOWTIME® with the unmatched resources and rich traditions of the Smithsonian, to create programming that shines new light on popular genres such as air and space, travel, history, science, nature and pop culture. Among the network’s offerings are series including Aerial America, America in Color, The Lost Tapes, Mighty Ships, Million Dollar American Princesses, The Pacific War in Color and Air Disasters, as well as critically-acclaimed specials that include The Coronation, The Mountain Lion and Me, Earth from Outer Space and Titanoboa: Monster Snake. Smithsonian Networks also operates Smithsonian Channel Plus™, a subscription video streaming service delivering over a thousand hours of the Channel’s stunning and diverse library of documentaries and series in HD and 4K Ultra HD. Smithsonian Channel is also available internationally in Canada, Singapore, Latin America and the UK. To learn more, go to www.smithsonianchannel.com, or connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.