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Horses Uses in the Roman Empire

| Updated September 26, 2017

The Roman Empire was a powerful one, spanning over 600 years of history and covering approximately 2 million square miles. The empire stretched from Egypt’s Rhine River to Britain’s Asia Minor. The Romans brought their political, social, cultural and economical influences to bear on the countries they conquered. During the Roman Empire, horses were important for battle; they were also needed for certain aspects of daily life such as transportation. During the time of the Roman Empire, horses were generally not used in farming, though there are reports to the contrary.


The Romans used horses primarily for battle; horsemen fought as a secondary force with the infantry as the primary force. The battle tactics of the Romans included placing the infantry in the center with the cavalry on the wings of the formation. It was the job of the cavalry to prevent the enemy from outflanking the center. When the Romans turned the battle in their favor and the enemy began its retreat, the cavalry would move forward to cut them down. The use of horses in battle enabled the Roman army to move faster and more efficiently. Horse riders were sent out to scout enemy territory and to send urgent messages.

Chariot Racing

In ancient Rome, chariot racing enjoyed immense popularity. The races were held in what was called a “circus” because of the oval shape of the stadium. The oldest circus in Rome was the Circus Maximus, which was also the largest at the time. It is believed that the Etruscans, a non-Italic race that dominated the area around Rome for a while, made contributions to several aspects of Roman life. Chariot racing was popular among the Etruscans. The Lucians of Sicily also enjoyed chariot racing in the 5th Century B.C.E. In Rome, chariot racing had certain religious ties, for example to the chariot driving-deity Sol.


During the time of the Roman Empire, the Romans built good roads with rest stops. While most Romans are believed to have traveled on foot, wealthy Romans and merchants used horses for transport as did the government and the military. Horses were used to pull wagons for the merchants who owned them. Wealthy families liked to travel because many of them had second homes in the country. The rest stops provided travelers with a chance to rest and change horses.


The Romans loved a spectacle and they used wild animals to demonstrate the power of the Roman world. Animals were brought from various parts of the Roman Empire for hunting shows held at the Colosseum. The show was called “venatione,” and the animal hunter was referred to as a “venatore.” Venatores hunted herds of wild animals that included wild horses let loose in the arena. Venatores hunted on horseback to provide the audience with a great spectacle, but many hunted on foot as well.