Blues vs. Greens
Among the legacies of the Roman Empire in Byzantium was the immensely popular sport of chariot racing. Races in the city’s Hippodrome were one of the few events at which common people could actually view the emperor.
Chariot racing was one of the most popular ancient Greek, Roman, and Byzantine sports. Chariot racing was often dangerous to both driver and horse as they frequently suffered serious injury and even death, but generated strong spectator enthusiasm.
Originally four teams — the Whites, Reds, Blues, and Greens — competed in the arena, but eventually the Blues and Greens came to dominate the sport.
Wearing their distinctive colors, charioteers on the same team would cooperate to force the other team’s chariots to crash. Star charioteers earned good money and could be lured away by rival teams.
Like English football teams, the Blues and Greens developed belligerent fan bases that split the city between them. Fights regularly broke out between the factions. The historian Procopius wrote:
The members [of each faction] fight with their opponents not knowing for what reason they risk their lives, but realizing full well that even when they vanquish their opponents in brawls, they will be carted off to prison and that, after they have suffered the most extreme tortures, they will be killed.
These conflicts reached a violent high point during the Nika Revolt in 532, when the factions briefly joined forces in a failed attempt to bring down Emperor Justinian.
I believe the two most dangerous sports, at least in America, is Hockey and Football. I bet the Chariot Racing was even more
Chariot racing on a black-figure hydria from Attica, ca. 510 B.C.
dangerous, probably even more dangerous than car racing simply because they had no protection of any sort. And boxing can really mess a boxer up, but not like the gladiator shows they had.
Tomorrow we’re going to look at the type of church they had during the Byzantine Empire, so we’ll be look at…
The Centurion’s Servant Healed
1 Now when he had ended all his sayings in the audience of the people, he entered into Capernaum.
2 And a certain centurion’s servant, who was dear unto him, was sick, and ready to die.
The Charioteer of Delphi, one of the most famous statues surviving from Ancient Greece. Like modern jockeys, chariot racers were chosen for their lightness, but also needed to be tall, so they were frequently teenagers.
“Centurion’s servant” – the centurion was probably a member of Herod Antipas’s forces, which were organized in Rome fashion, ordinarily in companies of 100 men. Roman centurions referred to in the New Testament showed characteristics to be admired.
The centurion mentioned here showed genuine concern for his slave, and he was admired by the Jews, who spoke favorably of him even though he was a Gentile.
3 And when he heard of Jesus, he sent unto him the elders of the Jews, beseeching him that he would come and heal his servant.
“Elders of the Jews” – highly respected Jews of the community, though not necessarily rulers of the synagogue. They were willing to come and plead for the centurion.
4 And when they came to Jesus, they besought him instantly, saying, That he was worthy for whom he should do this:
5 For he loveth our nation, and he hath built us a synagogue.
6 Then Jesus went with them. And when he was now not far from the house, the centurion sent friends to him, saying unto him, Lord, trouble not thyself: for I am not worthy that thou shouldest enter under my roof:
7 Wherefore neither thought I myself worthy to come unto thee: but say in a word, and my servant shall be healed.
8 For I also am a man set under authority, having under me soldiers, and I say unto one, Go, and he goeth; and to another, Come, and he cometh; and to my servant, Do this, and he doeth it.
The plan of the Circus Maximus.
The Romans probably borrowed chariot racing from the Etruscans, who themselves borrowed it from the Greeks, but the Romans were also influenced directly by the Greeks. According to Roman legend, chariot racing was used by Romulus just after he founded Rome in 753 BC as a way of distracting the Sabine men. Romulus sent out invitations to the neighbouring towns to celebrate the festival of the Consualia, which included both horse races and chariot races.
BR9 When Jesus heard these things, he marveled at him, and turned him about, and said unto the people that followed him, I say unto you, I have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel.
10 And they that were sent, returning to the house, found the servant whole that had been sick.
11 And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people.
12 Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her.
13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not.
14 And he came and touched the bier: and they that bare him stood still. And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise.
15 And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother.
16 And there came a fear on all: and they glorified God, saying, That a great prophet is risen up among us; and, That God hath visited his people.
Bas-relief of a quadriga race in the Circus Maximus (2nd-3rd century).
In ancient Rome, chariot races commonly took place in a circus. The main center of chariot racing was the Circus Maximus in the valley between Palatine Hill and Aventine Hill, which could seat 250,000 people. It was the earliest circus in the city of Rome. The Circus was supposed to date to the city’s earliest times, but it was rebuilt by Julius Caesar around 50 BC so that it had a length of about 2,130 feet and a width of about 410 feet.
17 And this rumor of him went forth throughout all Judaea, and throughout all the region round about.
18 And the disciples of John shewed him of all these things.
“Disciples of John” – despite John the Baptists imprisonment, his disciples kept in contact with him and continued his ministry.
19 And John calling unto him two of his disciples sent them to Jesus, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
20 When the men were come unto him, they said, John Baptist hath sent us unto thee, saying, Art thou he that should come? or look we for another?
21 And in that same hour he cured many of their infirmities and plagues, and of evil spirits; and unto many that were blind he gave sight.
22 Then Jesus answering said unto them, Go your way, and tell John what things ye have seen and heard; how that the blind see, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, to the poor the gospel is preached.
23 And blessed is he, whosoever shall not be offended in me.
24 And when the messengers of John were departed, he began to speak unto the people concerning John, What went ye out into the wilderness for to see? A reed shaken with the wind?
25 But what went ye out for to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, they which are gorgeously appareled, and live delicately, are in kings’ courts.
A white charioteer; part of a mosaic of the third century AD, showing four leading charioteers from the different colors, all in their distinctive gear.
Once the race had begun, the chariots could move in front of each other in an attempt to cause their opponents to crash into the spinae (singular spina). On the top of the spinae stood small tables or frames supported on pillars, and also small pieces of marble in the shape of eggs or dolphins. The spina eventually became very elaborate, with statues and obelisks and other forms of art, but the multiplication of the adornments of the spina had one unfortunate result: They became so numerous that they obstructed the view of spectators on lower seats. At either end of the spina was a meta, or turning point, in the form of large gilded columns. Spectacular crashes took place there, as in the Greek races, in which the chariot was destroyed and the charioteer and horses incapacitated were known as naufragia, also the Latin word for shipwrecks.
26 But what went ye out for to see? A prophet? Yea, I say unto you, and much more than a prophet.
“Much more than a prophet” – John the Baptist was the unique prophet sent to prepare the way for the Messiah. Like Mary was the unique mother to bare Him. Yet, they were both sinners.
27 This is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee.
28 For I say unto you, Among those that are born of women there is not a greater prophet than John the Baptist: but he that is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.
29 And all the people that heard him, and the publicans, justified God, being baptized with the baptism of John.
30 But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God against themselves, being not baptized of him.
“Lawyers” – were teachers of the law and most of them were Pharisees. The law they taught was not God’s law, but man’s law.
“Rejected the counsel of God” – tax collectors, like Matthew, had shown their willingness to repent by accepting John’s baptism, whereas the Pharisees showed their rejection of God’s message.
31 And the Lord said, Whereunto then shall I liken the men of this generation? and to what are they like?
32 They are like unto children sitting in the marketplace, and calling one to another, and saying, We have piped unto you, and ye have not danced; we have mourned to you, and ye have not wept.
“Like unto children sitting in the marketplace” – people had rejected both John and Jesus, but for different reasons – like children who refuse to play either a joyful game or a mournful one.
A winner of a Roman chariot race, from the Red team.
Another important difference was that the charioteers themselves, the aurigae, were considered to be the winners, although they were usually also slaves (as in the Greek world). They received a wreath of laurel leaves, and probably some money; if they won enough races they could buy their freedom.
They would not associate with John when he followed the strictest of rules or with Jesus when He freely associated with all kinds of people.
33 For John the Baptist came neither eating bread nor drinking wine; and ye say, He hath a devil.
34 The Son of man is come eating and drinking; and ye say, Behold a gluttonous man, and a winebibber, a friend of publicans and sinners!
“A friend of publicans and sinners” – Jesus ate and talked with people who were religious and social outcasts. He even called a publican to be an apostle (5:27-32).
35 But wisdom is justified of all her children.
“Wisdom is justified of all her children” – in contrast to the rejection by foolish critics, spiritually wise persons could see that the ministries of both John and Jesus were godly, despite their differences.
36 And one of the Pharisees desired him that he would eat with him. And he went into the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to meat.
37 And, behold, a woman in the city, which was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at meat in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster box of ointment,
Driving teams of horses, charioteers competed for public adulation and wealth in Constantinople’s Hippodrome.
“A woman…which was a sinner” – a prostitute. She must have heard Jesus preach and in repentance determined to lead a new life. She came out of love and gratitude, in the understanding that she could be forgiven.
38 And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment.
39 Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have known who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner.
40 And Jesus answering said unto him, Simon, I have somewhat to say unto thee. And he saith, Master, say on.
41 There was a certain creditor which had two debtors: the one owed five hundred pence, and the other fifty.
42 And when they had nothing to pay, he frankly forgave them both. Tell me therefore, which of them will love him most?
43 Simon answered and said, I suppose that he, to whom he forgave most. And he said unto him, Thou hast rightly judged.
44 And he turned to the woman, and said unto Simon, Seest thou this woman? I entered into thine house, thou gavest me no water for my feet: but she hath washed my feet with tears, and wiped them with the hairs of her head.
45 Thou gavest me no kiss: but this woman since the time I came in hath not ceased to kiss my feet.
The Triumphal Quadriga is a set of Roman or Greek bronze statues of four horses, originally part of a monument depicting a quadriga. They date from late Classical Antiquity and were long displayed at the Hippodrome of Constantinople. In 1204 AD, Doge Enrico Dandolo sent them to Venice as part of the loot sacked from Constantinople in the Fourth Crusade.
46 My head with oil thou didst not anoint: but this woman hath anointed my feet with ointment.
47 Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much: but to whom little is forgiven, the same loveth little.
“For she loved much” – her love was evidence of her forgiveness, but not the basis for it. Verse 50 clearly states that she was saved by faith. See Eph 1:7.
48 And he said unto her, Thy sins are forgiven.
49 And they that sat at meat with him began to say within themselves, Who is this that forgiveth sins also?
50 And he said to the woman, Thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace.
…the Hagia Sophia.