Chariot racing was popular as far back as the 6th century B.C.E., making it one of the oldest forms of entertainment in the Roman Empire [source: McManus]. It was also the most popular sport in Rome. Pulled by horses, men would race their chariots around a Roman "circus" (actually, an oval track). Initially the races were reserved for religious festivals, but over time they were held whenever Roman magistrates or dignitaries sponsored them.
In ancient Rome, most chariot racers were slaves who were forced to race. However, if they were skilled at it, they could make enough money to eventually purchase their freedom. And just as with today's race-car drivers and jockeys, chariot racers (aka charioteers) had to be skilled to survive and thrive. Unlike the bulky, heavy military chariots, which afforded drivers a certain amount of protection, racing chariots were lightweight and a bit unstable; the charioteer basically had to balance himself on the cart's axle while driving [source: McManus]. Chariot racers died out along with the ancient Roman Empire. Unless, of course, you consider Charlton Heston, star of the popular 1959 movie "Ben-Hur," as the world's final charioteer.