Germans find Olympic course where Nero raced chariot

ATHENS (Reuters) - German archaeologists using radar technology believe they may have discovered the ancient horse racing track at Olympia where Roman Emperor Nero bribed his way to Olympic laurels.

Policemen watch as Greek men take part during the full dress rehearsal for the Olympic flame lighting ceremony for the Beijing 2008 Games at the site of ancient Olympia in Greece March 23, 2008. REUTERS/Mal Langsdon

The whereabouts of the racecourse is one of the last remaining mysteries of Olympia, the holy site where the ancient Greeks founded the Olympic Games in the eighth century BC.

The one-kilometer-long course, the largest structure of ancient Olympia, has been lost for more than 1,600-years since the Christian Emperor Theodosius abolished the games because of their pagan past.

“By means of geomagnetic investigation ... the first clear indications of the localization of the Hippodrome were found,” said a statement sent to Reuters by Norbert Muller of the Johannes Gutenburg University Mainz, which helped fund the search.

German archaeological teams have been continuously excavating at Olympia since 1875 but the racehorse has remained hidden by several meters of silt on the floodplain of the Alfeios river.

In the second century AD, the travel writer Pausanias described the location of the track to the east of the Olympic sanctuary, detailing its unusual starting mechanism and the dangers for charioteers who were often injured at its sharp turn.

In May, German researchers led by Muller and Reinhard Senff of the German Archaeological Institute in Athens explored the plain with modern geomagnetic methods for the first time.

After collating the information, they discovered what appeared to be a long, rectangular structure matching ancient sources’ description of the track, the statement said.

Nero, a cruel and capricious ruler notorious for early Roman biographers’ descriptions of him playing the lyre as Rome burned, broke with tradition in AD 67 when he took part in the Olympic games.

A lover of Greek culture, Nero bribed Olympic officials to have the games postponed by two years to coincide with his tour of Greece.

The emperor, infamous for ordering the execution of his own mother, took part in the four-horse chariot race with a team of ten steeds and was declared the winner despite falling from his car.