On this day in 532, five days of rioting ended with the death of tens of thousands of residents of the city of Constantinople (now Istanbul), and more than half the city destroyed by fire and violence. It is the most violent riot the city has ever experienced.
Chariot racing was a huge sports entertainment industry in Constantinople. It was also violent, with a high death rate for the horses that pulled the chariots, and the slaves who drove them. But the spectators adored the races. There were four factions of racers and their fans. The Blues (Veneti), the Greens (Prasini), the Reds (Russati), and the Whites (Albati). Although the Greens and the Blues were the two dominant factions.
It might seem as though a five day riot with so many dead over a sports entertainment event, even a violent one, is a bit excessive.
But really, the two factions were also symbols of political power. The Emperor, Justinian, supported the Blues, with money and favours. On the other hand, high-powered influencers in the city supported the Greens, many of them from the most powerful families who believed they had a stronger claim to the throne than Justinian.
The rioting broke out because a smaller riot at a previous event had ended with all but two of the rioters, a Green and a Blue member, being executed for murder. The two remaining rioters escaped and took sanctuary in a church.
The emperor, who was dealing with sensitive peace negotiations with the Persians, didn’t want rioting in his city to disrupt the negotiations, so he reduced the death sentence of the two rioters to imprisonment. The two factions, Green and Blue, demanded the Emperor let them go free, which he ignored.
The Greens and Blues joined forces and the rioting began.
It is estimated that over 30,000 people died in the riots.
Fantasy authors often draw upon history for inspiration, selecting cultures and significant events, then extrapolating and often exaggerating for dramatic effect. But there is no need to exaggerate the Nika Riots. They were a horrendous event that is already epic in scale.
I’ve used the Nika Riots in at least one book, but never a fantasy. Yet the politics and power-plays underlying the riots are perfect for epic fantasy. Hmm…
Have you ever seen massive riots over sporting events in the fantasy you’ve read? Share in comments, or hit reply to tell me where you’ve seen it.