"There were two main factions of supporters at the games in Rome and Byzantium, the Blues and the Greens. Before Professor Cameron published his book [Circus Factions: Blues and Greens at Rome and Byzantium], scholars believed—under Marxist influence or on the somewhat optimistic assumption that people are not willing to kill or be killed for no good reason—that these two factions, whose clashes often caused many deaths and much destruction, must really have been expressing some deep social antagonism. The Blues were therefore believed to have represented the rich and the Greens the poor, but Professor Cameron demolishes that supposition with what seems to me something very much like finality." Source: Taki Magazine.
Comment: This is an interesting article about the tendency of crowds to divide into violent factions over trivial differences like their support for opposing sports teams. The Blues and Greens in ancient Rome are a classic example of this, but we can see the same thing happening with the violent soccer riots that take place in the modern world. Most of this violence is completely meaningless -- a kind of sport in itself -- but it gets so mixed up with politics and social problems that it's hard to separate political violence and popular unrest from simple Clockwork Orange hooliganism and exuberant ultraviolence.
In the case of the Romans, the factions developed around the chariot races that took place in the Circus. According to the Oxford Classical Dictionary (3rd ed. revised), "four, six, eight or twelve teams of horses competed under different colors, red and white at first, then also green and blue." Like the gladiators, most of the chariot drivers were slaves, but they could become superstars in their own right and chariot racing was a massive draw. According to the now-defunct Roman-Empire.net, "Roman passions ran high when it came to chariot racing and most supported one of the teams and its colours, - white, green, red or blue. Though passions could often boil over, leading to violent clashes between opposing supporters."
Observers have pointed out that modern sports fans are just supporting the team names and uniforms because the players themselves move around so often. But the fans of today aren't really all that different from the fans who lived in ancient Rome. Theodore Dalrymple, the author of the Taki Magazine article, quotes a letter from Pliny the Younger who said the exact same thing:
"It amazes me that thousands and thousands of grown men should be like children, wanting to look over and over again at horses running and men standing on chariots. If it were the speed of the horses or the skill of the drivers that attracted them, there would be some sense in it—but in fact it is simply the colour. That is what they support and what fascinates them. Suppose half way through the race the drivers were to change their colours, then the supporters’ backing would change too and in a second they would abandon the drivers and horses whose names they shout as they recognize them from afar. Such is the power of a single worthless shirt."