Auriga (slave)

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A Roman auriga

In ancient Rome, the auriga was a slave with gladiator status, whose duty it was to drive a biga, the light vehicle powered by two horses, to transport some important Romans, mainly duces (military commanders). An auriga was a sort of "chauffeur" for important men and was carefully selected from among trustworthy slaves only.

It has been supposed also that this name was given to the slave who held a laurel crown, during Roman Triumphs, over the head of the dux, standing at his back but continuously whispering in his ears "Memento Mori" ("remember you are mortal") to prevent the celebrated commander from losing his sense of proportion in the excesses of the celebrations.

The term became common in later times to indicate any biga driver.