a building used by the Romans for chariot races and
other amusements, the general form of which was derived from the ἱππόδρομος
of the Greeks: see HIPPODROMUS
Its name is
derived from the circuit made by the racing chariots. (Varr. L.
in Rome was for long the only building
of the kind, and appears to have been the model from which all later
were copied; its perfectly developed
architectural form was a very slow growth, the beginning of which dates back
from quite pre-historic times. Vitruvius does not mention the circus in his
treatise on Roman Architecture. According to the legend, Romulus held the
or games in honour of the Latin
deity Consus, an equestrian Neptune, in the vallis
a long narrow depression between the Palatine and Aventine hills. It
was during the celebration of these games that the rape of the Sabine women
is said to have taken place. (Verg. A.
, and Servius' note; V. Max.
.) Even during the Imperial period an altar to Consus existed in
the centre of this valley: it is mentioned by Tacitus (Tac. Ann. 12.24
) as one of the points which
marked the line of the sacred pomoerium
walls of the primitive Roma
The long level bottom and sloping
sides of the Vallis Murcia made it a naturally convenient place for races to
be held and seen by a crowd of spectators, who probably stood or sat on the
grassy slopes of the two hills long before any architectural structure was
Wooden seats (fori
) for the people are said to
have been first constructed by Tarquinius Priscus (Liv.
; cf. 1.56; Fest. p. 84; Dionys.
A. R. 3.68
), and these were frequently burnt and rebuilt in the
same material: restorations in 327 B.C. and 174 B.C. are mentioned by Livy
, and 41.27). In the time of Julius
Caesar some of the seats were for the first time constructed of stone, but
even then and many years later the upper tiers and galleries were still of
wood: very serious accidents are recorded to have happened under many of the
emperors, owing to the failure of the wooden seats when crowded with people.
No less than 1000 people are said to have been killed in this way during the
reign of Antoninus Pius. (See Roncalli, Chron. Vet.
col. 244.) Dionysius (3.68
describes the Circus Maximus as it was after Julius Caesar's improvements,
says that it then held 150,000 people. A destructive fire in 31 B.C. was
followed by important restorations (D. C. 1.
); and Augustus added a magnificent marble pulvinar
or imperial box, and placed in the centre of the
the Egyptian obelisk which now stands
in the Piazza del Popolo (Suet. Aug. 43
; Plin. Nat.
). In A.D. 36 another fire destroyed the upper tiers of seats on
the Aventine side, and a great part of the circus was then restored and
enlarged by Claudius, who rebuilt in white marble the carceres,
which were then of tufa, and replaced the old
by new ones of gilt bronze (Tac. Ann. 6.45
). After this restoration the circus contained seats,
partly of marble and partly of wood, for 250,000 spectators, showing that it
had been much enlarged since the rebuilding of Julius (Plin. Nat. 36.102
). In the reign of
Domitian the marble seats were carried still higher, and thenceforth the
danger of fire was much diminished: though wooden galleries (maeniana;
the form maeniani
also is used) appear to have existed at the top of the cavea
for many years later. Great additional splendour was
given to the Circus Maximus by Trajan, as is recorded on the reverse of some
of his first brasses; and from his time the building must have been among
the most magnificent structures of the Roman world. The whole cavea
with its tiers of seats, the carceres,
the emperor's pulvinar,
and the central spina
then of gleaming white marble, decorated with gold and colours, studded with
jewel-like glass mosaics and adorned with long lines of columns made of
richly-coloured Oriental marbles, and rows of large statues in marble and
gilt bronze, together with costly metal screens and richly sculptured
thrones for officials of rank (Plin. Paneg.
further accommodation was added by Constantine ; and Constantius set on the
a second obelisk, which his father
had transported from Heliopolis. (Aur. Vic. Caes.
Marc. xviio 4.) This now stands in the piazza of the Lateran. After this
final enlargement the circus. held, according to the Notitia,
the almost incredible number of 385,000 people. The
best. MS. of the Notitia
gives 485,000 as the
number of possible spectators in the circus: this probably includes the
crowds of people outside the circus on the upper slopes of the two hills,
who would have a distinct though distant view of the whole arena.
It is impossible to discover with absolute
accuracy what the size of the Circus Maximus was when complete; it cannot,
however, have been less than 2000 feet long, by more than 600 feet wide,
measuring outside. Even in the time of Julius Caesar it was three stadia
(about 1860 English feet) in length, by one (620 feet) in width, and half a
stadium in the depth of its cavea
(Plin. Nat. 36.102
; cf. Juv. 11.192
Existing remains of
In spite of its enormous size very
little now remains of the great circus, but the excavations of recent years
have brought to light some very interesting portions of the substructures;
and these, with the help of some drawings made in the 16th century, when a
considerable portion of the circus was still very complete, enable us to
form a fairly accurate notion of its plan and general construction.
Additional help is given by the well-preserved remains of the Circus of
Maxentius. (See below, p. 436.) Though quite different in ground-plan, yet
in the arrangement of the seats and in its external facade the Circus [p. 1.431]
Maximus once very closely resembled the Colosseum.
Step-like seats (gradus
) of white marble rose
in tiers one above another along the whole length of the cavea,
which formed two long parallel lines meeting in a
semicircle at one end--that near the Porta
--and closed at the other end (in the Forum Boarium) by the
or starting chambers surmounted by
the magistrates' pulvinar.
These rows of seats
were divided into blocks (cunei
) by passages or
), and each block had
its own staircases and means of exit and entrance (vomitoria
) quite independently of the other cunei.
These marble seats were supported on raking
vaults made of concrete, resting on piers formed of large blocks of tufa
undersides of the vaults were richly decorated with delicate stucco reliefs,
painted and gilt; and the stonework of the piers was covered with fine hard
stucco made of powdered marble, and ornamented with painting. From the
interior of the circus nothing but marble or gilt bronze was visible; the
stone and stucco being only used for the structures under the seats.
Externally the façade at the ends of the circus consisted of two
tiers of marble arches with engaged columns between them and a third story
unpierced by arches: each tier having its own entablature--a design similar
to that of the Colosseum, except that the latter has three orders of open
arches. The circus was far more magnificent in appearance, as the Colosseum
arcades are of travertine stone, while the whole façade of the
circus was of marble. Part of this exterior façade is fortunately
shown in the great oil painting in the Museum at Mantua, representing a
bird's-eye view of Rome as it was in the 15th century; it is published in
facsimile by De Rossi in his valuable work Piante di Roma anteriori
An interesting etching of the 16th century shows a large portion (now
destroyed) of the concrete vaults which supported the long line of the
seats. (See Du Perac, Vestigj
Rome, 1575.) Excavations made a few years ago under the
church of S. Anastasia, at the foot of the S.W. slopes of the Palatine, have
exposed a long series of chambers, which formed part of the immense
substructures of the circus. The chambers were used for lupanaria
refreshment stalls (Dionys. A. R. 7.72
and other purposes. These open on to a road, paved with silex
blocks, which appears to have run at the foot of the
Palatine along the whole N.E. side of the circus, and led from the Forum
Boarium to the Porta Capena. This substructure appears to be of the 1st
century B.C., and probably is part of the work
carried out by Julius Caesar.
Other buildings of early date, some even of republican times, face on to the
other side of this road, and show that an extensive group of structures once
covered the slopes between the circus and the upper part of the Palatine,
forming as it were a continuation of the circus up the sides of the hill.
(See Middleton, Ancient Rome in
1885, p. 287, and fig. 10 at
As the seats of the cavea
to a great extent
follow the natural slopes of the ground, it is evident that the
façade with its triple tier of orders could not have run all
along the length of the building, and would only be required at the two
ends, the carceres
and the semicircle, where
the building crosses the bottom of the valley.
Owing to their lofty position, the palace of Augustus and other imperial
buildings at the verge of the Palatine overlooking the Vallis Murcia must
have commanded a very complete though somewhat distant view of the races in
the circus. Some of the emperors built additions to their palaces to enable
them to see the circus games without leaving the summit of the Palatine. The
was built by Caligula for this purpose
(Suet. Cal. 18
); and extensive remains
still exist of a lofty pulvinar
which was added
to the palace of Sept. Severus by Heliogabalus and Alexander Severus.
of the circus faced on to the small
Forum Boarium, and what are possibly remains of the substructures of the
still exist close outside the apse
of S. Maria in Cosmedin. These remains consist of walls and arches of peperino
probably of the time of Julius Caesar, with later restorations in
brick-faced concrete. When the foundations for the gas-works were being dug,
remains of the spina
were found and destroyed:
no part of it is now visible. Throughout the Middle Ages the circus was used
as a quarry for stone and marble: great quantities of both were taken by
various popes to build the present basilica of St. Peter, and thus it
happens that so little now exists of this once magnificent and gigantic
Arrangement of the Circus.
--The drawing on the next page,
which shows the plan of the Circus of Maxentius, will also serve to
illustrate the arrangement of the Circus Maximus, from which it was
evidently copied, though on a smaller scale. At the foot of the cavea
with its tiers of seats (gradus, subsellia,
CC) a marble platform (podium
) was constructed, which ran along the long sides and
curved end, i. e. was co-extensive with the gradus
stood a row of marble thrones for
the use of the more dignified officials of Rome, both secular and religious.
These resembled the marble thrones in the great Dionysiac theatre at Athens,
and, like them, were inscribed with the title of the official who occupied
each. Possibly some of the thrones used in the circus were actually brought
with other spoils from Greece. Several marble thrones of pure Hellenic work
still exist in the churches of Rome, where they were used for episcopal
The finest of these is in the
apse of S. Pietro in Vincoli. At the front edge of the podium
was a screen of bronze cancelli,
richly decorated and gilt.
According to Livy (1.56
), the Roman senate from a
very early period possessed the privilege of having special seats in the
circus, but according to Suetonius (Suet. Cl.
) it was not. till the reign of Augustus that any reserved seats
existed. (Cf. Suet. Aug. 44
11). In any case Augustus arranged for a new
and complete classification of the spectators: he reserved the podium
for the senate and others of high rank (Juv. 2.147
), and allotted special seats for
soldiers, married plebeians, boys and their tutors (paedagogi puerorum
), women and other classes (cf. the
ed. Mommsen, 1883, p. 53). Till this
classification [p. 1.432]
the fact that men and women sat
together in the circus had been one of its peculiarities as a place of
amusement,--a fact often alluded to by Ovid (Ars Am.
) were used, especially by
ladies, on the hard marble seats, and footstools (scabella
Plan of the Circus of Maxentius.
Plan of the Circus of Maxentius., A A.
B. Porta Pompae, entrance in centre of the carceres.
C C. Gradus, seats of the spectators.
D. Tribunal Judicum.
E. Pulvinar, seat of the emperor.
F. Porta Triumphalis.
H H. Entrances between the carceres and gradus.
I I. Towers.
K. Alba linea, starting line.
L L. Metae.
M M. Spinae.
N. (See p. 434 a.）
sometimes introduced, though each gradus
was so low--only 13 to 14 inches high--that these can have
been of but little use: see Ovid, Ars Am.
A large number of interesting inscriptions have been found at different
times, which throw much light on the way in which the seats were
apportioned, in the circi and amphitheatres of Rome.2
divided into bands called maeniana
by the horizontal
there were probably three of these divisions
in the Circus Maximus, without counting
the gallery at the top. The lowest of these divisions was called maenianum primum,
and the highest was called
each of these bands of seats was
also divided by flights of steps into cunei,
which were numbered: each line of seats (gradus
) in each cuneus
numbered; and as there were no divisions to separate one place from the
next, each gradus
was measured, and allotment
was made to various classes of a fixed number of feet measured from one end.
Thus, for example, the space allotted to a collegium
of priests might be described as follows: “In the
in the 12th cuneus,
nine feet of gradus
4 and 5.” A passage in Ovid (Ov. Am.
, 19) seems to allude to some system of marking lines on the
to distinguish the space allowed for
each person--“cogit nos linea jungi,” but no allusion to this
method occurs in the inscriptions of the Fratres
In addition to the cavea
proper and its podium,
various state boxes were constructed of
marble, with columns and arches to support the entablature and roof of each.
One series of these (cubicula
) was over the carceres,
and appears to have been occupied by the giver of the
games (editor spectaculorum)
and his friends.
Another elevated box (the tribunal judicum,
was placed at one side for the umpires, who decided which chariot first
crossed the line chalked on the arena
of them: the phrase “ad cretam praesidebant” occurs in the
celebrated inscription of A.D. 80 which was found among the ruins of the
College of the Fratres Arvales,
a little way
outside the Porta Portuensis, Rome (see Henzen, Act. Fr. Arv.
A separate pulvinar
or state box (E) for the
imperial family, of great size and magnificence, was erected on the Palatine
side of the Circus Maximus (Suet. Cl. 4
interesting relief of the 3rd century A.D., found
at Foligno, represents the presiding magistrate or editor
of the games seated in his box over the carceres:
he holds in his hand a bag of money, which he is
about to give to the winning charioteer, who has driven up and is saluting
him from below (see Ann. Inst.
1863, tav. D, and 1870, tav. LM;
and cf. ib. for 1839, tav. iv.). A similar scene is represented on several
of the ivory consular diptychs of the 4th and 5th centuries (see Gori,
Thesaur. vet. dipt.,
Florence, 1759). The chief of these
is the celebrated leaf of a 4th century diptych in the Museo Quiriniano at
Brescia. On this the presiding Consul sits in his pulvinar:
in the arena
four quadrigae are racing round the spina,
which, like that on the Lyons mosaic, is a long tank of water. The way in
which the reins were looped round the body of the driver (auriga
) is clearly shown: each holds in his hand what seems
to be a combination of whip and goad: they all wear fasciae
round their legs and bodies. The horses' legs are
also closely bound round with thongs. A glass bowl of the 4th century found
at Trèves has a very minute representation of a circus engraved
in relief: the spina
is shown with the usual
ornaments, and each of the metae
stands on a
lofty pedestal with a door opening into it (see Fröhner, La
Paris, 1879, p. 96).
On the ivories the Consul, or other president of the games, is usually
represented in the pulvinar,
robed in the toga picta
and rich pallium.
some cases he holds in his hand the mappa
napkin with which he gave the signal for the start. Under the later empire,
pro-consuls and governors of provinces usually celebrated the commencement
of their office by providing circus games, and hence the frequent occurrence
of these subjects on consular diptychs. The starting end of the circus was
formed by a row of small vaulted chambers (carceres,
A A), each large enough to hold one chariot and its
horses. At the time of its greatest splendour there appear to have been 12
in the Circus Maximus (Cassiod.
3.51), but a smaller number was more usual. Each
had two doors--one behind, by which
the chariot entered, and one in front opening into the arena.
This latter doorway was closed by folding doors, with
open grilles (cancelli
) in the panels; these
were thrown open at the start by slaves, two to each doorway, who flung them
open simultaneously at the given signal.
In early times the race apparently began from the carceres,
but afterwards the actual start took place from a
line marked on the arena
in white chalk or lime
), and hence sometimes called
) (K). A similar white line for the finish was
drawn across the arena
opposite the judges' box
D), at a point unequally
distant from the two metae.
23) uses the metaphor “quasi decurso spatio
ad carceres a calce revocari,” and Horace (Hor. Ep. 1.16
) speaks of “mors ultima linea rerum” (see also
Cassiod. Var. Ep.
3.51). The starting line was drawn opposite
which were nearest to the carceres.
It is difficult to understand how the
white line for the finish could remain unobliterated by the rush and
trampling of the horses and chariots in their seven laps. There is however
no reason to think that a chalked rope was used, as has been suggested.
These lines are both shown distinctly on a large mosaic of the 3rd or 4th
century which was found at Lyons (see Artaud, Mosaïque
découv. à Lyon,
1806). Another fine mosaic
found at Barcelona gives a very detailed view of
Circus. (From the mosaic at Lyons.)
a circus race of quadrigae: the spina
is low and wide, and is covered with statues, shrines, altars, and columns,
as well as having the dolphins and eggs. Each horse has its name written by
it. (See Ann. Inst.
1863, tav. D.）
The accompanying figures, fragments of ancient
Doors of Carceres opened by slaves. (Relief at Velletri.)
reliefs, show some of the carceres
a circus. One of these (in the Museum at Velletri) represents the slaves
pulling the folding-doors open with ropes (ὕσπληγξ,
Dionys. A. R. 3.68
). The ropes are not
shown in the cut, though they are distinctly visible in the relief itself:
these slaves are probably the tentores,
the classes forming the familia quadrigaria.
must have been very difficult to be sure that these slaves would act with
perfect uniformity of movement; and this was probably the reason why the
later method of starting from a line marked on the arena
The other cut shows a similar set of carceres,
Doors of Carceres. (British Museum.)
but without the slaves. The doors necessarily opened outwards: it
is a blunder in the perspective that makes them open inwards in the second
of these reliefs. In both cases pilasters with terminal figures or Hermae
separate the doorways. The existing remains
of the carceres
in the circus at Bovillae, near
Rome, have engaged columns instead of Hermae.
received no light except what came in
through the open grille of the doors hence they are called cryptae
; Hor. Ep. 1.14
): their narrow openings are called fauces
(Cassiod. Var. Ep.
lofty state [p. 1.434]
boxes above the carceres
with their colonnades and arches towered to an
imposing height, and the whole structure was known as the oppidum,
from its resemblance to the gate and towers of a
city (Varr. L. L.
A first brass of Caracalla shows the external façade of the
and a sort of bird's-eye view
beyond of the interior of the circus, with its spina,
central obelisk, and aediculae,
and statues in quadrigae set at the top of the wall
surrounding the cavea.
It will be seen from the
typical plan given above that the carceres
A) are slightly curved on plan, and are constructed on a segmental line, the
centre of which is struck from a point midway (N) between the line of the
Part of the Circus Maximus shown on fragments of the Marble Plan
of Rome. |
A. Spina. B. Meta. C. Editor's pulvinar. D. External
arcade. E. Stairs. F. Arena. G. Seats.
side of the cavea.
This plan was
adopted in order that the chariots in all the carceres
might have as nearly as possible a portion of equal
advantage at the start. The special carcer
occupied by each chariot was fixed on by drawing lots.
(back-bone, Cassiod. Var.
3.51) was a long low wall or rather plat-form of marble (M M),
set in the middle of the arena
to separate the
going and returning course of the racers. The line of the spina
is not parallel to that of the cavea,
but is slightly inclined so as to leave a wider space
at K than that near the semicircular end. The object of this seems to have
been that the chariots might have more space where they were crowded
together at the start than at other points where some would have begun to
Various mosaics and reliefs show the spins
covered with a series of statues and ornamental structures, such as
obelisks, small aediculae
or shrines, columns
surmounted by statues, altars, trophies, and fountains. In addition to these
were two sets of seven marble eggs (ova
each end of the spina
--each set mounted on a
to which access was given by a
ladder (Liv. 41.27
). One of these eggs was
removed after each lap (curriculum
) was run
(Varr. Re Rust.
1.2, 11, and Cassiod.
3.51), there being usually seven laps to each
). According to Livy (41.27
), these ova
were first set on the spina
by the censors in
174 B.C.; but Dio Cassius (49.43) attributes their
introduction to Agrippa, in the reign of Angustus.
Games of the Circus on Roman lamp. (British Museum; from Birch,
Ancient Pottery, p. 516.)
He is, however, probably confusing them with another series of
ornaments--seven dolphins, which were set on a similar aedicula
and served a similar purpose (Juv. 6.590
). These [p. 1.435]
dolphins must have
been too heavy to take down, and were probably merely moved in some way to
indicate the number of laps. In the first cut on the preceding page, from a
Florentine gem, the spina,
with the metae,
dolphins, and other ornaments, and the four
quadrigae (the usual number, see p. 438 a
front, are represented. A very similar representation of the circus is given
in a gem found at Cilurnum (Chesters in Northumberland) in 1882. It is
engraved in Hodgkin‘s Letters of Cassiodorus,
231. The second cut on the preceding page, from a Roman lamp, exhibits four
quadrigae and the spina,
with the ova,
the obelisk, the metae,
from which the
chariots have started, and the seats of the spectators.
In some ancient representations, as in the Lyons mosaic, the dolphins form
fountains--waterspouting from the mouth of each fish. This shows that they
could not have been wholly removed. The eggs had some sacred allusion to the
Dioscuri, and the dolphins to Neptune (or Consus),--deities who were the
patrons of horses and racing (Tert. de Spect.
8). The Lyons
mosaic, which no doubt represents the local circus, has what appears to have
been a common form of spina,
consisting of a
long tank of water instead of the marble podium:
statues and other ornaments stand on pedestals in the
Race in the Circus, showing the Spina, with the Dolphins, Obelisk,
and Ova. (Ancient relief.)
sarcophagi in the Sala della Biga
in the Vatican
have reliefs which represent a chariot race of Cupids in the Circus Maximus,
and show clearly the spina
and its ornaments,
among which are statues of Apollo Helios, Cybele, Victory, a quadriga and an
obelisk, as well as the eggs and dolphins. The metae
are shown at each end: a similar relief is given in the
(L L), the goals, were three tall
conical objects (Ov. Met. 10.106
Metae. (British Museum.)
1, 5) set on a semicircular plinth, at a short distance from each end of the
From the time of Claudius, they were
of gilt bronze decorated with bands in relief, as is shown in the annexed
cut from a relief in the British Museum. These formed the turning-points for
the chariots. The primae metae
are not, as
might be expected, the ones nearest to the start, but those near the
semicircular end of the circus, round which the chariots made their first
turn. Tertullian (de Spect.
5.8) mentions that the ancient altar of Consus in the Circus Maximus was
ad primas metas;
it appears to have been in
and was only exposed to view during
the progress of the games.
Remains of the spina,
stripped of all its rich
marble decorations, exist in the Circus of Maxentius (Nibby, Circo
detto di Caracalla,
Rome, 1825), at Vienne in France
1861, p. 143), and in the circus of Carthage
(Falbe, L'emplacement de Carthage,
or sandy floor of the circus, like
that of the Colosseum, was on some occasions strewn with glittering
particles of mica, red lead, or perfumes, by the ostentatious extravagance
of some of the emperors (Suet. Cal. 18
; Plin. Nat. 33.90
, 36.162). That part of the
which formed the course for the
chariots was known as the spatium
: cf. Verg. G.
; Cic. Sen.
23, 83). The space near the carceres
was known as the circus
while that on each side of the spina
was the circus interior
Before the construction of amphitheatres in Rome, the Circus Maximus was used
for gladiatorial fights with wild beasts and other scenes of butchery. The
Ancyraean inscription records that Augustus had no less than 3500 wild
beasts slaughtered in the circus, forum, and amphitheatre, in twenty-six
In order to keep the beasts from reaching the [p. 1.436]
spectators on the cavea,
constructed a canal (euripus
) ten feet wide and
ten feet deep all round the arena:
supplied by a stream which still runs through the site of the circus, near
the modern Via de' Cerchi (Suet. Jul. 39
After the erection of the amphitheatre of Statilius Taurus in the reign of
Augustus, the Circus Maximus appears to have been no longer used for fights
with beasts, and the euripus
filled up by Nero (Plin. Nat. 8.21
was, however, again introduced in later times (Lamprid.
Entrances to the Circus.
--The principal doorway was at B (see
plan) in the middle of the carceres:
) before the games entered
through this door, which was therefore called the Porta
At the opposite end of the circus (F) was the Porta Triumphalis,
through which the winning
chariots left the arena.
This door in the
curved end of the Circus Maximus, together with the primae metae
and part of the spina,
are shown on fragments of the marble plan of Rome (Jordan,
For. Urb. Rom.
Pl. viii.). The position of the Porta Libitinensis,
through which the bodies of the
dead were carried out, is uncertain (Lamprid. Comm.
The other Circi of Rome.
--Little or no remains now exist above
ground of the other great circi of Rome. Next in importance to the Circus
Maximus was the Circus Flaminius,
its name to the Campus Flaminius,
and architecturally very splendid portion of the Campus
This circus was founded by and called after the
Censor C. Flaminius Nepos, who was killed at Lake Trasimenus in 217 B.C.
Extensive remains of its cavea
were found in the 16th century on the site of
the Palazzo Mattei. The tower now called Citrangole
position of the metae
at one end of the
and hence it was formerly known as
the Torre metangole.
In early mediaeval times the long open
of the Circus
was used as a rope-walk; and hence the neighbouring
church is called S. Catarina dei funari.
Descriptions of what
was found in the 16th century are given by the contemporary antiquaries
Fulvio and Ligorio: these are quoted by Nibby in his edition of Nardini's
1819, vol. iii. p. 21.
The Circus of Caligula and Nero
stood in the Horti Agrippinae,
at the foot of the Vatican hill
(Suet. Cl. 21
; Plin. Nat. 36.74
). Its carceres
were towards the hill: part of its site is now occupied by the great
sacristy of St. Peter's. The enormous obelisk which now stands in the Piazza
of St. Peter's once stood on the spina,
remained in situ
till it was removed to its
present position by the architect Fontana in the reign of Sixtus V. This is
the only obelisk in Rome that has never been thrown down. An interesting and
well-illustrated account of its removal is given by Fontana,
Trasportazione dell' Obelisco Vaticano,
Rome, 1590. No
traces of this circus are now visible.
The Circus of Hadrian
lay to the north-west of his mausoleum,
in the Campus Vaticanus.
No remains are now
visible, but part of its substructures were excavated in 1743 (see
Atti della Pontif. Accad.
The extensive remains round the Piazza Navona (Agonale) in the Campus Martius
have often been mistaken for those of a circus; but they really belong to
the stadium which was founded by Domitian (Suet. Dom.
) and restored by Alexander Severus, under the name of the
The Circus of Maxentius4
on the Via Appia, two miles from the walls of Rome, is sufficiently
well preserved to show its original form, though it is completely stripped
of its marble seats, columns, and other rich decorations. Till 1825 it was
thought to be a circus built by Caracalla, but three inscriptions which were
then found showed that it was dedicated in A.D. 311 to the memory of
Romulus, who died in A.D. 309, by his father Maxentius. The plan of this
circus is shown above (p. 432): the greater part of the external wall is
still standing, but the raking concrete vaults which supported the seats
have mostly fallen in. The walls are of concrete faced with “opus
mixtum;” that is, with alternate courses of brick and small
blocks of tufa. A number of large amphorae are imbedded in the concrete of
the vaults and upper part of the walls, in order to diminish the weight. The
lofty wall of the oppidum
is very perfect, and
the concrete core of the spina
exists along its
whole length, together with the foundations of the metae
at each end. The obelisk which once stood in the centre of
is now in the Piazza Navona. An early
chronicle, printed. by Roncalli (Chron. Vet.
vol. ii. col.
248), records the building of this circus by Maxentius. It is described as
being ad catacumbas,
from the catacombs of S.
Sebastian, S. Callixtus, and others which are near its site.
The Circus of Sallust,
called after the historian Sallust, is
supposed to have existed in the valley between the Quirinal and Pincian
hills--a space which was occupied by the house and gardens, of Sallust
), which, soon after the historian's
death, became an imperial residence. The Porticus,
a thousand yards long, in which Aurelian is said to
have been in the habit of riding, and which is mentioned as being in the
estate of Sallust (Vopisc. Aurelian.
49), was possibly part
of this circus. The obelisk which now stands at the top of the
Trinità de' Monti steps was found at this place, and may once
have stood on the spina.
The temple of Venus
Erycina stood in these gardens, and Livy (30.38
states that it was once proposed to hold the games in honour of Apollo by
this temple, a fact which seems to add to the probability of a circus having
existed on this site. In spite, however, of this evidence, the existence of
the circus of Sallust is by no means certain. Both the Circus Maximus and
the Circus Flaminius were liable to be flooded during inundations of the
Tiber; and then other places had to be used for circus games. Those in
honour of Mars, usually held in the Circus Flaminius, were during floods
celebrated in the Campus Martialis on the Caelian hill. The existing archway
of Dolabella and Silanus, A.D. 10, was probably one of the gates into this
enclosure. [p. 1.437]
THE CIRCUS GAMES.--The games in the circus
) opened with a grand
), which gathered on the
Capitoline hill, passed down the Clivus Capitolinus into the Forum, along
the Sacra Via, then branched off along the Vicus Tuscus, and so through the
Velabrum into the Forum Boarium, where was the entrance into the circus at
the Porta Pompae.
It then passed once round the
pausing to offer sacrifices and to
salute the imperial pulvinar.
procession which opens a modern bull-fight in Spain bears much resemblance
to the Roman pompa circensis:
it winds round the
and then pauses to salute the
presiding official, who gives the signal to begin by throwing a key to the
The procession was headed by the
presiding magistrate or in some cases by the emperor himself, in a biga
the dress and insignia of a triumphant general: probably a survival from the
time when the ludi circenses
were celebrated in
honour of victorious generals. A gold wreath was held over his head by a
slave (Liv. 5.14
; and Dionys. A. R. 7.72
). Next came a crowd of
noble citizens on foot and on horseback: then the chariots and horsemen who
were to take part in the games, accompanied by musicians. Next in order came
priests, grouped in their various collegia,
bearers of holy water, incense and sacrificial implements, and statues of
deities in chariots (tensae
) drawn by horses,
mules, or elephants, or else borne in litters (fercula
) on men's shoulders, and attended by noble Roman youths
(Dionys. A. R. 7.72
). Statues in
litters and in a car drawn by four elephants are shown in an ancient
sarcophagus relief figured in Ann. Inst.
1839, tav. o. The
games mainly consisted of chariot-races; the cars (currus
) being drawn by various numbers of horses, from two up to
ten, and called bigae, trigae, quadrigae, sejuges,
and so on according to the number attached to each
car. In early times bigae
were mostly used; but under the later
empire wonderful skill was displayed by some of the drivers in managing a
large number of horses. In a biga
were under a yoke (jugum
), and were called
in chariots with four or more
horses, only the two in the middle were yoked; those at the sides were
merely attached by traces (funes
), and were
therefore called equi funales.
The chariots were light strctures of wood Abound with bronze, high in front
and open behind. The Sala delia Biga
Vatican is so named from an ancient (restored) marble chariot, possibly a
votive offering for victory in the circus. [CURRUS
--The drivers (aurigae
usually slaves or men of low class. They wore a short tunic laced round the
body with leathern thongs (fasciae
thongs bound their thighs. The cut in the next column shows the statue of an
no doubt some distinguished winner;
it is now in the Vatican by the marble biga:
the arms and legs have been restored, as well as the head. That shown in the
cut does not belong to it. The aurigae
low close-fitting cap--not a bronze helmet. Though belonging to a despised
class, the favourite aurigae
in the degraded
times of the empire were much honoured and fêted, and their
society was sought after by the dissolute Roman youth. Very great skill,
courage, and coolness were required to guide a chariot successfully round
the sharp turns of the metae,
among a jostling
crowd of other horses and chariots, especially as each driver tried to upset
his rivals. Constant accidents must have happened: almost every ancient
representation of a circus race shows one or more chariots overturned: and
this was specially dangerous, as the auriga
drove with the reins looped round his waist. That he might have a chance of
cutting himself free in case of accident, he wore a curved knife (falx
) stuck in his waist--bands: this is shown in
the Vatican statue here given. No doubt one of the chief attractions of the
circus to the brutal Romans must have been the sight of the crushed 1! limbs
of the unfortunate drivers among the struggling hoofs of his fallen horses,
or under the wheels of a luckier rival. In spite of these dangers some
drivers lived to win an enormous number of victories. The monument of the
A.D. 150) records that he defeated
Scorpus, the winner of 2048
Statue of Auriga, driver. (In the Vatican.)
races; Pomp. Musclosus, the winner of 3,559; and Pomp.
Epaphroditus, who had won 1467 times. Diocles himself, when he retired from
his profession at the age of 42, had won 3000 races of bigae,
and 1462 with more than two horses. The victorious
received a prize of money; or in
some cases, if a slave, he won his freedom. The prize was sometimes called
5.538; cf. St. Paul, 1 Cor. 9.24) ; and the giver
of the prize was known as the brabeuta
(Suet. Nero 53
). The winners of important races,
on which there was heavy betting, sometimes received enormous sums of money
from patrons who had backed them (Juv. 7.113
; Suet. Cl.
; Capitol. Ver.
6). Martial (10.74
) mentions one named
Scorpus, who, in the reign of Domitian, won no less than fifty purses of
gold in one hour's racing. M. Renan in November 1878 read before the
Société des Inscriptions in Paris a paper on an
interesting inscription found in Rome, which recorded that a Moorish
named Crescens had during ten years
(A.D. 115-124) won 1,556,346 sesterces with four horses called Circus, Acceptus, Delicatus,
Under the empire wealthy Roman citizens were not
ashamed to act the part of aurigae,
after Caligula and Nero had set the example.
--The horses used for racing [p. 1.438]
purposes were mostly bred in Spain, Sicily, Mauritania,
Northern Greece, and, in late times, in Cappadocia. No expense or trouble
was spared in their training, and the Romans were careful not to spoil the
horse (in the way the modern English racer is ruined) by using it too soon.
As a rule the Roman racer was not broken in till the age of three, nor
allowed to run in a race till five. Consequently some of the horses won a
surprising number of victories. A horse which had won 100 races was called
in the inscription of Diocles
a horse called Tuscus is mentioned as the winner of 429 races: a horse
belonging to Diocles himself was a ducenarius.
Like the modern Romans, the ancients seem to have disfigured their horses by
branding on the flank the initial or badge of the owner: this is shown on
several mosaic pavements. Entire horses were used, and apparently but few
mares were trained for races. Almost all the names of racehorses which exist
in mosaic pictures or in inscriptions are those of males (see
Friedländer, De nominibus equorum circensium,
The public training-stables of Rome consisted of six or more groups of
buildings in Regio IX.
in the Campus Martins,
and near the Circus Flaminius
Topogr. der Stadt Rom,
2.554). In 1878, in the village of
Oued-Atmenia in Algeria, some elaborate mosaic pavements were found in the
Villa of Pompeianus, Proconsul of Africa under Honorius, who appears to have
been a great breeder of Moorish horses for the circus. Perspective views of
the training-stables are represented on these mosaics, and other pictures
show the racers in their stalls, carefully clothed from head to foot. The
name of each horse is placed by it, e.g. Altus, Pullentianus,
&c., and an auriga
is also depicted.
Large coloured drawings of these by M. Martin were exhibited in Paris in
1878, and afterwards published by the Soc. Archéol. de
Constantine, 1879. The training-stables seem to have been centres of
intrigue and villany of all kinds; bribes were given, and horses were
“hocussed.” Caligula, who spent much of his time in the
stables of his favourite faction,
is said to have
poisoned the cleverest drivers of his rivals' horses (see D. C. 59.5
Large sums of money were lost and won on the races (sponsio,
, with Mayor's note; Mart. 11.1
) were sold with lists of
the horses and names of the drivers: and these were also given in the
advertisements of the games which were painted in large letters on
conspicuous walls: examples of these have been found at Pompeii. In addition
to the chariots and their drivers, men on horseback appear to have galloped
with the racers, exciting them with shouts: after the race these jubilatores,
as they were called, seem to have
called out the name of the winner. They are shown on the great mosaic from
Lyons and elsewhere (see also the cut representing the metae, p. 435): in
some cases these attendants were on foot (cursores).
In early times only four chariots ran in each race (missus
), one for each colour (see below): in later times eight or
even ten chariots started together. The starting signal was given by the
presiding magistrate, who waved a mappa
; Mart. 12.29
; Suet. Nero 22
; Quint 1.5.57); and hence Juvenal
(11.193) calls the circus games spectacula
Seven laps or circuits (curricula
) of the spina
have been the usual length of each missus
Varro, quoted by Aul. Gel. 3.10
). On one occasion
Domitian reduced the number of laps to five in order to get 100 missus
into one day. In early times very few races
were run in a day; even in the time of Julius Caesar they did not usually
exceed ten or twelve. Caligula increased the number to twenty, or, on very
grand occasions, twenty-four; but in later times, a long succession of races
were run throughout the whole day from sunrise to sunset.
Intervals between sets of races were filled up by exhibitions of
rope-dancing, tumbling, and feats of horsemanship, very like those of a
modern circus. [DESULTOR
In addition to these races and games, the young Romans sometimes held reviews
and assaults of arms (armaturae
) in the Circus
Maximus: these were sometimes on foot (armaturae
), and sometimes on horseback (equestres
). One variety of this was called the Ludus Trojae
; Suet. Aug. 43
, and Nero,
7). Various other entertainments, such as
feasts, were sometimes given in the circus (Stat.
); or money was
flung among a crowd in the arena.
occasion Probus planted and stocked an artificial forest with wild animals
and birds in the Circus Maximus, and finally let in the people to kill and
carry off what they could (Vopiscus, Prob.
were companies or organisations of
contractors who provided horses, drivers, and all other requisites for the
games. The factio
system was not developed till
the time of the empire; under the republic a few citizens of knightly rank
provided all the requisites. The giver of the entertainment (editor spectaculorum
) only found the money, the
whole business being managed by the factiones.
was distinguished by a colour,
which was worn by the aurigae
performers in the ludi.
At first there were
only two factiones,
distinguished by the
colours red and white, russata
next blue (veneta
was added, probably in the time of Augustus; and a fourth, green (prasina
), came in soon after (Juv. 11.196
, and Tertull. de Spect.
Domitian added purple and gold--purpureus et auratus
(Suet. Dom. 7
). Under the
later empire each factio
consisted of a sort of
carefully organised and ranked
in classes of every kind, such as the methodical and bureaucratic Romans
delighted in. At the head of each was a factionis
and under him were employés, slaves, and
artisans of every sort required for the whole management of the ludi.
The number and classes of a familia quadrigaria
(a division of a factio
) are given in an ancient inscription published by
Gruter, 336-339. The familia
consists of 25
--that is, at least 250 people,
who are classified as follows: aurigae,
of four-horse chariots; conditores
grooms and helpers; sellarii,
and [p. 1.439]doctores,
perhaps trainers and instructors; viatores,
farm servants to supply fodder; tentores,
probably the men who pulled the ropes to open the
doors of the carceres; sparsores,
probably watered the dry arena
clouds of dust from rising, and also brought water to refresh the men and
The rivalry between the different colours of the factions and the heavy
betting on the races often led to scenes of riot and bloodshed. Even in Rome
faction fights frequently took place towards the declining period of the
empire, but it was not till after the transference of the Roman capital to
Constantinople that these disturbances reached their highest pitch. In the
6th century the great circus at Constantinople was frequently the scene of
the most hideous slaughter, and on one occasion in the reign of Justinian
the tumult was not suppressed till about 30,000 of the rioters had been
killed (see Gibbon, Decline and Fall,
cap. xl.). A great part
of this circus is still well preserved, though stripped of all its rich
marble linings and columns.
For the various festivals that were celebrated by circus games, see the
separate articles on the CEREALIA, FLORALIA, CONSUALIA,
EQUIRIA, and on the LUDI
For further information the reader should consult Tertullian, de Spectaculis;
Venice, 1600; Bulengerus, de Circo Romano,
printed by Graevius,
Thesaur. Ant. Rom.
ix. Lyons, 1694; Bianconi,
Descrizione dei Cerchi,
Rome, 1789; Bianchini,
Circi Max. iconographia,
Rome, 1828; Canina, Roma Antica,
vol. i., Rome, 1830; Nibby,
Circo detto di Caracalla,
Rome, 1825; Magnin,
Origines du Théâtre,
Hodgkin, Letters of Cassiodorus,
London, 1886; and articles
in the Ann. Inst. Arch. Rom.
for 1839, 1863, and 1870.