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CIRCUS 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. L. 5.153.)

The Circus Maximus in Rome was for long the only building of the kind, and appears to have been the model from which all later circi 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 Consualia or games in honour of the Latin deity Consus, an equestrian Neptune, in the vallis Murcia,1 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. 8.635, and Servius' note; V. Max. 2.4.3.) 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 round the walls of the primitive Roma Quadrata. 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 erected.

Wooden seats (fori) for the people are said to have been first constructed by Tarquinius Priscus (Liv. 1.35; 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 (8.20, 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. vol. ii. col. 244.) Dionysius (3.68), who 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. 10); and Augustus added a magnificent marble pulvinar or imperial box, and placed in the centre of the spina the Egyptian obelisk which now stands in the Piazza del Popolo (Suet. Aug. 43-5; Plin. Nat. 36.71). 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 wooden metae by new ones of gilt bronze (Tac. Ann. 6.45 ; Suet. Cl. 21). 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 were 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. 51). Still further accommodation was added by Constantine ; and Constantius set on the spina a second obelisk, which his father had transported from Heliopolis. (Aur. Vic. Caes. 40; Amm. 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. 11.192-201).

Existing remains of the Circus Maximus.-- 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 Capena--and closed at the other end (in the Forum Boarium) by the carceres or starting chambers surmounted by the magistrates' pulvinar. These rows of seats were divided into blocks (cunei) by passages or gangways (praecinctiones), 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 or peperino. The 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 al XVImo. Secolo, Rome, 1879. An interesting etching of the 16th century shows a large portion (now destroyed) of the concrete vaults which supported the long line of the cavea seats. (See Du Perac, Vestigj di Roma, 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 (Juv. 3.65), for 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 p. 83.)

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 Domus Gelotiana 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.

The carceres of the circus faced on to the small Forum Boarium, and what are possibly remains of the substructures of the carceres still exist close outside the apse of S. Maria in Cosmedin. These remains consist of walls and arches of peperino and travertine, 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 structure.

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 or subsellia. On this podium, 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 cathedrae. 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. 21) it was not. till the reign of Augustus that any reserved seats existed. (Cf. Suet. Aug. 44; Ner. 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 Mon. Ancyranum, 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. 1.96). Cushions (pulvini) were used, especially by ladies, on the hard marble seats, and footstools (scabella) were

Plan of the Circus of Maxentius. Plan of the Circus of Maxentius., A A. Carceres.

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. 1.160-2.

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 The cavea was divided into bands called maeniana by the horizontal passages, ambulacra or praecinctiones: there were probably three of these divisions or maeniana 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 summum: 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 was also 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 1st maenianum, in the 12th cuneus, nine feet of gradus 4 and 5.” A passage in Ovid (Ov. Am. 3.2, 19) seems to allude to some system of marking lines on the gradus 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 Arvales.

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 or suggestus) 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, D) was placed at one side for the umpires, who decided which chariot first crossed the line chalked on the arena in front 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. p. 37).

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). An 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 below 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 Verrerie antique, Paris, 1879, p. 96).

On the ivories the Consul, or other president of the games, is usually represented in the pulvinar, magnificently robed in the toga picta [p. 1.433]and rich pallium. In some cases he holds in his hand the mappa or 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 carceres in the Circus Maximus (Cassiod. Var. Ep. 3.51), but a smaller number was more usual. Each carcer 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 (alba linea), and hence sometimes called creta (Senec. Ep. 108) or calx (Cic. de Am. 27) (K). A similar white line for the finish was drawn across the arena opposite the judges' box (tribunal judicum, D), at a point unequally distant from the two metae. Thus Cicero (Senec. 23) uses the metaphor “quasi decurso spatio ad carceres a calce revocari,” and Horace (Hor. Ep. 1.16, 79) speaks of “mors ultima linea rerum” (see also Cassiod. Var. Ep. 3.51). The starting line was drawn opposite the metae 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 of 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, one of the classes forming the familia quadrigaria. It 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 was introduced.

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.

Each career received no light except what came in through the open grille of the doors hence they are called cryptae (Sidon. Carm. 23.319) and claustra (Stat. Theb. 6.399; Hor. Ep. 1.14, 9): their narrow openings are called fauces (Cassiod. Var. Ep. 3.51). The 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. 5.153).

A first brass of Caracalla shows the external façade of the oppidum, 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 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 spina and 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.

The spina (back-bone, Cassiod. Var. Ep. 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 tail off.

Various mosaics and reliefs show the spins (M M) 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) at each end of the spina--each set mounted on a small aedicula, 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. Var. Ep. 3.51), there being usually seven laps to each race (missus). 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) in 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, p. 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, the carceres 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 water. Two

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 above cut.3

The metae (L L), the goals, were three tall conical objects (Ov. Met. 10.106; Hor. Carm. i.

Metae. (British Museum.)

1, 5) set on a semicircular plinth, at a short distance from each end of the spina. 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 the spina, 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 (Bull. Inst. 1861, p. 143), and in the circus of Carthage (Falbe, L'emplacement de Carthage, p. 40).

The arena 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 arena which formed the course for the chariots was known as the spatium (Juv. 6.582: cf. Verg. G. 1.513, 3.203; Cic. Sen. 23, 83). The space near the carceres was known as the circus primus, while that on each side of the spina was the circus interior (Varr. L. L. 5.154).

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 exhibitions.

In order to keep the beasts from reaching the [p. 1.436]spectators on the cavea, Julius Caesar constructed a canal (euripus) ten feet wide and ten feet deep all round the arena: this was 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 was therefore filled up by Nero (Plin. Nat. 8.21). It was, however, again introduced in later times (Lamprid. Heliog. 23).

Entrances to the Circus.--The principal doorway was at B (see plan) in the middle of the carceres: the procession (pompa) before the games entered through this door, which was therefore called the Porta Pompae. 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. 16).

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, which gave its name to the Campus Flaminius, an important and architecturally very splendid portion of the Campus Martius. 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 and spina were found in the 16th century on the site of the Palazzo Mattei. The tower now called Citrangole marks the position of the metae at one end of the spina: and hence it was formerly known as the Torre metangole. In early mediaeval times the long open arena of the Circus Flaminius 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 Roma Antica, 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, and 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. for 1839).

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. 5) and restored by Alexander Severus, under the name of the Stadium Alexandrinum (Hist. Aug. Sev. Alex. 24).

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 the spina 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 (Horti Sallustiani), 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 (Ludi Circenses) opened with a grand procession (pompa), 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 spina, pausing to offer sacrifices and to salute the imperial pulvinar. The gorgeous procession which opens a modern bull-fight in Spain bears much resemblance to the Roman pompa circensis: it winds round the arena, and then pauses to salute the presiding official, who gives the signal to begin by throwing a key to the chief espada. The procession was headed by the presiding magistrate or in some cases by the emperor himself, in a biga or quadriga, wearing 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; Juv. 10.35-46; 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, septemjuges, and so on according to the number attached to each car. In early times bigae and quadrigae 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 both horses were under a yoke (jugum), and were called equi jugales: 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 in the Vatican is so named from an ancient (restored) marble chariot, possibly a votive offering for victory in the circus. [CURRUS]

Aurigae.--The drivers (aurigae or agitatores) were usually slaves or men of low class. They wore a short tunic laced round the body with leathern thongs (fasciae): other thongs bound their thighs. The cut in the next column shows the statue of an auriga, 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 wore a 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 auriga Diocles5 (circ. 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 auriga received a prize of money; or in some cases, if a slave, he won his freedom. The prize was sometimes called the brabeum or bravium (βραβεῖον, Prud. Peristeph. 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, 243; Suet. Cl. 21; Capitol. Ver. 6). Martial (10.74, 5) 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 auriga named Crescens had during ten years (A.D. 115-124) won 1,556,346 sesterces with four horses called Circus, Acceptus, Delicatus, and Cotynus. Under the empire wealthy Roman citizens were not ashamed to act the part of aurigae, especially after Caligula and Nero had set the example.

Racehorses.--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 centenarius: 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, Königsberg, 1875).

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 (see Jordan, 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, Delicatus, Polydoxus, &c., and an auriga named Cresconius 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 and 14).

Large sums of money were lost and won on the races (sponsio, “betting,” Juv. 11.202, with Mayor's note; Mart. 11.1, 15). Race-cards (libelli) 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 (Liv. 8.40, 2, 45.1, 6; Mart. 12.29, 9; Suet. Nero 22; Quint 1.5.57); and hence Juvenal (11.193) calls the circus games spectacula mappae. Seven laps or circuits (curricula) of the spina appear to have been the usual length of each missus (see 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 pedestres), and sometimes on horseback (equestres). One variety of this was called the Ludus Trojae (Tac. Ann. 11.11; Suet. Aug. 43, and Nero, 7). Various other entertainments, such as feasts, were sometimes given in the circus (Stat. Silv. 1.6, 28); or money was flung among a crowd in the arena. On one 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. 19).

The Factiones 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. Each factio was distinguished by a colour, which was worn by the aurigae and other performers in the ludi. At first there were only two factiones, distinguished by the colours red and white, russata and albata; 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. 9). Lastly, Domitian added purple and gold--purpureus et auratus pannus (Suet. Dom. 7). Under the later empire each factio consisted of a sort of collegium, 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 dominus, 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 decuriones,--that is, at least 250 people, who are classified as follows: aurigae, agitatores, and quadrigarii, drivers of four-horse chariots; conditores and succonditores, grooms and helpers; sellarii, saddlers; sutores, cobblers; sarcinatores, tailors; margaritarii, pearl-embroiderers; medici, surgeons; magistri and [p. 1.439]doctores, perhaps trainers and instructors; viatores, messengers; vilici, farm servants to supply fodder; tentores, probably the men who pulled the ropes to open the doors of the carceres; sparsores, water-men: these probably watered the dry arena to prevent clouds of dust from rising, and also brought water to refresh the men and horses.

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; Panvinius, de Ludis Circensibus, 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, Paris, 1838; Hodgkin, Letters of Cassiodorus, London, 1886; and articles in the Ann. Inst. Arch. Rom. for 1839, 1863, and 1870.

[J.H.M] [W.S]

1 According to Varro (L. L. 5.154) and Pliny (Plin. Nat. 15.121), its name was derived from an altar to the Dea Murcia (Venus), so named from the myrtle plants which grew there. Different derivations are given by other writers.

2 C. I. L. vi. part i. p. 506; Orelli, 3065; Henzen, Acta Fratr. Arval., Berlin, 1874; Hubner, Iscrizioni sui sedili; and Lanciani, Iscriz. d. Anfit. Flav., Rome, 1884. In these inscriptions the form maenianus occurs.

3 See also a fine medallion of Gordianus III. (Grueber, Roman Medal. 1874, 41.4.)

4 See Nibby, Circo detto di Caracalla, Rome, 1825; and Canina, Rom. Ant. i. tav. 137.

5 See Gruter, Inscr. 337; and Friedländer, Sittengesch. Roms, 2. Anhang, iii. p. 492.

hide References (45 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (45):
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 20
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 40
    • Ovid, Metamorphoses, 10.106
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 8.635
    • Vergil, Georgics, 3.203
    • Vergil, Georgics, 1.513
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 44
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 5
    • Suetonius, Caligula, 18
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 21
    • Suetonius, Divus Claudius, 4
    • Suetonius, Divus Julius, 39
    • Suetonius, Nero, 22
    • Suetonius, Nero, 53
    • Ovid, Amores, 3.2
    • Tacitus, Annales, 11.11
    • Tacitus, Annales, 12.24
    • Tacitus, Annales, 6.45
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 43
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 5
    • Suetonius, Domitianus, 7
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 36.71
    • Pliny the Elder, Naturalis Historia, 8.21
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 1
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 45, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 41, 27
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 8, 2
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 30, 38
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 5, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 35
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 1, 56
    • Cicero, De Amicitia, 27
    • Gellius, Noctes Atticae, 3.10
    • Statius, Thebias, 6
    • Statius, Silvae, 1.6
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.5
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 10.74
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.1
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 11.15
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.29
    • Martial, Epigrammata, 12.9
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.14
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.16
    • Horace, Epistulae, 1.9
    • Valerius Maximus, Facta et Dicta Memorabilia, 2.4.3
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