Ancient Roman Circuses Posted by on Mar 12, 2011 in Uncategorized

The modern usage for the term circus is not that different from the ancient Roman usage for the word circus. Like the ancient Roman circuses, modern circuses provide various entertainments for the audience’s pleasure. However ancient Roman circuses were slightly different in that the entertainment was not suitable for young children. There would often be dangerous horse and chariot races that sometimes ended in severe casualties, and some of the intermediate acts between the races were often bawdy and lewd.

The Circus of Maxentius is in ruins, but despite being in ruins, it is one of the better preserved circuses in Italy. Although the gates no longer exist anymore, in its heyday the gates would have been lifted to allow the charioteers to race. Nearby the Circus of Maxentius are tombs of various high ranking men.  Scholars have argued that the games held in the Circus of Maxentius were funerary games to honor the dead.


The Circus Maximus in Rome was one of the largest circuses in Rome. It is also one of the oldest and dates back to the time of the Roman monarchy. Almost all of the seating has disappeared, but concerts are still held at the Circus Maximus. There are still traces of the spina, which was a longitudinal wall that separated the two sides of the racing track. We have some idea of what the Circus Maximus looked like from the depiction of the Circus on coins from that period.


The Circus Maximus in Spain should not be confused with the Circus Maximus in Rome. The Circus Maximus of Spain was modeled after the Circus Maximus in Rome. The Circus Maximus of Spain still has the remains of the triumphal gate (porta triumphalis), which is separate from the porta pompae or the main entrance. As a result, the Circus Maximus is one of the better preserved circuses outside of the Roman capital.


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