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Roman Architecture - Circuses

( Originally Published 1921 )



The plan of a Roman circus, like that of a Greek hippodrome, was probably based upon the Greek stadion, which was, however, principally used for foot races and athletic sports, and one usually formed part of the Roman therm. The Roman circus was designed for chariot and horse races.

The Circus Maximus, Rome (p. 172 B, C, D), so called from its great size, was rebuilt by Julius Caesar in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine Hills, but has long since disappeared. It was restored by Augustus, and it is on record that no less than 3,500 beasts were killed in the circus in his reign when, as the Colosseum was not yet built, it served as an amphitheatre. Later emperors, such as Vespasian, Titus, and Hadrian, enriched it with costly marbles, mosaics, columns, and statues, and it must have been one of the most magnificent buildings of its time. The obelisk now in the Piazza del Popolo was originally placed by Augustus on the spina or dividing wall, which ran down the middle of the arena in a slightly oblique direction, so that the chariots might have more room at the starting end. The restored view (p. 172 D) shows its probable appearance in the fourth century of our era. It measured about 2,000 ft. long and 65o ft. wide, and, according to Pliny (Hist. Nat. XXXVI, 102), it held 250,000 spectators. The same authority gives detailed information of the number of wild beasts, from elephants and lions to porcupines, which were slaughtered. The " carceres " held the chariots and horses, and rising on either side were the raking seats of the auditorium. The bas-relief gives a good idea of a racing quadriga (p. 172 C) and the relief on a lamp shows the triumphant victor in a race.

The Circus of Maxentius, Rome (A.D. 311), (p. 172 A), of which vestiges still remain, consisted of a long, open, circular-ended arena with a " spina " on its longer axis, and was surrounded by tiers of marble seats, supported on raking vaults. At one end of the arena were the " carceres " or stalls for horses and chariots, with a central processional entrance and two side entrances, and at the opposite end was the " Porto, Triumphalis," and the whole was enclosed by a concrete wall. The circuses of Domitian, Hadrian, Nero, Flaminius, and Sallust were other important examples in the Imperial City.



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