History, Facts and Information about the Circus Maximus
The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about Circus Maximus. The Circus Maximus was a massive arena accommodate 250,000 spectators at one sitting which was about 5 times the number that could be accommodated in the Colosseum.
Circus Maximus Design and Description
The Circus Maximus was first built by Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth Etruscan ruler of Rome c530BC. Various improvements were made to the design of the massive arena which was magnificently adorned. The Circus Maximus was located in a valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills in Rome. The design was oblong in shape, with a long barrier (spina) that ran down the middle of the trackcontaining statues and monuments. The Circus Maximus measured 621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width. Its circumference was a mile. The arena of the Circus Maximus was surrounded with a ditch or canal, called Euripus which was ten feet wide and ten feet deep. The stadium was surrounded with rows of seats all around, three stories high, called Fori or spectacula which rose one above another. The lowest seats were made of stone and the highest of wood. Separate places were allotted to the Senators and to the Equites. There were starting gates, permanent viewing stands and private boxes for the politicians, senators and important military personnel. There was also an Imperial box high up in the palace area on the Palatine for the Emperor and the royal family. According to Pliny the Circus Maximus could accommodate 250,000 spectators.
Circus Maximus and Chariot Races
The Circus Maximus was designed for chariot races. The chariots had to circle the Spine seven times—a total distance of about four miles. In different parts of the Circus Maximus there were entrances and exits for the people to go in and out without disturbing other spectators. On one end there were several openings, called ostia, from which the horses and chariots started. The stalls were called the caceres. Before the stalls stood two small statues of Mercury holding a chain or rope to keep in the horses. There was a white starting line (alba linea), filled with chalk and lime, at which the horses were made to stand in a straight row. The horses were kept in order by persons called moratores.
Circus Maximus - the Spina
In the middle of the Circus Maximus, for almost the whole length of it, there was a brick wall barrier, about twelve feet wide and four feet high called the 'spina'. At each end there were three columns on one base, round which the horses and chariots turned. In the middle of the spina the Emperor Augustus erected an obelisk 132 feet high which had been dedicated to the Pharaoh Ramses the Great which he had brought from Egypt. There was also another smaller obelisk which was 88 feet high. At the extreme ends of the Spine were set three cones some twenty feet high and ornamented with basreliefs. These cones (called metae and apparently looked like cypress trees) acted as bumpers to keep the Spine from being damaged by the chariots on the turns.
Circus Maximus - the Eggs and the Dolphins
Near the ends of the Spine there were two columns. The top of each column had a crossbar of marble. On one crossbar was mounted a line of marble eggs. On the other crossbar there was a line of bronze dolphins. The eggs were the symbol of Castor and Pollux, who were the patron saints of Rome. The dolphins were sacred to Neptune who was the patron of horses. Every time the chariots circled the course, an egg and a dolphin were removed so the crowd could tell how many laps had been run.
Circus Maximus - the Processions
Before the games began, the images of the gods were carried in profession on carriages and in frames, or on men's shoulders, with a great train of attendants, some on horseback and some on foot. Next followed the combatants, dancers, musicians. When the procession was over, the consuls and priests performed sacred rites. The shows (spectacula) exhibited in the Circus Maximus consisted of chariot and horse-races. Palms were first given to the victors at games, after the manner of the Greeks but then the victors were crowned and received a prize in money of considerable value.
Circus Maximus - the Colors of the Charioteers
The charioteers (agitatores vel evriga:} were distributed into four parties or factions, distinguished by their different dress and colors of their livery: the whites, the reds, the blues and the greens. The Emperor Domitian added another two factions called the golds and the purples. The spectators favoured one or the other color and were absolutely fanatical about them. Fights between the factions frequently broke out in the city of Rome.
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