The Roman Circus was a place for the entertainment of the population, different from the circuses of today and similar to the Greek hippodromes of ancient times. They were large structures and exposed to the open air, used as a stage for various events for the general public.
Circuses were the main source of entertainment in the ancient Roman Empire, along with theaters and amphitheaters. Typically, circuses were used for horse racing and chariot racing. They were emblematic places and represented an important part of the culture of the ancient inhabitants of the Roman Empire.
Some circuses, such as the Circus Maximus (one of the largest circuses in the Empire’s history), were also used for more violent events; among these, gladiator fights stand out. They were also used for commemorative and typical events in Rome, such as the Roman Games.
Origin of Roman circus
The circus of the ancient Roman Empire evolved in form and characteristics with the passage of time. Its origin is believed to be related to the existence of other similar buildings in Greece, and the first circuses in Rome may have been built around 500 BC. W.
However, circuses that performed proper public functions, adapted to the concept description, began to be built from 200 BC and became popular for 400 years, until 200 years after the birth of Jesus.
Parts of Roman circus
In addition to the complex architectural ornaments that ancient Roman circuses might have had, there were two key parts to the design of all of them.
The first was the bleachers. These surrounded the structure (which was usually oval) and were positioned similarly to the stands of an Olympic track today.
The second key part was the race track itself. The size of this track determined, in turn, the size of the stands and the design of the architecture that would surround the circus. In this area (and the space in the middle of it) the events planned in the Empire were carried out.
An additional part that was part of the design of these structures were the “jails”, which were the exit doors.
They were flat and with a well-defined shape, which served to compensate for the distance between each racing position. This part of the circus was key in horse and carriage racing.
Functions in Roman society
The Roman circus performed entertainment functions, which made many inhabitants of the Empire consider the circus as a second home. Among the most important functions fulfilled by these structures are the following:
The Roman Games encompass all kinds of activities that took place in these circuses and coliseums. They were mainly organized by the emperor and their main objective was to distract the poorest citizens of the state from its economy, making them forget about the lack of entertainment money.
This made the people happy, preventing revolts against the Emperor. The games evolved throughout Rome’s history; The more popular they were, the more complex the level of organization and the number of people involved in the events.
Many of the games were held in the Coliseum, but chariot races were very popular with the citizens of Rome and these took place only in circuses. The most famous circus was the Circus Maximus, built in Rome in the 6th century.
Bus races were the most popular events in Roman circuses. Emperors, knights and members of the Roman Senate often demonstrated their skills as riders in circuses, or simply acted as fans of one of the four main factions participating in the races.
Nobles and emperors spent large amounts of money organizing these races. Typically, there were 24 races per day (one per hour) for 64 days per year; Also, it was customary to bet money for a winner. These races used to mobilize large amounts of money among emperors and nobles.
In these circuses, a current tradition was also popularized: throwing gifts of all kinds in the circus stands. Emperors and Empire leaders performed these actions to encourage the public.
In Roman society, chariot riders were seen as cult heroes. The most successful could achieve unrivaled fortunes and become far richer than members of the Senate.
Many members of society also took advantage of these events to make their views known. The crowd in the stands could make judgments related to politics or the current state of the nation, which were heard by the leaders in attendance.
Regular horse racing was also practiced in these circuses, although it did not reach the same level of popularity as chariot racing.
However, circuses had an ideal shape (very similar to current tracks); this form allowed events of this nature to take place.
Usually gladiator fights were held in coliseums, but occasionally circuses were also used for these events.
It was customary for some warriors to wear highly protective armor, which was quite heavy and made their movements slow.
Other gladiators had light armor, which protected few parts of their bodies but gave them a high level of mobility in return.
This made the fights incredibly savage and today they are considered barbaric events. It was one of the most popular events in Roman society; entertainment source for thousands.
Top Roman circuses in the world
Currently, and thanks to archaeologists, it has been possible to find the location of several Roman circuses in the world. Many of them remain in good condition despite the passage of time.
Among the main circuses, the Circus of Alexandria, in Egypt, the Circus of Vienna, in France (along with 3 other great circuses also located in the Gallic country), the costal circus called Caesaera Maritima, in Israel, the Circus Maximus, in Rome and the Circus of Maxentius, also in Rome.
Many Roman emperors had their own circuses, and known to be in what is now Rome there are at least five circuses attributed to various emperors from ancient times.