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The Circus Maximus

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The holding capacity for the Circus Maximus was a quarter of a million people! This was about one quarter of Rome’s population.
The Circus Maximus was a track used primarily for horse-racing, although it was used on occasion for hunts or mock battles. It had 300,000 seats and was famous throughout the ancient world. Built in the 6th century B.C. during the time of the Tarquins, the history of the Circus Maximus is troubled. It was twice destroyed by fire and on at least two occasions the stands collapsed, killing many people. There was a long barrier (spina) that ran down the middle of the track, in the area of the picture where you now see only grass. In addition to obelisks, fountains, statues, and columns, there were also two temples on the spina, one with seven large eggs and one with seven dolphins. At the end of each lap of the seven lap race, one egg and one dolphin would be removed from each temple, to keep the spectators and the racers updated on how many laps had been completed. In the Circus Maximus, unlike the amphitheaters of the day, men and women could sit together. The Circus Maximus also had the ancient equivelant of the skyboxes you see now in stadiums for professional sports. The Emperor had a reserved seat, as did senators, knights, those who financially backed the race, those who presided over the competition, and the jury that awarded the prize to the winners. The last race held at the Circus Maximus was in 549 A.D., nearly a full millenium after the track's construction.


Now only the lay of the land, much higher than the original arena, betrays the form of  the original structure. For a long time it was built entirely of wood. In 329 B.C. the carceres or stalls for the horse and chariots were built in painted wood, as well as the spina in the center which covered and channeled the stream which the race was run.

 In 174 B.C. the censors Fulvius Flaccus and Postumius Albinus had the carcers built in masonry, and placed the seven stone eggs along the spina as markers for the number of circuits the chariots had run. In 33 B.C.  Agrippa had bronze dolphins set up for the same scope. Caesar also used the Circus for hunts. On the side towards the Palatine , Augustus had the pulvinar, a sacred box reserved for the tutelary gods of the games, set up and in 10 B.C.  he had the obelisk of Ramsetes, II  taken at Helipolis placed on the spina. The obelisk, 23.70 meters high, was transferred to Piazza del Popolo by Pope Sixtus V in 1587  

Claudius took a hand in the restoration after a fire in A.D. 36. He had the caceres rebuilt in marble and had the metae (the goals, conical extremes of the spina) covered in glided bronze. The Circus was once more destroyed in thje fire of A.D. 64. Nero rebuilt it and increased the number of seats. Another fire under Domitian an ravaged the building and recostruction was finished by Trajan. Constantine restored it and Constantinus II embellished the spina with a second obelisk of Tuthmosis II., which came from Thebes and was even higher then the other one  (32.50 m) and which Pope Sixtus V had placed in Piazza San Giovanni in Laterano in 1587.

The Circus measured 600 with 200 meters and had a capacity of 320.000 spectators who watched the chariot races that were held there. The most important were those of the Ludi Romani the first week of September, which opened with a religious procession in which the highest religious and civil authorities of the city took part.

ID  of Circus Maximus
architect unknown
location Rome, Italy
date 6th century B.C.
building type amphiteater used primarly for horse racing
construction system for a lon time it was built entirely of wood, after in stone and masonry
context urban
style ancient Roman

see also

Capitoline Hill

Circus Maximus


Domus Aurea


Trevi Fountain
Quirinal Palaces
Vatican Gardens

photos of the Cicus Maximus

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auditorium structures

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cicus maximus today

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look over
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west view to circus maximus

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The reconstruction of the Circus Maximus ayt the Museo della Civiltà Romana

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 The relief from 2nd cent. A.D. with a phase of the races in the Circus Maximus

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