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Form: Ludi Circenses.
The name of Circus was given at Rome par excellence to the Circus Maximus>. This was a recreation ground laid out by king Tarquinius Priscus in the valley between the Palatine and Aventine hills, south of the Capitol. Its centre was marked by the altar of Consus. A second circus, called the Circus Flaminius , was built by the censor C. Flaminius on the Campus Martius in 220 B.C. Several more were built during the imperial period, some of which can still be recognised in their ruined state. Such is the Circus of Maxentius, erroneously called Circo di Caracalla (fig. 1). Similar racecourses existed in many other cities of the empire, e.g., that still remaining amid the ruins of the town of Bovillae. The length ofthe Circus Maximus, as enlarged by Caesar, was some 1,800 feet, its breadth some 350. The seats, which rose in a series of terraces, rested on a substructure consisting of three stories of arched vaults. The lower seats were of stone, the upper of wood. Round the out side of the circus ran a building, containing booths and seats, as well as the entrances to the seats, the number of which amounted, in Caesar's time, to 150,000, and in the 4th century, after the building had been repeatedly enlarged, to 385,000. The podium, or lowest row of seats running immediately above the race-course, was protected from the wild animals by a railing and a trench (euripus) ten feet in width and depth. This trench was, however, filled up at the command of Nero. The end of the circus, at which were the gate of entrance and the partitions in which the chariots stood, was flanked by two towers (oppida) occupied by bands of music.Between these was the loggia of the presiding magistrate. The opposite end of the building was semicircular, and had a gate called the porta triumphalis, which seems to have been used only on extraordinary occasions. The senators and e quites had separate places allotted them, as in the theatre. The seats assigned to the common people were divided according to tribes, and the sexes were not separated. The eight or twelve openings (carceres ) from which the chariots issued lay, as we have already mentioned, at both sides of the entrance, and were closed with bars. They were arranged in slanting lines, so that the distance from the carceres to the startingpoint was equalized for all. The startingpoint was marked by three conical pillars (metae), standing on a substructure. Three other similar metae, corresponding to them, stood at the other or semicircular end of the circus. Between the two points where the metae stood was built a low wall (spina), extending through the whole length of the course. On this there used to stand the mast of a ship, which, after Augustus' time, gave place to an obelisk. The spina was adorned with pillars, little shrines, and statues of the gods, especially of Victory. A second and loftier obelisk was added by Constantine. The obelisk of Augustus now stands in the Piazza del Popolo, that of Constantine on the square in front of the Lateran. There was also an elevated substructure, supporting seven sculptured dolphins spouting water, and a pedestal with seven egg-shaped objects upon it, the use of which will be explained below. The games were generally opened by a solemn procession from the Capitol through the forum to the circus, and through the whole length of the circus round the spina. At the head of the procession came to giver of the games, sitting on a car of triumph in triumphal costume. He was followed by the images of the gods borne on litters or carriages, and escorted by the collegia and priestly corporations. In the imperial age the procession included the images of the deceased emperors and empresses, to whom divine honours were paid. The procession moved through the entrance, while the crowd rose up, cheered, and clapped their hands. The president dropped a white handkerchief into the arena, and the race began. Four, sometimes as many as six, chariots drove out from behind the barriers at the right hand of the spina. Then they rushed along the spina as far as the further posts, rounded these, and drove back down the left side to the starting-posts. They made the circuit seven times, and finally drove off the course through the barriers on the left of the spina. Seven circuits constituted one heat, or missus. A chalk line was drawn across the ground near the entrance, and the victory was adjudged to the driver who first crossed it. During the republican period the number of missus or heats amounted to ten or twelve, and after the time of Caligula to twenty-four, taking up the whole day. To keep the spectators constantly informed how many of the seven heats had been run, one of the egg-shaped signals, mentioned above, was taken down after each heat, and probably also one of the dolphins was turned round. The chariots had two wheels, were very small and light, and were open behind. The team usually consisted either of two (bigae) or of four horses ( quadrigoe). In the latter case the two middle horses only were yoked together. The driver (auriga or agitator, fig. 2) stood in his chariot, dressed in a sleeveless tunic strapped round the upper part of his body, a helmet-shaped cap on his head, a whip in his hand, and a knife with a semi-circular blade in his girdle, to cut the reins with in case of need, for the reins were usually attached to his girdle. The main danger lay in turning round the pillars. To come into collision with them was fatal, not only to the driver himself, but to the driver immediately behind him. The chariots, and probably also the tunics and equipments of the drivers, were decked with the colours of the different factions, as they were called. Of these there were originally only two, the White and the Red. At the beginning of the imperial period we hear of two more, the Green and the Blue. Two more, Gold and Purple, were introduced by Domitian, but probably dropped out of use after his death. Towards the end of the 3rd century A.D. the White faction joined with the Green, and the Red with the Blue. Accordingly in the late Roman and Byzantine period we generally hear only of Blue and Green. It was the party feeling thus engendered which was the mainspring of the passionate interest, often amounting almost to madness, which the people took in the games of the circus. The necessary attendants, the horses, and the general equipment of the games were provided, at the cost of the giver, by special Companies, with one or more directors at their head. These companies were distinguished by adopting the different colours of the factions. The drivers were mostly slaves, or persons of low position. The calling was looked down upon; but at the same time a driver of exceptional skill would be extraordinarily popular. The victors, besides their palms and crowns, often received considerable sums of money; and thus it would often happen that a driver would rise to the position of a contractor, or become director of a company of contractors. Numerous monuments survive to commemorate their victories. Sometimes, indeed, a Celebrated horse would have a monument put up to him. A contest of riders, each with two horses, was often added to the chariot-races. These riders were called desultores, because they jumped from one horse to another while going at full gallop. The circus was also used for boxing-matches, wrestlingmatches, and foot-racing; but during the imperial period separate buildings were usually appropriated to these amusements. Gladiatorial contests, and wild-beast hunts, were originally held in the circus, even after the building of the amphitheatre. Besides these games, the circus was sometimes used for military reviews. The cavalry manaeuvres, for instance, of the six divisions of the knights ( ludi sevirales), with their six leaders (Seviri), and an imperial prince as princeps iuventutis at their head, would occasionally be held there. Under the emperors of the Julian dynasty a favourite pastime was the Troia or ludus Troite . This consisted in a number of manceuvres performed by boys belonging to senatorial and other respectable families. They rode on horseback in light armour in separate divisions, and were practised for the purpose by special trainers.

Pictures and Media
PLAN OF CIRCUS OF MAXENTIUS. (On the Via, Appia, near Rome.>
VICTURIOUS AURIGA.(Sala della biga , Vatican.)
Type: Standard
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