Circuses of Ancient Rome

During ancient times, circuses were open-air venues used for public events during the days of the Roman Empire. Sometimes, they provided a marketplace for people to sell their wares and shop for trinkets. Other times, the circuses held outdoor events or allowed government officials to gather. In this article, you will learn about some of the circuses of the Roman Empire, including the Circus Flaminius.

Circus Flaminius

Large and circular, the Circus Flaminius was situated in the southern end of the Campus Martius ”“ close to the Tiber River. When people visited the circus, they could enjoy less known games that were held on a small racing track or visit other buildings and monuments. The building dates back to 221 BC, when Gaius Flaminius Nepos first sectioned off the space.

While many circuses were noted for their entertainment value, the Circus Flaminius was never intended to compete with the Circus Maxiumus, which was much larger in size. It barely offered a track that could host chariot races. At one time, the Taurian Games were held at the circus ”“ an event that offered horseback racing that took place around turning posts called metae. These games were held to pacify the gods of the underworld. The Campus Martius was a place where equestrian events were held to appease the underworld deities ”“ in addition to other rituals and festivals.

At times, the Circus Flaminius served as a market or was used to conduct assemblies inside. When Augustus delivered the Laudatio of Drusus in 9 AD, he was at the Circus Flaminius.

Circus Maximus

The Circus Maximus (which translates into ‘great or large circus’) saw a great deal of ancient chariot races. The massive entertainment venue was a popular gathering spot in Rome ”“ found in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills. It would become the first and largest stadium in ancient Rome, measuring 621 meters or 2,037 feet in length. It was 118 meters or 387 feet wide. When the stadium filled, it could accommodate around 150,000 spectators. When it was in its completed form, it stood as an example of how all the other circuses in the Roman Empire should become. Today, it is now the site of a public park.

Circus of Nero

The Circus of Nero (also known as the Circus of Caligula) was an ancient Roman building that was once property that belonged to Julius Caesar himself. After his death, the historian Sallust came into possession of the land and built it up using the money he gained as a governor of the province of North Africa. Eventually, the property was passed onto Tiberius in 20 AD, where it was maintained for several centuries by the Roman emperors as a piece of public property.

The circus had become a site of the first organized, state-sponsored martyrdoms of the Christians in 65. Historical accounts state that two years later, Saint Peter and many other Christians would follow in the same fate. Tacitus wrote about the details in a popular passage found in the Annals (xv.44) ”“ a written history of the Roman Empire that chronicled from the reign of Tiberius to Nero. At this site, crucifixions took place along the spine (or ‘spina’). One account says that Saint Peter died between the two metae or turning posts.