Circus Maximus in Rome - Bread and Circuses

It seems the Romans were the grandfathers of the biggest entertainment in history. The amplitude of recreational pastime was diverse and dramatic to its maximum. Emperors used entertainment to approximate the citizens and immortalize themselves in the centuries. Their intention was a great success and its glory reached even the 21 century, giving us a chance to see the two biggest venues of the Ancient Roman World - the famous Colosseum and the Circus Maximus in Rome.

In all times people always wanted bread and circuses, but the gap between the modern time and that of Ancient Rome is enormous. The Romans pushed the limits of their pastime and had less scruples about the moral side of it. The more impressive and brutal the event was the better. Emperors used this strategy to their benefit, they knew how to shock and how to show their power. Apart from public games and gladiators’ fights, one of the ways to stand out as an emperor and attract the attention of crowds was to hold spectacular chariot racing events and here is when the Circus Maximus comes into the spotlight.

You obviously heard about the Colosseum being the biggest ancient amphitheater that provided entertainment for crowds of the past. However, you probably didn’t know that actually the Circus Maximus in Rome was larger and more important for the Romans. The two constructions cannot be compared due to the difference in their purpose, so let’s find out what the Circus Maximus was about. 

What Was It Built For

The Circus Maximus in Rome was built in VI BC much prior to the Colosseum (72 AD) by Tarquinius Priscus. The stadium was the largest hippodrome stadium for chariot races and was also used for celebrating religious festivals and holding public games. 

The Size And Capacity

To understand how large it actually was we need to compare it with other famous arenas. What comes first to mind is the world famous Colosseum that could invite 50 000 people at a time. Now, imagine that the Circus Maximus in Rome was so huge it could sit about 250 000 people. The size of the Circus Maximus was also impressive - 600 meters in length and 150m width (2000*500ft). For comparison here are the dimensions of the Colosseum: 187,75m long and 155,60 wide. 

Historical Facts About Circus Maximus 

  • This legendary Circus was in use for about 1000 years.
  • Twelve chariots could participate in the races simultaneously. 
  • The Circus Maximus was described and documented in the works of Pliny. 
  • Julius Caesar reconstructed the hippodrome and enlarged it to become 600 m long with the capacity of 250 000 people. Before that happened it was smaller and could sit 150 000 people, which is neither too little.
  • The narrow part in the middle of hippodrome, called the spina, survived till our days. It was decorated with two obelisks, which were relocated during long Roman history. Today one of them is on the Piazza del Popolo and the second one is on the piazza in front of the Lateran Palace.
  • Different emperors made changes to the Circus Maximus. Trajan, Domitian, Julius Caesar and others had their fingers in the pie. Trajan, for instance, increased the number of seats after Julius Caesar. Domitian paved the way from the hippodrome to his palace. It was also thoroughly restored and decorated with a new obelisk by Emperor Constantine. 
  • The last Roman games were held in 549. 
  • The Circus Maximus stayed more or less intact until the XII century. Then it was plundered for its marble. However, during long Roman history the territory of the Circus Maximus has never been occupied and thus we still can witness the ruins of this once gigantic and important ancient landmark. 
  • The Circus Maximus became a model for other venues of the same kind all around Ancient Rome. No wonder, you can find traces of similar venues all around the big Roman Empire. 
  • As in case with the Colosseum the materials - marble and stones - from the Circus Maximus were also often used to build other architectural masterpieces of the City of Seven Hills. 

How to Get to Circus Maximus

It is situated between Aventine and Palatine Hills almost in the center of modern Rome. It takes only 5 minutes of walk from the Colosseum or Roman Forum to get to the place. If you stand on the Palatine Hill there are famous stairs Scalae Caci also leading you down to the Circus Maximus. If you go by underground you need the metro station Circo Massimo (Linea B). Busses that can take you are № 60, 81, 75, 160 и 175. As an altarnative there is a tram №3. The full address is Via del Circo Massimo, 00186 Roma RM, Italy. 

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