Presentation on theme: "Race courses were popular with the Romans from very early times. A broad stretch of level ground was all that was required. The word circus, which means."— Presentation transcript:
Race courses were popular with the Romans from very early times. A broad stretch of level ground was all that was required. The word circus, which means “ring”, eventually came to mean “race courses.” Although other shows were sometimes presented in a circus, unless otherwise stated, a circus was a place a Roman went to see chariot races. Possibly the oldest spectacular sport in Rome, chariot racing dates back at least to the sixth century BCE. Originally chariot races (ludi circenses) were held only on religious festivals like the Consualia, but later they would also be held on non-feast days when sponsored by magistrates and other Roman dignitaries.
Chariot racing was the most popular sport in Rome, appealing to all social classes from slaves to the Emperor himself. This appeal was no doubt enhanced by the private betting that went on, although there was no public gambling on the races. The oldest and largest circus in Rome was the Circus Maximus. Its seating capacity was approximately 150,000 spectators. It had the same arrangement as all Roman circuses. A large long piece of ground was surrounded on three sides by rows of seats.
In the middle of the arena was a long concrete row called the spina (or backbone). This ran for about two thirds the length of the arena. This spina was beautifully decorated with works of art such as water channels, statues of deities, marble altars and shrines, and lap counters. At the ends of the spina were the metae, (or goalposts), which marked the end of the course. One trip around the spina comprised a lap. The race, or missus, was composed of seven laps.
On the ends of the spina stood two pedestals. At both ends of the central barrier are high semicircular platforms topped with three tall conical pillars; drivers try to round these turns as tightly as possible without hitting them. One had seven dolphins on top of it; the other had seven marble eggs. Each time a lap was finished, one dolphin and one egg were taken down so the viewers would know how many laps were still to be run.
Rows of stone benches three and four tiers high extend around the track; the corridors beneath the stands, punctuated with staircases leading to various blocks of seats, are crowded with shops and filled with milling people--restless spectators, vendors hawking food or cushions for the hard benches, gamblers taking bets, prostitutes looking for customers. The stands are divided according to social class.
Each stall was square and large enough to contain the chariot and the team of horses. Sometimes there were as many as ten horses per team. In the early days there were four chariots. As time went on, this number increased to eight. On each side of the end of the track closest to the Tiber stand huge archways called carceres used for processions; between these stretch a line of 12 arched openings containing wide stalls.
In the early days of the Roman circus, anyone who wished to race could do so, but at the Circus Maximus racing companies drove the chariots. The four Roman racing companies or stables (factiones) were known by the racing colors worn by their charioteers (Red, White, Blue, and Green), and fans became fervently attached to one of the factions. There was great rivalry between the various teams. Each spent huge sums of money importing the best horses from all over the world. Each attempted to be the best, even if it had to drug their opponents’ horses, bribe other drivers or even poison or kill rival drivers.
Racing was dangerous. A driver would attempt to upset another driver or do anything else he could to win. The chariot was protected in front but was open behind. To protect themselves, drivers wore shoulder pads, leather straps around their thighs and heavy protectors on their legs. A great driver could become very wealthy. He would receive large wages and rich gifts from people who bet on him. Other racing companies would offer him huge sums of money to race for them. A hero to all who attended the circus, he was invited to parties and glorified by the Romans.
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