Thursday, November 28, 2013


According to tradition the first horse race was held in the Vallis Murcia corresponding to the valley where the Circus Maximus is now. It would have been organized by Romulus in honor of the god Consus, whom altar used to be here, on the occasion of the celebrations concluded with the rape of the Sabine women
However, it is more likely that the first horse races were held under king Tarquinius Priscus (616/578 BC)
The Circus was used until the last races organized by Totila king of Goths in 549 AD. A staggering and incredible period of 1,150 years of horse racing in this valley!
The carceres (cages to start the horses off) made of wood were built in 329 BC. The first carceres built in concrete date back to 174 BC, the same year when seven stone eggs were placed in the spina (the middle of the Circus around which the horses used to run) to count the laps
It was massively enlarged in 46 BC by Julius Caesar
In 33 BC Agrippa added seven bronze dolphins to count the laps in substitution of the eggs
In 10 BC the OBELISK OF RAMSES II (1297/1213 BC) (about 1250 BC) was added on the spina: it came from Heliopolis in Egypt. It is now in Piazza del Popolo and it is known as Obelisco Flaminio
The second OBELISK OF THUTMOSE III (1,400 BC) from Thebes and now in front of St. John Lateran was placed in the Circus only in 357 AD by Constance II (337/361)
In the period of Augustus the Circus was 621 x 118 m (2,040 x 390 feet) with a capacity of 150,000 spectators
It was destroyed by fire in AD 36 and the fire of Nero in AD 64 started from here
After the fire Nero (54/68) ordered to rebuild the huge stadium and he increased the capacity to the incredible number of 250,000 spectators. A pretty good achievement for an emperor like Nero who went down in history as a selfish lunatic. Maybe he hadn't been such a bad emperor for the Romans after all
On the year 81 AD on the stand by the Capena Gate, at the beginning of the Appian Way, the TRIUMPHAL ARCH OF TITUS was built to commemorate the Judean war. It substituted the previous and maybe already knocked down ARCH OF STERTINIUS
Now two ancient columns stand at the beginning of the Appian Way to commemorate the victims of the terrorist attacks of 9/11 in New York
Augustus had the PULVINAR, imperial stand on Palatine Hill. After another fire, this time under Domitian, the Circus was rebuilt by Trajan (98/117) and the ruins visible now date back to that period
In the IV century AD the Cataloghi Regionari (a precious document describing buildings in Rome in the IV century) describe the Circus with a capacity, probably overestimated, of 385,000 spectators. The width of the building at this date was 200 m (656 feet)
The cavea (stands) was on three levels with arches. The upper level was probably made of wood
Chariots were usually pulled by four horses (quadrigas) but there could have been exceptionally as many as ten horses for each chariot. The inexperienced charioteers would ride chariots with two horses (bigas)
In the fourth century AD the four teams Albata (white), Russata (red), Prasina (green) e Veneta (blue) had become as powerful as political parties
The seven laps of the race would normally last about fifteen minutes
The number of the laps (seven like the planets) and the orientation of the Circus with Mons Albanus, the sacred mountain for the Romans, in clear view of the finishing line had a clear religious and symbolical meaning
The track was at least 5 meters (15 feet) below the ground level visible nowadays
CHARIOTEERS were extremely popular. Many started their careers as slaves and ended up becoming so rich to be able to buy their own freedom
Appuleius Diocles was charioteer for twenty-four years, competing in more than 4,000 races and winning about 1,500 of them. One source mentions the total amount of his earnings: 35,863,120 sesterces probably shared in part with his staff and his team
To give an idea of the incredible amount of money that 35,863,120 sesterces was, it would be worth mentioning a few facts to be used as comparison: in those days the minimum daily wage was about 5 sesterces, the annual income of a soldier about 1,200 sesterces, an average Roman citizen would live decently with 20,000 sesterces (nobody paid taxes in Rome), to be considered a Knight (equites) assets worth 400,000 were required and to be a Senator assets had to be worth at least 1,000,000 sesterces
In 1959 some scenes of the movie Ben Hur were supposed to be shot here, but eventually the Roman authorities refused the authorisation to shoot here and the scenes were shot at the Circus of Maxentius on the Appian Way instead
The TOWER ON THE SHORT SIDE BY PORTA CAPENA also known as Turris in Capite Circi o Turris de Arco (it was standing by the now destroyed Arch of Titus) dates back to the tenth or eleventh century
In 1145 it was rented by the monks of St. Gregorius on the Celium Hill to the aristocrat Cencio Frangipane. It was later known as Torre della Moletta (Tower of the small mill) for a nearby mill that used water of a stream coming from the area of St. John Lateran. The stream is gone now but water is still present only a few feet below ground
In this tower St. Francis of Assisi was guest in 1223 of the Roman noble woman Jacopa dei Normanni o Jacopa Settesoli, so called because of the nearby ruins of the Septizonium still standing at the time
The area of the Circus Maximus until the 1930s was occupied by an industrial complex with a gas facility and warehouses
A stadium as big as the Circus Maximus has never been built before anywhere on this planet and it hasn't been built again yet. It was almost twice the size of the currently largest existing stadium, the Rungrado May Day Stadium in North Korea which has a capacity of 150,000. Finally in 2011 proper archeological excavations are being carried out, long overdue for such an important building

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