Circus Maximus

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The Circus Maximus (Latin for great or large circus, in Italian Circo Massimo) is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium and mass entertainment venue located in Rome. Situated in the valley between the Aventine and Palatine hills, it was the first and largest Chariot Racing Stadium in ancient Rome. The site is now a public park and retains little evidence of its former use. The Circus could hold over 1/4 of the city's population, over 250,000 people, allowing for this Circus to be a popular viewing place by the Romans. The Circus measured "621 m (2,037 ft) in length and 118 m (387 ft) in width."[1]



The Circus Maximus site was first used for public games and entertainment by the Etruscan kings of Rome. The first version, later rebuilt, was made completely from wood. It is believed that first Ludi Romani (Roman Games) were staged at the location by Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of Rome. Somewhat later, the Circus was the site of public games and festivals influenced by the Greeks in the 2nd century BC. Meeting the demands of the Roman citizenry for mass public entertainment on a lavish scale, Julius Caesar expanded the Circus around 50 BC, after which the track measured approximately 621 m (2,037 ft) in length, 150 m (387 ft) in breadth and could accommodate an estimated 270,000 spectators (many more, perhaps an equal number again, could view the games by standing, crowding and lining the adjoining hills).

In 81AD, the Senate built a triple arch honoring Titus by the closed East end (not to be confused with the Arch of Titus over the Via Sacra on the opposite side of the Palatinum). The emperor Domitian connected his new palace on the Palatine to the Circus to view the races more easily. The emperor Trajan later added another 5000 seats, and expanded the emperor's seating to increase his public visibility during the games. In 140AD a collapse of the upper tier caused the death of 1,112 spectators. It remains the deadliest sports-related disaster to date[2].

Chariot racing was the most important event at the Circus. The track could hold twelve chariots, and the two sides of the track were separated by a raised median called the "spina". The spina was set slightly diagonally. Statues of various gods were set up on the spina, and Augustus erected an Egyptian obelisk on it as well. At either end of the spina was a turning post called a "meta", around which chariots made turns at dangerous speeds. On the spina, there were rotatable metal dolphins that were turned down to mark laps around the course. Chariot racing was an extremely dangerous sport, frequently resulting in spectacular crashes and the death of one or more of the contestants. One end of the track extended further back than the other, to allow the chariots to line up to begin the race. Here there were starting gates, or "carceres", which staggered the chariots so that each traveled the same distance to the first turn. During these chariot races, bribery of the judge in order to fix the start of the race was very common. The race went for a total distance of about 6.5 km (4 miles). Prostitution was popular along the gates of Circus Maximus.

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