CIRCUS MAXIMUS                

Page by Vivian Lee, 2007


A Circus Maximus was not the circus we typically see, with the firebreathing animals and the tightrope-walking girls. The circus back in the Roman days was public entertainment or a game in a large ampitheatre. It often had starting gates at one end and a central area that chariots raced around, with turning posts at either end. Many Romans gathered in this enormous stone structure to socialize and enjoy entertainment.

Key Definitions/Terms

Ampitheatre: an oval or round building with tiers of seats around a central open area, as those used in ancient Rome for gladiatorial contests.

Palatine: one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built.

Aventine: another one of the seven hills on which ancient Rome was built.

Charioteers: a chariot driver.

Chariot: a light, two-wheeled vehicle for one person, usually drawn by two horses and driven from a standing position.


Historical Significance

The Circus Maximus was historically significant because it as the first and largest circus in Rome, and it was where many Romans spent their days. Many of the charioteers had adoring fans, like celebrities do today, as they were not merely expected to race. They had to perform tricks and please the audience. The Circus Maximus was the most famous in Rome and has been remembered as a vital part of Roman culture.

This enormous event took place in an ampitheatre made of stone, with tiers of seats along either long side, and it was approximately 200 metres wide and 600 metres long. This was approximately the size of two football fields and could hold 200 000 spectators. The Circus Maximus was truly a phenomenon in itself and is remembered as one of Rome's greatest claims to fame.

Circus Maximus and Palatine hill from the south. Photograph from 1999.

Interesting Facts

Very little is left of the Circus Maximus now. However, some of the grass-covered racing track and starting gates remain. The circus still sometimes entertains Romans because it is the largest area in the center of the city. For example, the Rome concert of Live 8 (July 2, 2005) was held there, and so was the Italian World Cup Victory (2006) where over 700 000 people spilled in the large green area to celebrate.

Map of downtown Rome at the height of the Roman Empire.


Grout, James. Circus Maximus. 10 Apr. 2007. 8 May 2007 <http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/index.html>.

Koskimies, Kalervo. Circus Maximus. 1999. 8 May 2007 <http://www2.siba.fi/~kkoskim/rooma/pages/230_026B.HTM>.

Newman, Garfield. Echoes from the Past: World History to the 16th Century. Toronto: McGraw-Hill Ryerson Limited, 2001.

The CIrcus Maximus is in a park today for civilians to enjoy.


Review Questions

  1. Why is the Circus Maximus significant?

    1. It was the most famous circus in Rome

    2. It was the first circus in Rome

    3. It was the largest circus in Rome

    4. All of the above

  2. Where is the Circus Maximus?

    1. The heart of the city

    2. By the water

    3. Beside the church

    4. Where king lived

  3. What do they do in a Roman Circus?

    1. Chariot racing

    2. Entertain the audience

    3. Put on plays

    4. Both option 1 and 2

  4. What is an ampitheatre?

    1. An open area with no roof

    2. A building with tiers of seats

    3. All of the above

    4. None of the above


    5.  How big was the Circus Maximus?

    1. Two football fields big

    2. It could hold 200 000 people

    3. 300 m x 600 m

    4. All of the above