CIRCUS, TUE, of ancient Rome, was a large oblong building adapted for chariot races and horse-races, and used also for the exhibition of athletic exercises, mock-con tests, and conflicts of wild beasts. The circensian games were alleged by tradition to have originated in the time of Romulus, when they were dedicated to Consus or Nep tune, and called Consualia. After the first war undertaken by Tarquinius Priscus, in which he captured the Latin city of Apiolw, his victory was celebrated by games. A space was marked out for a C., and the senators and knights were allowed to erect scaffoldings round it for themselves. The games continued to be held annually, and a permanent edifice was soon afterwards constructed. This was distinguished, subsequent to the erection of the Flaminian and other large circi, as the circus maximus. It must have been altered and enlarged at various times. According to different computations, it was capable of holding 150,000, 260,000, or 385,000 persons. Its extent also has been variously estimated. In the time of Julius Caesar, it was three stadia, or 1875 ft. long, and one stadium, or 625 ft. wide, while the depth of the buildings surrounding the open space was half a stadium, or about 312 feet. All the circi in Borne, of which there were a considerable number, are now completely destroyed; but a small C. on the Appian way, about 2 m. from Rome, known as the circus of Caracalla, is still in a state of pre servation. Its construction is believed to have differed very little from that of similar buildings.
Along the sides and at the curved end were ascending ranges of stone seats for the spectators. At the other end, were the carceres, or stalls, which were covered, and furnished with gates, and in which the horses and chariots remained until, on a given signal, the gates were simultaneously Bung open. In the center is the spina, a long and broad wall round which the charioteers drove, terminating at both ends at the meta, or goals—three cones of carved wood which marked the turnings of the course. At each extremity of the carccres is a stone tower. From its gates and castellated appearance, the whole of this side received the name of oppidum, a town. Over the carceres were seats for the president of the games, the consuls, or other distinguished persons. There were four entrances, of which the most important were the porta pompcc, and the porta triumpludis. The games were inaugurated by a procession from the capitol, in which those bearing the images of the gods went first, and were followed by the performers in the ;tunes, the consuls, and others. This procession entered through the porta pompa,
while the porta triumphalis was that by which the victors left the circus.
The spina, an object conspicuous from its situation, was in general highly decorated by such objects as statues, small temples, altars,. etc. In-the spina of the Circus Maxi mus, two very largeubelisks were erected by Augustus and Coestandus. This C. was also distinguished by six towers, and by a canal or euripus, formed by Julius aesar, to protect the spectators more effectually during the conflicts of wild beasts.
The C. was especially adapted for races, an amusement of which the Romans were passionately fond. The length of a race was seven circuits round the spina, and 25 races were run in each day. The number of chariots was usually four. The charioteers adopted different colors, representing the four seasons. Bets and party-spirit ran high, and the victor received a substantial pecuniary reward at the end of the race. The athletic exercises, such as boxing and wrestling, which sometimes terminated fatally, were probably exhibited in the large open space between the careeres and the spina. The Indus Troja3 was a mock-conflict between young men on horseback. A regular battle was sometimes represented (nugna eque.strzs et pedestris). By the formation of canals and the introduction of vessels, a naumachia, or sea-fight, was occasionally exhibited; but, under the empire, this species of exhibition, as well as the venatio, was gradually transferred to the amphitheater (q.v.). In providing for the multi°, or hunting of wild beasts, vast sums of money were expended. Animals were procured from every avail able part of the Roman empire, including Africa and Asia. The exhibition not only afforded an opportunity for the display of private munificence or ostentation, but attained the importance of a political engine, which none who aspired to popularity ventured to overlook. When Pompey opened his new theater, lie is said to have given public exhi bitions in the C. for five days, during which 500 lions and 20 elephants were destroyed.
In modern times, the C. stands but as the shadow of a name. It is about the same size as the modern theater, and is employed principally for the exhibition of feats of horsemanship and for acrobatic displays.