CIRCUS, a word which has come down to us from the Latin without change, meaning °circle° and used by the Romans to indicate the place in each city where chariot races, gladiatorial contests and feats of skill were held. The circus building in Roman times was without a roof, rectangular in shape, except that one short side formed a half-circle; on both sides and on the semi-circular ends were the seats of the spectators, rising gradually one above anotherike steps. The largest of these R buildings in Rome was the Circus Maximus, 1,875 feet long and 625 feet wide and capable, according to Pliny, of containing 260,000 spec tators. At present but few vestiges remain, but the circus of Maxentius is in a better state of preservation. Grown great through conquest of other peoples, the Romans of 2,500 years ago (and for 10 centuries later) encour aged all forms of pleasure which would de velop to its highest pitch the fighing instinct in their soldiery. Among the circus games were chariot races, a favorite sport of the Romans; athletic contests; the Trojan games, contests on horseback; and combats with wild beasts in which beasts fought beasts, or beasts with men (either criminals or volunteer). The prizes given to the victors were often valuable and the honors great. In the deca dence of Rome came a decline of the circus and it was frequently debased by revolting spectacles, in which Christians or others tem porarily hated by the government were given over to wild beasts or crucified. Julius Caesar dug ditches around the circus and filled them with water. This served the double purpose of protecting the spectators from the sudden swerving of a chariot or spring of a tiger and of making possible the novelty of feats of skill on the water. Most of the vessels then were propelled entirely by banks of oars and Caesar held rowing-races, swimming-races, etc. Most of our grotesque picnic-games, like swim ming in a barrel or running in a sack, are relics of his fertile inventions to please his restless, turbulent people. There was no charge to see these entertainments, as a rule, the circus being used as a pacifier by the emperor.
America has taken the lead in the reproduc tion of the Circus Maximus. This is probably because the American people are of a similar strenuous, contest-loving, restless disposition. It was his acute perception of this disposition in his countrymen that led Phineas Taylor Barnum (9.v.), a Connecticut Yankee, to de vote his life to entertaining his countrymen by giving them a real circus. The magnitude of the Barnum & Bailey circus and menagerie can scarcely be described. It is usually formed by making three immense rings, three different performances being given simultaneously. The capital invested in this and other circuses in America is enormous, being estimated at over $100,000,000.
Since about 1890 there has developed a pe culiar American form of circus which is worthy of mention. This is a reproduction in the ring of the habits and customs of the °cowboy)) and pioneer of our own western plains. The exhibi tion is termed a °Wild West° show. It was originated, practically, by William F. Cody (q.v.), known on the plains as °Buffalo Bill.' He was a former government scout, and thus became familiar with many Indian tribes. With the aid of the late Nathan Salsbury he organ ized an exhibition of frontier and Indian life which rivals Barnum & Bailey's in point of in terest and profit. He had a hundred western cattle-herders, who gave marvelous illustrations of the perfect horsemanship of the plains; he also had many American Indians.from a score of tribes, whogave their war-dances and weird chants; also Mexican lariat-throwers, perform ing wonderful feats with a swirling rope, and °rough riders° from many lands. Altogether, this made a °show' which appealed powerfully to both the young and the old American. Sev eral less important °Wild \Vests' have also been organized.
Some American college youths have in re cent years endeavored to revive interest in the ancient Grecian Olympic games. Delegations went to Athens in 1896 and 1906 to compete with the modern Greeks and other national champions. Similar athletic contests were held in Paris 1900; London 1908, and Stockholm in 1912.