Circus of Another Kind
The Circus Maximus was a 678-yard long by 159-yard wide, elongated, oval shaped stadium, split at its center by a long barrier, the spina. The stadium, the precursor to the Roman Colosseum, could hold approximately 150,000 wide-eyed spectators.
At its architectural peak, the stadium was copied many times over throughout the provinces and various minor cities of the Roman Empire.
The Circus Maximus was primarily used for chariot races and gladiatorial combat. There was also time for more civilized events such as: gymnastic and boxing exhibitions, foot races, rope dancing and high-wire acts and equestrian trick riding.
A day at the Circus Maximus , which was open to all Romans, began with an elaborate procession, or pompa circensis (circus parade), which snaked throughout the city.
The parade was led by an often staggeringly wealthy citizen who was responsible for sponsoring the ludi (public games connected to Roman religious festivals), followed by charioteers and their race teams, gladiators and their handlers, various skilled athletes, shackled wild beasts, musicians and exotic dancers, regal politicians and various sects of priests and their most loyal cult members carrying litters holding immaculate statues of their chosen Gods and Goddesses of worship: Jupiter, Mars and Apollo being just some of the deities on display, all flanked by masses of Roman slaves who tossed handfuls of petals into the air like confetti and laced the streets with intoxicating perfumes from large brass bowls.
Many scholars of the circus consider Rome’s Circus Maximus as the originator of the contemporary circus. The flavors of the contemporary circus were all there; the bouquet of colors, the streaming banners, magniloquent ringmasters and raucous noise and applause, the continual and overlapping action, and the interaction between performers and audience.
It was surely a grand spectacle, a once in a lifetime extravaganza to behold, conducted on a magnificent scale. It is easy to see how the modern circus originated from such an event.