LacusCurtius - The Roman Circus

(Smith's Dictionary, 1875). CIRCUS (ἱπποδρόμος) a place for chariot-races and horse-races, and in which the Roman races (Circenses Ludi) took place. When Tarquinius Priscus had taken the town of Apiolae from the Latins, as related in the early Roman legends, he commemorated his success by an exhibition of races and pugilistic contests in the Murcian valley, between the Palatine and Aventine hills; around which a number of temporary platforms were erected by the patres and equites, called spectacula, fori, or foruli, from their resemblance to the deck of a ship; each one raising a stage for himself, upon which he stood to view the games (Liv. I.35; Festus, s.v. Forum; Dionys. III. p192, &c.). This course, with its surrounding scaffoldings, was termed circus; either because the spectators stood round to see the shows, or because the procession and races went round in a circuit (Varr. De Ling. Lat. V.153, 154, ed. Müller). Previously, however, to the death of Tarquin, a permanent building was constructed for the purpose, with regular tiers of seats in the form of a theatre (cf. Liv. and Dionys. ll. cc.) To this the name of Circus Maximus was subsequently given, as a distinction from the Flaminian and other similar buildings, which it surpassed in extent and splendour; and hence, like the Campus Martius, it is often spoken of as the Circus, without any distinguishing epithet.

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