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Circuses of Rome

A circus designates a circle or course for chariot racing. Aside from the Circus Maximus, the largest and oldest, there were three other circuses in Rome: the Circus Flaminius (221 BC), which actually was not a circus at all but a public square; the Circus of Gaius and Nero (c. AD 40), where both Gaius (Caligula) and Nero practiced and where many of the Christian martyrdoms occurred and on which St. Peter's basilica was built (the obelisk brought to Rome by Caligula to adorn its barrier still stands in the square); and the Circus of Maxentius (AD 309), built as part of his villa on the Via Appia and the best preserved.

In this view of the Circus, the starting gates are at the far end, six on either side of the starter's box and flanked by two towers. The pulvinar dominates the viewing stands (although it properly belongs opposite the finish line farther up the spina) and, overlooking the Circus from the Palatine Hill, the emperor's palace. At the near end, along the curved sphendone, is a triple arch, erected in AD 81 to commemorate the capture of Jerusalem by Titus. Steps in front of the arch (as indicated on the Marble Map) would require that the procession of magistrates and charioteers, entertainers and priests that preceded the races to enter the Circus by way of the starting gates.

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