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The Circus at Carthage

Here, in this early third century AD mosaic of the circus at Carthage, the chariots represent the four circus factions. There also is a hortator on horseback and a sparsor holding an amphora and a whip. But in other ways, the iconography is unique. For example, it is the only mosaic to show both the interior of the arena and the exterior façade, which has two arcades separated by a cornice. There also is an awning over the seats, which continue over the carceres, conveying more the appearance of an amphitheater than a circus. The two temple-like structures above the seating are novel, as well, and may be situated at the break and finish lines.

In place of an obelisk, there is an image of Cybele seated on a lion. Associated with Caelestis, the tutelary goddess of Carthage and a Punic mother goddess, Cybele was said by Tertullian (VIII) to preside over the euripus of the Circus Maximus. Her sacred tree was the palm, four of which, relates Dio (XLVIII.43.6), sprang up around her temple. From it, comes the symbolic palm of victory with which she was associated.

The mosaic is in the Bardo Museum (Tunis).

Reference: Mosaïques de Tunisie (1976) by Georges Fradier and André Martin; Roman Circuses: Arenas for Chariot Racing (1986) by John H. Humphrey.

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