1902 Encyclopedia > Rome > Ancient Rome - Places of Amusement

(Part 29)



Places of Amusement


The Circus Maximus (see vol. v. p. 791) occupied the Vallis Murciae between the Palatine and the Aventine. Its first rows of seats, which were of wood, were made under Tarquin I. (Liv.,i. 56 ; Dionys., iii. 68). It was restored in 327 and 174 B.C. (Liv., viii. 20 ; xli. 27). In the reign of Julius Caesar it was rebuilt with (for the first time) lower seats of stone (Plin., H.N., xxxvi. 24), the upper being still of wood (Suet., Caes., 39) ; Dionysius (iii. 68) describes it as it was after this rebuilding. It was further ornamented with marble by Augustus, Claudius, and other emperors. The wooden part was burnt in the great fire of Nero, and again under Domitian, by whom it was restored wholly in stone and marble, and lastly it was restored and enlarged by Constantine. In its later state it had a marble façade with three external tiers of arches with engaged columns, and (inside) sloping tiers of marble seats, supported on concrete raking vaults (Plin., Paneg., 51). A great part of these vaults existed in the 16th century, and is shown by Du Perac. It held a quarter of a million spectators (Plin., H.N., xxxvi. 24). The end with the carceres was near the church of S. Maria in Cosmedin. Some of its substructures, with remains of very early tufa structures on the Palatine side, still exist below the church of S. Anastasia (see 58 in fig. 17). The obelisk now in the Piazza del Popolo was set on the spina by Augustus. The Circus Flaminius in the Campus Martius was built by the C. Flaminius Nepos killed at Thrasymene in 217 B.C.; remains of the structure were found in the 16th century under the Palazzo Mattei. In the Middle Ages its long open space was used as a rope-walk, hence the name of the church called S. Caterina dei Funari, which occupies part of its site. The circus of Caligula and Nero was at the foot of the Vatican Hill (Plin., H.N., xxxvi. 15). The modern sacristy of St Peter's stands over part of its site. The obelisk on its spina remained standing in situ till it was moved by Fontana for Sixtus V. to its present site in the centre of the piazza. Another circus was built by Hadrian near his mausoleum; remains of it were found in 1743, but nothing is now visible (Atti d. Pont. Accad., 1839). The great stadium, foundations of which exist under most of the houses of the Piazza Navona (Agonalis), and especially below S. Agnese, is probably that built by Domitian and restored by Severus Alexander. It was called from the latter emperor the Stadium Alexandrinum. That it was a stadium and not a circus is shown by the fact that its starting end is at right angles to the sides and not set diagonally, as was always the case with the carceres of a circus ; nor is there any trace of foundations of a spina. The best preserved circus is that built by Maxentius in honour of his deified son Romulus, by the Via Appia, 2 miles outside the walls of Rome. It was attributed to Caracalla till 1825, when an inscription recording its true dedication was found.

The first permanent naumachia was that constructed by Augustus between the foot of the Janiculan Hill and the Tiber ; traces of it have recently been discovered near the church of S. Crisogono. The naumachia of Domitian was pulled down and the materials used to restore the Circus Maximus (Suet., Dom., 5); its site is not known.


The first stone theatre in Rome was that built by Pompey, 56-52 B. C.; it contained a temple to Venus Victrix, and in front of it was a great porticus called Hecatostylum from its hundred columns. This is shown on the marble plan. Considerable remains of the foundations exist between the Via de' Chiavari, which follows the line of the scena, and the Via de' Giubbonari and Via del Paradiso. Adjoining this was the curia of Pompey, where Caesar was murdered, after which it was burnt and the site decreed to be a "locus sceleratus." The colossal statue, popularly supposed to be that of Pompey at the feet of which Caesar died, now in the Palazzo Spada, was found in 1553 near the theatre. This theatre was restored by Augustus (Mon. Ancyr.); in the reign of Tiberius it was burnt and its rebuilding was completed by Caligula. The scena was again burnt in 80 A.D., and restored by Titus. According to Pliny (H.N., xxxvi. 24), it held 40,000 spectators. In 1864 the colossal gilt bronze statue of Hercules, now in the Vatican, a work of the 3d century, was found near the site of the theatre of Pompey, carefully concealed underground. The theatre of Marcellus is much more perfect; complete foundations of the cunei exist under the Palazzo Savelli, and part of the external arcade is well preserved. This is built of travertine in two orders, Tuscan and Ionic, with delicate details, very superior to those of the Colosseum, the arcade of which is very similar to this in general design. This theatre was begun by J. Caesar, and finished by Augustus in 13 B.C., who dedicated it in the name of his nephew Mareellus. It was restored by Vespasian (Suet., Vesp., 19). Livy (xl. 51) mentions an earlier theatre on the same spot, built by M. Aemilius Lepidus in 179 B.C. It stands partly in the Forum Ontorium, a large extent of the travertine paving of which was exposed in 1875 (Bull. Com. Arch. Mun., iii. 1875). Foundations also of the theatre of Balbus exist under the Palazzo Cenci; and in the Via di S. Maria in Cacaberis, No. 23, there is a small portion of the external arcade of the porticus which belonged to this theatre; the lower story has travertine arches with engaged columns, and the upper has brick-faced pilasters. It was built by Cornelius Balbus in 13 B.C. (Suet., Aug., 29 ; Dion Cass., liv. 25). An interesting account of the temporary theatre of Scaurus, erected in 58 B.C., is given by Pliny (H.N., xxxvi. 2, 24). The same writer mentions an almost incredible building, which consisted of two wooden theatres made to revolve on pivots, so that the two together made an amphitheatre ; this was erected by C. Curio in 50 B.C.


The first stone amphitheatre in Rome was that built by Statilius Taurus in the reign of Augustus. Its ruins are supposed to form the elevation called Monte Giordano, but none of it is visible. For the Colosseum see AMPHITHEATRE, vol. i. The Amphitheatrum Castrense is in the line of the wall of Aurelian near the Porta Asinaria; it is built of concrete, faced with neat brickwork, and was decorated with friezes and other ornaments in moulded terra-cotta. Its exterior had two tiers of arches between engaged Corinthian columns, all, even the foliage of the capitals, very neatly executed in terra-cotta. Only one piece with the upper order still exists on the outside of the Aurelian line. This amphitheatre is mentioned in the regionary catalogues under Regio v. It is supposed to have been erected for the amusement of the troops in the neighbouring camp, hence its name. From the character of the brick-facing the building appears to date from the early part of the 2d century.


11 So called from a prehistoric altar to the Dea Murcia (Venus) ; Varro, L.L -v. 154.

1 Part of it is shown on a fragment of the marble plan (see Jordan, For. Ur. Horn.) ; it is represented on a bronze medallion of Gordian III., with an obelisk on the spina and three metre at each end; in front are groups of gladiators wrestling and boxing (see Grueber, Horn. Med., pi. xli., London, 1874).
2 The 16th-century discoveries recorded by Fulvio and Ligorioare quoted by Nardini, Roma Ant. (ed. Nibby, 1818-20), iii. p. 21.
3 See his Trasportazionc dell' Obelisco Vat., 1590.
4 Nibby, Circo di Caracallax 1825; Canina, Rom. Ant, i. p. 447, pi. exxxvii.; see also Panvinius, Tie Lud. Circens., and Bianconi, Descr. dei Circi, 1789. An interesting relief showing a circus race, with the careeres, spina, and galleries for spectators, is illustrated in Ann. Inst, 1870, pi. LM ; and three of the same subject are preserved in the Sala della Biga in the Vatican ; see also the Brescia diptych, Gori (Thesaur. Vet. Dipt, Florence, 1759).
5 A great prejudice existed in republican Rome against the introduction of the Greek custom of having permanent stone theatres. In 154 B.c, owing to the advice of Scipio Nasica, the Senate demolished a half-finished stone theatre which had been begun by the censor C. Cassius Longinus. Even Pompey had to build a temple to Venus in the upper part of his theatre as a sort of excuse for having seats and steps of stone leading up to it (Tertull., De Spec., 10).
6 Plut., Pomp., 52 ; Dion Cass., xxxix. 88; Tac, Ann., xiv. 20.
7 See Fea, Rom. Ant, lxviii. 57, for an account of its discovery.
8 Suet., Aug., 29. See Mon. Ancyr.—"Theatrvm. ad. aedem. Apollinis. in. solo. magna. ex. parte . a. [privatis .] empto. feci. qvod. svb. nomine. M. Mar-celli. generi. [me]i. esset." The temple of Apollo here named was one of the most ancient and highly venerated in Rome ; it was dedicated to the Delphic Apollo in 428 B.C. by C. Julius (Liv., iv. 25) ; meetings of the Senate were held in it; and it contained many fine works of art,—an ancient cedar-wood statue of Apollo (Liv., xxvh. 37), and the celebrated statues of the slaughter of the
Niobids by Praxiteles or Scopas (Plin., H.N., xxxvi. 4), of which many ancient copies exist. One almost complete set is in the Uftizi at Florence ; one figure of one of the daughters in the Vatican may he an original.

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