Circus Maximus games

Today (28th July), SmallChangeBigGames Tweeted:
Is this the Circus Maximus? Atmosphere is great here already at #hampdenpark #day5 #bringiton

‘Small Change, Big Games’ is a project to explore images of games and festivals on Roman coins in The Hunterian museum’s collection at the University of Glasgow. They regularly Tweet images of Roman coins with the theme of Roman games and Roman circuses. This week they are linking their Tweets to the Commonwealth Games in Glasgow and, today, they were Tweeting and posting photo.s from inside Hampden Park, one of the venues of the Commonwealth Games. The Trust retweeted some of these Tweets today.

The Trust is very interested in Roman circuses, and the games and festivals associated with them, of course, as our building abuts the site of the only Roman circus known in Britain, at Colchester. Our circus was about 450 metres long, with eight starting-gates, and it was built in the early 2nd century AD. It could accommodate at least 8,000 spectators and maybe up to as many as double that.

The Circus Maximus in Rome – ‘ “the greatest circus” ‘* – was the largest circus in the empire. Its origins date back to the 6th century BC and it had a long and complicated history. In its final form, the circus can be given a completion date of AD 103. More of the Circus Maximus survives than the circus at Colchester. The Circus Maximus was 621 metres long and, apparently, it could accommodate at least 150,000 spectators, and maybe as many as three million. It had twelve starting-gates. However, despite the differences between Colchester’s Roman circus and the Circus Maximus, especially in terms of size, our circus still seems to have included all the important elements of the Circus Maximus, ie the arena, the starting-gates and central gateway, the central barrier with lap-counters and obelisk, magistrate’s box, shrine, seating-stands, etc.

Although the Colchester Roman circus was in a far-flung province of the Roman empire, while the Circus Maximus was at the centre of Rome, games and festivals would have been held in both, including chariot-racing. Ludi were public Roman games associated with religious festivals. Ludi circenses would start with a procession from a temple to the circus; the procession would include athletes, charioteers, musicians, dancers and incense burners, followed by sacred objects which would be taken to the circus and displayed there during the games. The games would include athletics races, boxing, wrestling and chariot races. There are many surviving representations of the Circus Maximus, including on coins, in the same way that a 50p-piece commemorating the Glasgow Commonwealth Games has been produced in 2014.

[* John H Humphrey, Roman circuses – arenas for chariot raci ng, 1983]

Visit the Small Change, Big Games web-page at

Follow the Trust on Twitter via @CATRomanCircus

The image is of the Trust’s replica of the Roman glass chariot cup from Colchester, showing the racing-charioteer Ierax driving a chariot and four horses, competing in a race in a Roman circus (with three lap-counters to the left); another part of the frieze was also found as a glass fragment in Colchester and the design of the Trust’s logo was based on it.