The Circus Maximus is an ancient Roman chariot racing stadium.
Chariot races were one of the Roman's most popular form of entertainment. Romulus, the first of Rome's seven kings, is said to have held chariot races. The origins of the Circus Maximus go back to the 6th century BC when Tarquinius Priscus, the fifth king of Rome, created a track between the Palatine hill and Aventine hill.
The Circus Maximus was the largest stadium in ancient Rome. At one point the Circus could seat 250.000 people, one quarter of Rome's population.
The first permanent starting gates were created in 329 BC. In 174 BC the gates were rebuilt and seven wooden eggs were placed on top of the spina, the central wall in the arena. The eggs were used to count the number of laps; after each lap one egg was removed. In 33 BC seven bronze dolphins were added to the spina for the same purpose.
The Circus Maximus was a track used primarily for horse-racing, although it was used on occasion for hunts or mock battles. It had 300,000 seats and was famous throughout the ancient world. Built in the 6th century B.C. during the time of the Tarquins, the history of the Circus Maximus is troubled.
Circus Maximus was twice destroyed by fire and on at least two occasions the stands collapsed, killing many people. There was a long barrier (spina) that ran down the middle of the track, in the area of the picture where you now see only grass. In addition to obelisks, fountains, statues, and columns, there were also two temples on the spina, one with seven large eggs and one with seven dolphins. At the end of each lap of the seven lap race, one egg and one dolphin would be removed from each temple, to keep the spectators and the racers updated on how many laps had been completed. In the Circus Maximus, unlike the amphitheatres of the day, men and women could sit together.
The Circus Maximus also had the ancient equivelant of the skyboxes you see now in stadiums for professional sports. The Emperor had a reserved seat, as did senators, knights, those who financially backed the race, those who presided over the competition, and the jury that awarded the prize to the winners. The last race held at the Circus Maximus was in 549 A.D., nearly a full millenium after the track's construction.