Roman circus

The circus is one of the most important leisure facilities in Roman cities. Together with the theatre and the amphitheatre, it was the trilogy of equipment to entertain and amuse the citizens. It was intended to hold horse races and representations commemorating the big events in the Empire, and even naval battles, for which the facility had to be filled with water.

The circus is inspired in Greek hippodromes and stadiums, but much bigger than them. The arena, which is the surface where the races took place, was extended and divided in two by the spina, generally formed by architectonic elements such as columns, obelisks,… thus forming two identical streets. Everything was surrounded by the cavea or maemiana, that is, the stalls, with semicircular shape at the ends.

It is clear that the Roman Córdoba, capital of the Bética and centre of the Imperial cult in the province back then, must have had, among its buildings dedicated to performances, a circus. But stated like this, it seems more of an assumption, so we need to support it with further data.

An inscription has been preserved from the end of the 2nd century AD or beginning of the 3rd century AD, which reads that L. Iunius Paulinus, duoviro (Senior Magistrate of the Colony) of the city and flamen of the province of Bética, held theatrical, gladiatorial and, obviously, circus performances in the city. On the other hand, at the beginning of the last century, an exceptional mosaic was found in the site of the old Convent of Merced, today Provincial Governement. This mosaic was curiously decorated with the representation of a winner Auriga. It is a frequent topic, so it could be just a mere coincidence, but it could also be argued that the owner of the house was really keen on the horse races held in the circus of the city.

Even more relevant were the remains found in the garden of Orive Palace, in the excavations carried out between 1992 and 1999. These remains are documented to belong to the founding walls of the northern cavea of the Roman Circus, which could mean the building was located outside the walls and opposite the Temple of Claudio Marcelo Street. Scholars even talk about an architectonic complex of Imperial cult consisting of the two buildings, which could also have been used as Provincial Forum of the city in early Imperial times.

Nowadays we know that the Roman Circus was used between the middle of the 1st century AD and the middle of the 2nd century AD, and it is commonly accepted that the opening and consequent consecration of the complex took place in times of Domiciano, when a new aqueduct is also dated, which supplied this part of the city with water.

In the last quarter of the 2nd century AD, the Roman Circus was in ruins. However, several preserved inscriptions mention evergetes who sponsored circus games in the city at the end of the 2nd century and beginning of the 3rd, when the building was not in use. This made the historians think that a second circus could have been built in the city, causing the abandonment of the first one, probably due to structural problems.

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Text: J.A.S.C.

  • Plano - Mapa de ubicación del antiguo Circo Romano de Córdoba
  • Plano - Mapa de ubicación del antiguo Circo Romano de Córdoba