Circus Of Carcalla – Rome

Turning from this sacred monument, you enter the Circus of Caracalla, the remains of which are still in some measure entire, presenting the whole scene to the mind’s eye, and most forcibly recalling the number, power, and habits, of this singular people. It is situated in a flat field, surrounded by gentle acclivities, the form is a long oval, encircled by a wall, round the base of which ran a flight of ten steps, on which the spectators stood, raised above the arena, to view in safety the danger and tumults of the race. They were protected from the noontide heat by an arch which sprung from the summit. of the wall, where the very singular contrivance of lessening the weight of the structure, by the introduction of earthen vases, may easily be traced. A narrow mound, styled the Spina of the Circus, runs from goal to goal, raised to prevent the chariots from crossing the arena. At the entrance of the course, were two lofty gates and towers, whence the signal was given for commencing the race, and under which were placed carceres, or arched ways, where the chariots stood ready prepared The gates were set in an oblique position, so as to give some advantage to the charioteer, placed farthest from the Meta, or centre of the Circus—a point always decided by lot. Through one of these gates the conqueror passed out in triumph, while, by the other, the dead or wounded were conveyed. The dangers of the course were such as to require the charioteer to guard his head by a helmet, to gird his loins, and protect his chest with mail. Seven heats round the Meta generally concluded each separate contest. Sometimes, but rarely, there were only two horses harnessed to each chariot, more frequently four, and occasionally even so many as ten. The four colours, as I have already mentioned in describing the admirable Mosaic painting of Lyons, denote the different companies of the charioteers. Each association was supported by its particular adherents, thus giving new ardour and an added excitement to the contention for victory, the whole city being divided into parties. The eggs and dolphin, also mentioned in that piece, were placed high on a pillar, one being removed at each successive course, thus enabling the charioteer to ascertain, by a single glance, the number of rounds he had completed.

Nothing can convey more magnificent ideas of the power and riches of the Romans, and the grandeur of their amusements and public games, than those which were exhibited on this spot. Now, the ground is raised ten feet above its former level, the circular seats are nearly buried, the arches broken, the spina covered, the gates, the towers, open and in ruins, the palace fallen down, and its noble arches bare. Where thousands were seen rushing on, urged by feelings of joyful animation, all is now still, and on the arena, where the thundering chariots coursed in rapid succession, the long grass grows dank as on the churchyard sod. The sun shines with unabated splendour o’er the low and silent space; but no cheerful sounds are heard—where all was life and animation, the ” fox looketh out from her window,” and the lizard and the snake glide silently.