The Modern Circus Can Trace its Roots Back to Ancient Rome fact

The Modern Circus Can Trace it’s Roots Back to Ancient Rome

The Origin of the Circus – The Modern Circus Versus the Roman Circus

The origin of the modern day circus can be traced back to ancient Roman amphitheaters called “circuses”. The Circus Maximus was one of the first circuses. It could seat an audience of 250,000[2]  and was one of the largest arenas ever built.[1]

The Circus Maximus had a rectangular shape and U-shaped edges. It was a similar to the Greek hippodromes (used for chariot racing) and the Roman amphitheaters (used for spectator sports).

A video showing the history of the Circus Maximus.

Roman spectators would go to the circus to watch horse and chariot races, equestrian shows, staged battles, gladiatorial combat and displays of (and fights with) trained animals.[1]

FACT: Although the Circus Maximus could have been constructed as early as 500BC, circuses were mainly constructed during the 400 years between 200BC and 200AD.[3]There is no direct evidence, but it is likely that a version of some of the circus arts performance such as animal acts, juggling, and acrobatics existed before this time.

Courtesy creative commons.

Astley’s Circus Versus Roman Circus

Some people debate that circuses originated in Rome, despite the similarities in name and function. Those who don’t consider the Roman Circus to be “the original circus” argue that the modern circus as we know it began in the mid-1700’s with Philip Astley’s British circus.

Astley’s circus focused on horses, and slowly added in other modern circus art’s like clowning and a tent.

A video showing the history of the circus from Astley to modern times.


The Circus Maximus is one of the oldest examples of a Circus. We can trace the roots of the circus back from the modern circus, to Astley, to minstrels and jesters in medieval times, all the way back to Rome. Keeping in mind there is some debate, it’s hard to not see the roots of the modern circus in Rome (as different as that Circus may have been).


  1. Circus” Retrieved Jan 14, 2016.
  2. Circus Maximus“. Retrieved Jan 14, 2016.
  3. Circus (building)“. Retrieved Jan 14, 2016.
  4. The First Circus“. Retrieved Jan 14, 2016.

Author: Erin Georgen

I am a graphic designer, writer, artist, and parent. More than any of those things I am a thinker. The universe is vast and existence is complicated, but often the...

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