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).
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 and was one of the largest arenas ever built.
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.
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.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.
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.