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Part X – ‘Thrills, spills, speed, and more than a hint of danger’

Chariot races were a popular passtime for the Romans. Dr Nicholls guides you around the Circus Maximus in real-life footage and digital reconstruction

Welcome back! Last week you heard that emperors had to ensure a steady flow of grain into the city or risk falling ‘foul of the mob’. This week our attention shifts to the second part of their ‘bread and circuses’ offering: entertainment.

Cheering their favourite competitor on in a fast and furious chariot race was a popular passtime for the Romans. Their emperors were eager to win favour with the masses by creating magnificent arenas, perfectly designed to house the most elaborate of sporting events. You could draw a comparison between the best of these Roman charioteers and today’s well paid celebrity athletes, but may be surprised to hear that the richest sportsman in history was a Roman chariot racer called Diocles.

Join me this week in a guided tour around the Circus Maximus, a huge arena stretching along a narrow, flat valley between two of Rome’s hills. This was the perfect place for roaring crowds to gather and cheer on their favourites. I’ll also introduce you to another type of athletics stadium, the Piazza Navona. These were ideal sporting venues to eat, drink, and even – as one Roman poet tells us – pick up a girl.

As you watch this video, you may like to think about the following:

  • How does the Circus Maximus relate to the Palatine Hill, the seat of the great Roman emperors, behind it?

  • Can you think of any other examples of Roman architecture previously covered in the course which combined a political aspect with their main function?

Share your thoughts in the discussion area below.

Course facilitation

A reminder that you’ll see comments from myself and Bunny and we’ll aim to answer your queries in the course discussion between 12 Oct to 13 Nov, but we can’t respond to everyone. To view our comments, you can can follow our profiles.

Don’t forget you can view or download the course supplement and A-Z glossary as you go through the week.

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