Bronze sestertius with the Circus Maximus
Rome, early 2nd century AD
A day at the races
The Circus Maximus was the greatest hippodrome (chariot-racing stadium) of antiquity. The size of the 250,000 seater stadium can still be appreciated today as its layout forms one of modern Rome's many archaeological parks. The depiction of the building here is typical of the artistic presentation given to complex scenes on Roman coins. Given the restricted space, a remarkable amount of detail can be seen. There are three statue groups of four-horse chariots (quadrigae). One is above the triumphal arch at the curved end where the chariots raced around (on the left); two are at each corner of the straight end where the race started and finished. The central barrier dividing the race track is also lavishly decorated with an obelisk and 'goal' posts at either end. Between the posts is an equestrian statue and even a tiny shrine. On the far wall of the stadium is another shrine, with a rayed-sun device, dedicated to the sun-god Sol.
The engraver has been very specific about some details but not others. Perhaps he only meant to show the most 'interesting' features. However, this coin was struck for the emperor Trajan (AD 98-117) to commemorate his renovation of the building, and it is also likely that we are being shown the features that he restored. For example, the central barrier has been shown at right angles to its proper position and the 'goal' posts should be at the starting and finishing position on either side of the right-hand end. Presumably, the reason was to show the equestrian statue: it was important because the statue was that of Trajan himself.
J. Humphrey, Roman circuses: arenas for cha (London, Batsford, 1986)
P. Hill, The monuments of ancient Rome (Seaby, 1989)
Weight: 28.510 g