CHAPTER XV. HOLIDAYS AND AMUSEMENTS: THEATRE, CIRCUS, AMPHITHEATRE
But they have not yet started. At the fixed hour a procession starts from the Capitol, descends by the temple of Saturn and past the face of the Basilica Julia, turns along the "Tuscan Street," and enters the Circus under a large archway in the middle of the building which contains the stalls. In front go a body of musicians with blare of the straight Roman trumpet and the scream of the flageolets; behind these comes the high official who has charge of the particular festival. He is mounted high on a chariot, and is clothed in a toga embroidered with gold and a tunic figured with golden palm-branches: in his hand he carries an ivory sceptre, and over his head is held a crown of gold-leaf. Behind the chariot is collected a retinue in festal array. The competing chariots follow; after these are the effigies of deities, borne on platforms or on vehicles to which are attached richly caparisoned horses, mules, or elephants; in attendance upon them are the connected priestly bodies. As this procession passes round the Circus the spectators rise from their seats, roar their acclamations, and wave their handkerchiefs. When it has made the circuit, its members retire to their places, and the chariots are shut in their stalls. Soon the president takes his stand in his box, lifts a large handkerchief or napkin, and drops it. Immediately the bolts of the barriers are withdrawn, and the chariots dash forward towards the point marked A. The drivers, clothed in a close sleeveless tunic and wearing a skull-cap, all of their particular colour, lean forward over their steeds, and encourage them with whips and shouting. At their waists you will see the reins gathered to a girdle, at which also hangs a knife, in readiness to cut them away in case of accident. The chariot is a low and shallow vehicle of wood covered with ornament and as light as it can well be made, and it requires no little skill for the charioteer to maintain his footing while controlling his team. Down the straight they rush, each endeavouring to gain an advantage at the turn, where the left rein is pulled, and the left horse - the pick of the team - is brought as closely round the end of the wall as skill and prudence can contrive. It is chiefly, though by no means only, here that the accidents occur, and that the chariots lose their balance and collide with each other, or strike against the end of the wall and are over-thrown. How readily collision might happen may be seen from the following diagram, where the courses of two chariots, A and B, are indicated.
Sometimes the teams get out of hand and general disaster may result. Round and round they go, the spectators yelling in their excitement for the blue or the green, the red or the white, and making or revising their bets. "Too far out!" "Well turned!" "The green wins!" "Well done, Hirpinus!" Shouts like these form a roar to which perhaps we have no modern parallel. One by one the eggs and dolphins disappear from the wall; the chariots are reduced in number; the four or five miles are completed; and an enormous shout goes up for the winner, whose name - of man and horse and colour - will be for days in everybody's mouth. For his reward he will not only obtain the honour of the palm-branch; he will receive presents in money, gold and silver wreaths, clothes, and various articles of value. Socially he may be but a slave or a person in base esteem; the occupation, however reputable in the Greek portion of the empire, is not for a free-born Roman; nevertheless, like the jockey who wins the Derby, he is the hero of the moment.
Race follows race, with an interval for the midday meal. During that time there will be interludes of acrobatic and other performances. One rider, for example, will stand upright on the back of two or more horses, and will spring continually from one to the other while they are at the gallop. Most of the company will take their refreshments where they are. When a man of some standing was reproached by Augustus for this rather undignified proceeding, he replied: "That is all very well for you, Sire, but your place is sure to be kept." We need not proceed further into details concerning the "events" in the Circus. It may however be worth while to add that the Romans cared nothing for the modern form of race by jockeys on single horses.
The Circus is quite a different thing from the oval amphitheatre, a structure for once of native Roman devising, without which no Roman town could consider itself complete. Though the Colosseum was not yet built, there already existed an amphitheatre in the Campus Martius, and such buildings were to be found in all considerable towns which contained a large Roman element. There is one, though of later date than Nero, still to be seen in fair preservation at Verona; the well-known amphitheatre at Pompeii was in full use in the year 64, and other cities - Capua, Puteoli, Nimes, Antioch, or Caesarea - were provided with the joys of the gladiatorial shows and the beast-fight. Only in the thoroughly Greek or thoroughly Oriental part of the empire was the amphitheatre absent. Where there was no fixed building of stone or wood, a temporary structure was erected and a company of gladiators would perform in the place at the expense of some local officer or of some wealthy citizen with social ambitions. Whatever may be thought of the Greeks in other respects, they felt no liking, but only an openly expressed repulsion, for the barbarous exhibitions of bloodshed in which the Roman revelled. Outside Jerusalem an amphitheatre was built by the romanizing Herod, but it was done to the horror of all orthodox Jews.