Circus of Maxentius

Circus of Maxentius

The Circus of Maxentius (Circo di Massenzio), in southern Rome may have been much smaller than the Circus Maximus – only holding approximately 10,000 spectators – but today it has its revenge by being far better preserved that its grander counterpart.

Located on the famous Via Appia, the Circus of Maxentius was built sometime during the reign of the Emperor Maxentius (306-312 AD). Some say that the reason for its excellent preservation was the fact that it was barely used, if at all.

Today, some of the structures in the complex of which the Circus of Maxentius formed a part still stand, together with its central dividing line – spina – and its entrance towers. It would have been the site of the villa of Maxentius. The site is still under excavation, but is open to the public.

Can't Miss Landmarks Along The Appian Way

The Appian Way, or Via Appia, is the reason why we hear the phrase “all roads lead to Rome“. This ancient path connected Rome to the port town of Brindisi, stretching over a distance of 600+ kilometers, which enabled trade to flourish throughout the empire. This path is named for Appius Claudius Caecus, a Roman politician who implemented this major project in 312 B.C. A stretch of the Appian Way is preserved in the regional park Parco dell’Appia Antica in Rome, allowing visitors to enjoy scenery, history and cultural monuments while walking along this historic path.


Birth and Early Life Edit

Maxentius' exact date of birth is unknown it was probably somewhere from 276 to 283. He was the son of the Emperor Maximian and his wife Eutropia.

As his father became emperor in 285, he was regarded as crown prince who would eventually follow his father on the throne. He seems not to have served, however, in any important military or administrative position during the reign of Diocletian and his father. The exact date of his marriage to Valeria Maximilla, daughter of Galerius, is unknown. He had two sons, Valerius Romulus (ca. 295 – 309) and an unknown one.

In 305, Diocletian and Maximian abdicated, and the former caesares Constantius and Galerius became Augusti. Although two sons of emperors—Constantine and Maxentius—were available, they were passed over for the new tetrarchy, and Severus and Maximinus Daia were appointed Caesars. Lactantius' Epitome states that Galerius hated Maxentius and used his influence with Diocletian to see that Maxentius was ignored in the succession perhaps Diocletian also thought Maxentius was not qualified for the military duties of the imperial office. Maxentius retired to an estate some miles from Rome.

When Constantius died in 306, his son Constantine was crowned emperor on July 25 and subsequently accepted by Galerius into the tetrarchy as Caesar. This set the precedent for Maxentius' accession later in the same year.

Accession Edit

When rumours reached the capital that the emperors tried to subject the Roman population to the capitation tax, like every other city of the empire, and wanted to dissolve the remains of the Praetorian Guard which were still stationed at Rome, riots broke out. A group of officers of the city's garrisons (Zosimus calls them Marcellianus, Marcellus and Lucianus) turned to Maxentius to accept the imperial purple, probably judging that the official recognition which was granted to Constantine would not be withheld from Maxentius, son of an emperor as well. Maxentius accepted the honour, promised donations to the city's troops, and was publicly acclaimed emperor on October 28, 306. The usurpation obviously went largely without bloodshed (Zosimus names only one victim) the prefect of Rome went over to Maxentius and retained his office. Apparently the conspirators turned to Maximian as well, who had retired to a palace in Lucania, but he declined to resume power for the time being.

Maxentius managed to be recognized as emperor in central and southern Italy, the islands of Corsica and Sardinia and Sicily, and the African provinces. Northern Italy remained under the control of the western Augustus Severus, who resided in Mediolanum (Milan).

Maxentius refrained from using the titles Augustus or Caesar at first and styled himself princeps invictus ("undefeated prince"), in the hope of obtaining recognition of his reign by the senior emperor Galerius. However, the latter refused to do so. Apart from his alleged antipathy towards Maxentius, Galerius probably wanted to deter others from following the examples of Constantine and Maxentius and declaring themselves emperors. Constantine firmly controlled his father's army and territories, and Galerius could pretend that his accession was part of the regular succession in the tetrarchy, but neither was the case with Maxentius: he would be the fifth emperor, and he had only few troops at his command. Galerius reckoned that it would be not too difficult to quell the usurpation, and early in 307, the Augustus Severus marched on Rome with a large army.

The majority of this army consisted of soldiers who had fought under Maxentius' father Maximian for years, and as Severus reached Rome, the majority of his army went over to Maxentius, rightful heir of their former commander, who dealt out a large amount of money. When Maximian himself finally left his retreat and returned to Rome to assume the imperial office once again and support his son, Severus with the rest of his army retreated to Ravenna. Shortly after, he surrendered to Maximian, who promised that his life would be spared.

After the defeat of Severus, Maxentius took possession of northern Italy up to the Alps and the Istrian peninsula to the east, and assumed the title of Augustus, which (in his eyes) had become vacant with the surrender of Severus.

Emperor Edit

The joint rule of Maxentius and Maximian in Rome was tested further when Galerius himself marched to Italy in the summer of 307 with an even larger army. While negotiating with the invader, Maxentius could repeat what he did to Severus: by the promise of large sums of money, and the authority of Maximian, many soldiers of Galerius defected to him. Galerius was forced to withdraw, plundering Italy on his way. Some time during the invasion, Severus was put to death by Maxentius, probably at Tres Tabernae near Rome (the exact circumstances of his death are not certain). After the failed campaign of Galerius, Maxentius' reign over Italy and Africa was firmly established. Beginning in 307 already, he tried to arrange friendly contacts with Constantine, and in the summer of that year, Maximian travelled to Gaul, where Constantine married his daughter Fausta and was in turn appointed Augustus by the senior emperor. However, Constantine tried to avoid breaking with Galerius, and did not openly support Maxentius during the invasion.

In 308, probably April, Maximian tried to depose his son in an assembly of soldiers in Rome surprisingly to him, the present troops remained faithful to his son, and he had to flee to Constantine. In the conference of Carnuntum, in the autumn of that same year, Maxentius was once again denied recognition as legitimate emperor, and Licinius was appointed Augustus with the task of regaining the usurper's domain. Late in 308, Domitius Alexander was acclaimed emperor in Carthage, and the African provinces seceded from Maxentian rule. This produced a dangerous situation for Maxentius, as Africa was critical to Rome's food supply.

Maxentius' eldest son Valerius Romulus died in 309, at the age of about fourteen, was deified and buried in a mausoleum in the Villa of Maxentius at the Via Appia. Nearby, Maxentius also constructed the Circus of Maxentius. After the death of Maximian in 309 or 310, relations with Constantine rapidly deteriorated, and Maxentius allied with Maximinus to counter an alliance between Constantine and Licinius. He allegedly tried to secure the province of Raetia north of the Alps, thereby dividing the realms of Constantine and Licinius (reported by Zosimus) the plan was not carried out, as Constantine acted first.

In 310, Maxentius lost Istria to Licinius, who could not continue the campaign. However, by the middle of 310 Galerius had become too ill to involve himself in imperial politics [2] and he died soon after April 30, 311. [3] Galerius' death destabilized what remained of the Tetrarchic system. [4] On hearing the news, Maximinus mobilized against Licinius, and seized Asia Minor before meeting Licinius on the Bosphorus to arrange terms for peace. [5] In the meantime, Maxentius fortified northern Italy against potential invasions and sent a small army to Africa under the command of his praetorian prefect Rufius Volusianus which defeated and executed the usurper Domitius Alexander in 310 or 311. Maxentius used the opportunity to seize the wealth of his supporters, and to bring large amounts of grain to Rome. He also strengthened his support among the Christians of Italy by allowing them to elect a new Bishop of Rome, Eusebius. [6]

Maxentius was far from secure, however. His early support was dissolving into open protest [7] by 312, he was a man barely tolerated, not one actively supported. [8] Without the revenues of the empire, Maxentius was forced to resume taxation in Italy to support his army and his building projects in Rome. [9] The election of a bishop did not aid much, either, as Diocletian's persecution had split the Italian church into competing factions over the issue of apostasy (see Donatism). The Christians of Italy could easily see that Constantine was more sympathetic to their plight than Maxentius. [10] In the summer of 311, Maxentius mobilized against Constantine while Licinius was occupied with affairs in the East. He declared war on Constantine, vowing to avenge his father's "murder". [11] Constantine, in an attempt to prevent Maxentius from forming a hostile alliance with Licinius, [12] forged his own alliance with the man over the winter of 311–12 by offering to him his sister Constantia in marriage. Maximinus Daia considered Constantine's arrangement with Licinius an affront to his authority. In response, he sent ambassadors to Rome, offering political recognition to Maxentius in exchange for military support. [13] Two alliances, Maximinus Daia and Maxentius, Constantine and Licinius, lined up against one another. The emperors prepared for war. [14]

War against Constantine Edit

Maxentius expected an attack along his eastern flank from Licinius, and stationed an army in Verona. [15] Constantine had smaller forces than his opponent: with his forces withdrawn from Africa, with the praetorian and Imperial Horse Guard, and with the troops he had taken from Severus, Maxentius had an army equal to approximately 100,000 soldiers to use against his opponents in the north. [ citation needed ] Many of these he used to garrison fortified towns across the region, keeping most stationed with him in Verona. Against this, Constantine could only bring a force of between twenty-five and forty thousand men. [ citation needed ] The bulk of his troops simply could not be withdrawn from the Rhine frontiers without negative consequences. [16] It was against the recommendations of his advisers and generals, against popular expectation, that Constantine anticipated Maxentius, and struck first. [12]

As early as weather permitted, [12] late in the spring of 312, [17] Constantine crossed the Alps with a quarter of his total army, [ citation needed ] a force equivalent to something less than forty thousand men. [12] Having crossed the Cottian Alps at the Mont Cenis pass, [17] he first came to Segusium (Susa, Italy), a heavily fortified town containing a military garrison, which shut its gates to him. Constantine ordered his forces to set its gates on fire and scale its walls, and took the town quickly. Constantine forbade the plunder of the town, and advanced into northern Italy. [18] At the approach to the west of the important city of Augusta Taurinorum (Turin, Italy), Constantine encountered a large force of heavily armed Maxentian cavalry, [19] labeled clibanarii or cataphracti in the ancient sources. In the ensuing battle Constantine spread his forces into a line, allowing Maxentius' cavalry to ride into the middle of his forces. As his forces broadly encircled the enemy cavalry, Constantine's own cavalry charged at the sides of the Maxentian cataphracts, beating them with iron-tipped clubs. Many Maxentian cavalrymen were dismounted, while most others were variously incapacitated by the blows. Constantine then commanded his foot soldiers to advance against the surviving Maxentian infantry, cutting them down as they fled. [20] Victory, the panegyrist who speaks of the events declares, came easily. [21] Turin refused to give refuge to the retreating forces of Maxentius. It opened its gates to Constantine instead. Other cities of the north Italian plain, recognizing Constantine's quick and clement victories, sent him embassies of congratulation for his victory. He moved on to Milan, where he was met with open gates and jubilant rejoicing. He resided there until the middle of the summer of 312 before moving on. [22]

It was expected that Maxentius would try the same strategy as against Severus and Galerius earlier that is, remaining in the well-defended city of Rome, and sit out a siege which would cost his enemy much more. For somewhat uncertain reasons, he abandoned this plan, however, and offered battle to Constantine near the Milvian Bridge on 28 October 312. Ancient sources usually attribute this action to superstition or (if pro-Constantinian) divine providence. Maxentius of course had consulted soothsayers before battle, as was customary practice, and it can be assumed that they reported favourable omens, especially as the day of battle would be his dies imperii, the day of his accession to the throne (which was 28 October 306). What else may have motivated him, is open to speculation.

The armies of Maxentius and Constantine met north of the city, some distance outside the walls, beyond the Tiber river on the Via Flaminia. Christian tradition, especially Lactantius and Eusebius of Caesarea, claims that Constantine fought under the labarum in that battle, revealed to him in a dream. Of the battle itself, not much is known – Constantine's forces defeated Maxentius's troops, who retreated to the Tiber, and in the chaos of the fleeing army trying to cross the river, Maxentius fell into the water and drowned. His body was found the next day and paraded through the city, and later sent to Africa, as a sign that he had surely perished.

After Constantine's victory, Maxentius was systematically vilified and presented as a cruel, bloodthirsty and incompetent tyrant.

While he was not counted under the persecutors of the Christians by early sources like Lactantius, under the influence of the official propaganda later Christian tradition framed Maxentius as hostile to Christianity as well. This image has left its traces in all of our sources and has dominated the view of Maxentius well into the 20th century, when a more extensive use and analysis of non-literary sources like coins and inscriptions have led to a more balanced image. Maxentius was a prolific builder, whose achievements were overshadowed by Constantine's issue of a damnatio memoriae against him. Many buildings in Rome that are commonly associated with Constantine, such as the great basilica in the forum Romanum, were in fact built by Maxentius. [23]

Discovery of Imperial insignia Edit

In December 2006, Italian archaeologists announced that an excavation under a shrine near the Palatine Hill had unearthed several items in wooden boxes, which they identified as the imperial regalia, possibly belonging to Maxentius. [24] The items in these boxes, which were wrapped in linen and what appears to be silk, include 3 complete lances, 4 javelins, what appears to be a base for standards, and three glass and chalcedony spheres. The most important find was a scepter of a flower holding a blue-green globe, which is believed to have belonged to the Emperor himself because of its intricate workmanship, and has been dated to his rule. [25]

These are the only known imperial insignia so far recovered, which hitherto had only been known from representations on coins and in relief sculptures. Clementina Panella, the archaeologist who made the discovery, states that "These artifacts clearly belonged to the emperor, especially the scepter, which is very elaborate. It's not an item you would let someone else have." Panella notes that the insignia were likely hidden by Maxentius' supporters in an attempt to preserve the emperor's memory after he was defeated at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge by Constantine. [26] The items have been restored and are on temporary display at the Museo Nazionale Romano at the Palazzo Massimo alle Terme.

Maxentius is the main antagonist of the 1961 film Constantine and the Cross. The character is played by Massimo Serato.

Maxentius is portrayed in the 5th episode of Ancient Rome: The Rise and Fall of an Empire.

In the 2014 film Katherine of Alexandria, Maxentius was portrayed by Julien Vialon.

Essays from The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Constantine are marked with a "(CC)".



Product categories

We accept secure payments through

Skantzochiros SCE

Design & production of educational toys and games
Karori 5, Athens 10551, Greece
Tel: +30 210 3314413
e-mail: [email protected]
Tax. Reg. No.: 996886225
Tax Office: Athens #1
SCE Reg. No.: 000120903011


Privacy Overview

Necessary cookies are absolutely essential for the website to function properly. This category only includes cookies that ensures basic functionalities and security features of the website. These cookies do not store any personal information.

Any cookies that may not be particularly necessary for the website to function and is used specifically to collect user personal data via analytics, ads, other embedded contents are termed as non-necessary cookies. It is mandatory to procure user consent prior to running these cookies on your website.


Marcus Aurelius Valerius Maxentius was born around AD 279 as the son of Maximian and his Syrian wife Eutropia. He was made a senator and even was given Galerius‘ daughter Valeria Maximilla in marriage in an attempt to confirm his status of the son of an emperor. But other than these honours he received nothing. No consulship to groom him for power, no military command.

First he suffered the indignity together with Constantine of being passed over as Maximian and Diocletian both resigned in AD 305, when they both had to watch the relative unknowns of Severus II and Maximinus II Daia accede to what they saw as their rightful places. Then at the death of Constantius Chlorus in AD 306 Constantine was granted the rank of Caesar, leaving Maxentius out in the cold.

But Maxentius was not as helpless as the emperors of the tetrarchy might have believed. The population of Italy was greatly dissatisfied. Had they enjoyed tax-free status, then under the reign of Diocletian northern Italy had been denied this status, and under Galerius the same happened to the rest of Italy, including the city of Rome. Severus II’s announcement that he wished to abolish the praetorian guard altogether also created hostility among Italy’s main military garrison against the current rulers.

It was with this background that Maxentius, backed by the Roman senate, the praetorian guard and the people of Rome, rebelled and was hailed emperor. If northern Italy did not rebel, it was more than likely only due to the fact that Severus II had his capital at Mediolanum (Milan). The rest of the Italian peninsula and Africa though declared in favour of Maxentius.

At first Maxentius sought to tread carefully, seeking acceptance with the other emperors. It was in that spirit that he only assumed the title of Caesar (junior emperor) at first, hoping to make it clear that he did not seek to challenge the rule of the Augusti, particularly not that of the powerful Galerius.

Trying to win greater credibility for his regime – and perhaps also seeing the necessity for someone with more experience, Maxentius then called his father Maximian out of retirement. And Maximian, who had been very reluctant to relinquish power in the first place, was very eager to return.

But still no recognition by other emperors was forthcoming. On Galerius behest, Severus II now led his troops on Rome to overthrow the usurper and to reestablish the authority of the tetrarchy. But at that point the authority of Maxentius’ father proved decisive. The soldier’s refused to fight the old emperor and mutinied. Severus II fled but was caught and, after being paraded through the streets of Rome, was held as a hostage in Rome to deter Galerius from any attacks.

It was now that Maxentius declared himself Augustus, no longer seeking to win favour with the other emperors. It was only Constantine who recognized him as Augustus. Galerius and the other emperors remained hostile. so much so, that Galerius now marched into Italy himself. But he too was now to realize just how dangerous it was to advance his troops against Maximian, a man whose authority many of the soldiers respected more than his own. With many of his forces deserting, Galerius had to simply withdraw.

After this victory against the most senior of the emperors, all seemed well for the co-Augusti in Rome. But their success brought about the defection of Spain to their camp. Had this territory been under the control of Constantine, then its change of allegiance now made them a new, very dangerous enemy.

Then Maximian, in a surprising twist of fate in April AD 308, turned against his own son. But on his arrival in Rome in AD 308, his revolt was successfully stifled and he had to flee to Constantine’s court in Gaul.

The Conference of Carnuntum where all the Caesars and Augusti met later in AD 308 then saw the forced resignation of Maximian and the condemnation of Maxentius as a public enemy. Maxentius did not fall at that point. But the praetorian prefect in Africa, Lucius Domitius Alexander, broke away from him, declaring himself emperor instead.

The loss of Africa was a terrible blow to Maxentius as it meant the loss of the all-important grain supply to Rome. In consequence capital was struck by famine. Fighting broke out between the praetorians who enjoyed a privileged food supply and the starving population. Late in AD 309 Maxentius’ other praetorian prefect, Gaius Rufius Volusianus, was sent across the Mediterranean to deal with the African crisis. The expedition was successful and the rebel Alexander was killed.

The food crisis was now averted, but another far greater threat now was to arise. Constantine was, later history proved that all too well, a force to be reckoned with. If he was hostile toward Maxentius ever since the break away of Spain, then he now (following the death of Severus and Maximian) styled himself as western Augustus and hence laid claim to complete rule of the west. Maximian was hence in his way.

In AD 312 he marched into Italy with army of forty thousand elite troops.
Maxentius had command of at least four times as great an army, but his troops did not possess the same discipline, nor was Maxentius’ an equal general to Constantine. Constantine moved into Italy without letting his army sack any cities, thereby winning the support of the local population, which by now was thoroughly sick of Maxentius.The first army sent against Constantine was defeated at Augusta Taurinorum.

Maxentius numerically still held the upper hand, but at first decided to rely on the further advantage the city walls of Rome would grant his army of Constantine. But being unpopular with the people (particularly after the food riots and starvation) he feared treachery on their part might sabotage any defence he might stage. And so his force suddenly left, heading north to meet Constantine’s army in battle.

The two sides, after a first brief engagement along the Via Flaminia, finally clashed close to the Milvian Bridge. Had the actual bridge over the Tiber initially been made unpassable in order to hamper Constantine’s advance towards Rome, then now a pontoon bridge was thrown over the river in order to carry Maximian’s troops across. It was this bridge of boats which Maximian’s soldiers were driven back onto as Constantine’s forces charged them.

The weight of so many men and horses caused the bridge to collapse. Thousands of Maxentius army drowned, the emperor himself being among the victims (28 October AD 312).

Facts, Images & History of the Appian Way

The Appian Way (Via Appia) is an ancient and strategically important Roman road. It connected Rome to Brindisium (Brindisi), in the southeast of Italy, and it was built between the late 4th and 3rd centuries BC. C.

It is considered one of the greatest works of civil engineering of the ancient world for the economic, military, and cultural impact it had on Roman society.

Large sections of the road are still open today.

History of the Via Appia

The works for the construction began in 312 BC at the direction of the censor Appius Claudius Caecus, an important exponent of the gens Claudia, who restructured and expanded a pre-existing road that connected Rome to the Alban Hills, extending it to Capua, for some years placed under Roman control.

Around the half of the III sec. BC the route was extended until Maleventum (then renamed Beneventum, Benevento). The construction work continued during the second half of the third century BC, when it was reached Tarentum (Taranto), and then until about 190 BC when it was completed the route to the port of Brundisium (Brindisi).

The primary function of the route was to ensure a rapid movement of troops to southern Italy, in order to consolidate the rule of Rome on that part of the peninsula. Since the beginning the Appian Way became a key way of trade, facilitating commerce with Magna Graecia.

The route determined a great opening of the wealthy classes of Roman society towards the Greek culture: in the decades following the construction of the road the Greek culture gradually spread to Rome.

In 71 BC about 6 000 rebellious slaves led by Spartacus, captured in battle, were crucified along the road from Rome to Capua, as a warning to the slaves on the Italian territory. The road was restored and widened during the rule of the emperors Augustus, Vespasian, Trajan, and Hadrian. Emperor Trajan between 108 and 110 built a branch called via Appia Traiana, connecting Benevento to Brindisi with a new route close to the coast.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire (476) the lack of maintenance works caused the gradual abandonment of segments of the route. In 535, the Byzantine historian Procopius described it as still in good condition. Although not fully open, in the Middle Ages the Appian Way and the Via Traiana were used by the Crusaders: in 1228, Frederick II sailed from the port of Brindisi to reach the Holy Land.

Construction techniques

The paving stones (glareatum) helped circulation in all weather conditions, favoring the drainage of water through the lower layers in which the stones were installed. Starting from 258 BC (intervention of the brothers Ogulni) the road was equipped with large smooth stones of volcanic stone (basoli), and filling any remaining spaces with small wedges of stone.

The paving rested on several layers of rubble and earth, according to a system that ensured optimal drainage of rainwater. The road had a straight path and was 4.1 meters wide (14 Roman feet), flanked by two sidewalks for the pedestrian path. Milestones appeared on the Via Appia for the first time.

Monuments and places of interest along the Appian Way

From Porta Capena to Porta San Sebastiano (I mile)

Porta San Sebastiano

Porta San Sebastiano is the largest and one of the best-preserved gates in the defensive walls of the Aurelian Walls of Rome.

The original structure was constructed by Aurelian ca. AD 275. Later the towers were enlarged and linked, through two parallel walls, to the preexisting Arch of Drusus.

Baths of Caracalla

The Baths of Caracalla (Thermae Antoninianae, from the full name of the emperor Caracalla, belonging to the Severan dynasty) are one of the most important examples of imperial baths in Rome. The baths were likely built between AD 212 (or 211) and 216/217.

Saints Nereus and Achilleus

Saints Nereus and Achilleus is a basilica in Rome, built in the 4th century.

San Cesareo de Appia

The church of San Cesareo de Appia, also erroneously called San Cesareo in Palatio, is a Catholic place of worship in Rome, in the Celio district, near the Porta San Sebastiano, built in the 8th century on the remains of pre-existing Roman structures.

Tomb of the Scipios

The tomb of the Scipios (sepulcrum Scipionum) is a funerary monument of the patrician Scipio family during the Roman Republic, not far from the Porta San Sebastiano. The tomb was built at the beginning of the 3rd century BC, after the opening of the Appian Way in 312 BC, probably by Lucius Cornelius Scipio Barbatus, consul in 298 BC.

From Porta San Sebastiano to Bovillae (II-IX mile)

Tomb of Priscilla

The tomb of Priscilla is a monumental tomb erected in the first century in Rome on the Appian Way, located in front of the church of Domine quo Vadis.

Catacomb of Callixtus

The Catacomb of Callixtus includes the Crypt of the Popes (Cappella dei Papi), which once contained the tombs of several popes from the 2nd to 4th centuries. The catacomb forms part of an ancient funerary complex, the Complesso Callistiano, that occupies thirty hectares.

San Sebastiano fuori le mura (Saint Sebastian beyond the Walls)

San Sebastiano fuori le mura is a church built in the 4th century with the ancient title of Saints Peter and Paul, on the site where the relics of the two apostles were transferred in 258 to save them from persecution.

Catacombs of San Sebastiano

The Catacombs of San Sebastiano are an underground cemetery in Rome.

The Jewish catacombs of Vigna Randanini

The Jewish catacombs of Vigna Randanini are located on the side of a hill between the Via Appia Antica and the Via Appia Pignatelli. The catacombs have a system of galleries and tunnels that extend over an area of 18,000 m². The galleries are located at a depth of about 10 m and develop for a total length of about 700 m, today partly practicable on foot. It is difficult to date these catacombs, but the paintings and the remains found are dated between the end of the second and the fourth century AD.

Circus of Maxentius

The Circus of Maxentius is a Roman circus part of a complex of buildings erected by emperor Maxentius on the Appian Way between AD 306 and 312.

Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella

The Mausoleum of Caecilia Metella is a roman tomb located just outside Rome at the three mile marker of the Via Appia. It was built during the 1st century BC to honor Caecilia Metella, the daughter of Quintus Caecilius Metellus Creticus, a consul in 69 BC.

Roman baths of Capo di Bove

Capo di Bove is an archaeological site that contains the baths of a large landed property that belonged in the second century probably to Herodes Atticus and his wife Annia Regilla.

Obelisk of Piazza Navona

The Obelisk at Piazza Navona is quite different in relation to the other works in this exhibit, as it has no ancient Egyptian history. Rather, it is dated to the reign of Roman emperor Domitian (81-96 AD). 1

The presence of hieroglyphs on the obelisk made it difficult for scholars to determine an original date. Translations from French scholar Jean François Champollion (1790-1832) eventually determined that these inscriptions included the names of Domitian, his father Vespasian, and his brother, Titus. 2

Domitian’s use of Egyptian sculptural traditions to create this obelisk, spoke to his larger interest in incorporating Egyptian art and culture into, or Egyptianizing, Roman culture, perhaps using the culture to legitimize his position as Emperor. 3 (Another example of his interest in Egypt is seen in the Obelisk at Santa Maria Sopra).

Set up in the Circus of Maxentius, the obelisk was broken and buried over centuries. Although Pope Sixtus V was aware of its location, it was not excavated until Pope Innocent X, in 1649. 4

The obelisk was installed in Piazza Navona, the site of Innocent’s mansion when he was a cardinal, 5 and remains there to this day, a symbol of Roman cultural fascination, and appropriation, of Egyptian art.

1. Grant Parker, "Narrating Monumentality," Journal of Mediterranean Archaeology 16.2 (2004), 193.

Celebrations in the Circus Maximus

In the Circus Maximus several competitions were carried out, standing out among them chariot races, in which participants tried to complete seven laps of the Circus Maximus. The competitors, mounted in small chariots drawn by horses, gambled much more than their prestige or large prizes in the races, since many of them were slaves fighting for their liberty.

During the public games, equestrian exhibitions, known as "Ludus Troiae", also took place. These were a simulation of various famous battles carried out by young Roman aristocrats. There were also foot races that lasted for several hours. The spectators would bet on the winners, making the competitions even more exciting.

Circus of Maxentius

The Circus of Maxentius (known until the 19th century as the Circus of Caracalla) is an ancient structure in Rome, Italy it is part of a complex of buildings erected by emperor Maxentius on the Via Appia between AD 306 and 312. It is situated between the second and third miles of the Via Appia between the basilica and catacombs of San Sebastiano and the imposing late republican tomb of Caecilia Metella, which dominates the hill that rises immediately to the east of the complex. [1] It is part of the Parco Regionale Appia Antica (Appian Way Regional Park).

The Circus itself is the best preserved in the area of Rome, and is second only in size to the Circus Maximus in Rome. [2] The only games recorded at the circus were its inaugural ones and these are generally thought to have been funerary in character. [3] They would have been held in honour of Maxentius' son Valerius Romulus, who died in AD 309 at a very young age and who was probably interred in the adjacent cylindrical tomb (tomb of Romulus). The imperial box (pulvinar) of the circus is connected, via a covered portico, to the villa of Maxentius, whose scant remains are today obscured by dense foliage, except for the apse of the basilical audience hall, which pokes out from the tree tops. The complex was probably never used after the death of Maxentius in AD 312 (archaeological excavations indicate the tracks were covered in sand already in antiquity).

The circus is constructed, after the fashion of many Roman buildings of this period, in concrete faced with opus vittatum. [4] The putlog holes which held the scaffolding are evident in many places in the walls, which stand several metres high in places. The modern-day visitor enters the circus from the west end, where the remains of the two still imposing towers are located. These would have contained the mechanism for raising the carceres (starting gates), which were positioned on an arcuated course between the towers. Once out of the gates, the chariots would race down the track, the full 503 metres (550 yd) length of which can still be seen. The track was excavated in the 19th century by Antonio Nibby, whose discovery of an inscription to the 'divine Romulus' led to the circus being positively identified with Maxentius. [5] The spina, the barrier running down the middle of the track, is exactly 1000 Roman feet (296 m) long, and would have been cased in marble. Its many ornaments, including cones, metae and obelisks, would have cast strange, Piranesi-esque shadows across the track in the late afternoon sun. In the centre stood the Obelisk of Domitian which Maxentius presumably had moved from the Isaeum as part of the tribute to his son. Covered in hieroglyphs and lying broken in five pieces it was much discussed during the Renaissance and engraved by Etienne du Perac among others. The Collector Earl of Arundel paid a deposit for the pieces in the 1630s and attempted to have them removed to London but Urban VIII forbad its export and his successor Innocent X had it erected in the Piazza Navona by Bernini. [6] The track's outer walls were laid out to be wider at the start to allow the racers to spread out before reaching the spina, and were also made wider at the point of the turn, which accommodated the turning circle of the chariots. At the east end of the track is a small triumphal arch, in which exposed opus vittatum work can be seen. The judges' box was located about two-thirds of the way down on the southern side of the track, where it would have been in clear sight of the finishing line. The imperial box, the remains of which are identifiable, was situated in the usual fashion to give the most dramatic views of the race. Directly opposite the imperial box, in the south track wall, there is a small arch, through which can be seen the Tomb of Caecilia Metella. From the height of the box the tomb would have been entirely visible, and it has been argued that the circus, which is curiously positioned relative to contemporary and existing structures, was purposely skewed in order to integrate the tomb into the Maxentian architectural scheme. [7]

The circus-complex of Maxentius as originally conceived can be partly understood as an elaborate imperial version of the type of elite residences that appear in Rome and throughout the provinces in late antiquity, whose pretensions are evidenced in the regular presence of large audience halls, familial tombs and circus-shaped structures - the Villa Gordiani, also in Rome, and the complex at Piazza Armerina in Sicily, are two examples. [8] [9] The progenitor of these residences was of course the Palatine complex in Rome, where Maxentius himself made some alterations to the palace in which he played out public life. [10] The most instructive imperial parallel for the Via Appia complex is that of Maxentius's contemporary Galerius at Thessaloniki, though Diocletian's Palace at Split furnishes some useful comparisons. [11]

The complex may well have changed in use and character following the death of Romulus the mausoleum, surely intended for Maxentius himself, as were the mausolea built by Galerius and Diocletian intended for themselves whilst still alive, now received as its occupant Maxentius' only son. [11] The inaugural games became funeral games, and these, like the circus, were dedicated to the now deified Romulus. The pervasive emphasis of death and apotheosis has led to the argument that the whole complex became overwhelmingly funerary in character from this point, and that the memorial references generated by Romulus extend, spatially and ideologically, to the heart of Rome. [7] Maxentius died just three years after Romulus, at the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, when he was defeated by Constantine the Great, who then expropriated the property.

The circus is under the care of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Roma, and is open to the public. It is accessible via a bus which runs regularly from the Metropolitana stop called Colli Albani, or by the 118 bus from Piazza Venezia. The most up-to-date guides, in English and Italian, are provided by Coarelli, but Claridge's account is also clear and succinct, as well as being relatively recent. For in-depth research and references, volume one of Steinby's Lexicon Topographicum Urbis Romae is the starting point. [12] [13] [14] [15]

The Appian Way often gets overlooked by visitors to Rome. And that’s an extraordinary shame. A stroll on the Appian Way (or, to Italians, Via Appia Antica) is more than a mere walk. It’s a time machine that takes you back to ancient Rome, a way to experience the Italian countryside without leaving the city, and a twist on a passeggiata all in one.

The Appian Way was built all the way back in 312 B.C. (hence why Italians call it Via Appia Antica). And it was crucial. The first road linking farther-flung parts of the Roman empire with the capital, it first ran to Capua, just north of Naples. Since it allowed Romans to transport soldiers and supplies, the Appian Way proved integral to the Romans conquering the Samnites of southern Italy. In 191 B.C., the Romans extended the road all the way to Brindisi, in modern-day Puglia.

You can still walk on the Appian Way today. On stones ancient Romans would have walked on. Again, it’s called Via Appia Antica for a reason.

Or the Villa dei Quintili, a huge villa built by the wealthy Quintilii brothers in the 2nd century… so huge that, when it was first excavated, locals thought it must have been a town. In fact, the villa was so incredible that Emperor Commodus put its owners to death — just so he could get his own hands on it.

Or the Circus of Maxentius (below). Erected in the early 4th century, its fragments still give an idea of the grandeur of what was once the second-largest circus in Rome, after only the Circus Maximus.

Or the Basilica of San Sebastiano fuori le Mura, the church of the Catacombs of St. Sebastian. It’s most fascinating — at least to me — for having a Bernini sculpture no one seems to know about: the “Salvator Mundi,” a bust of Christ that art historians think was Bernini’s very last work. (It’s on the right as you enter the church, beside the Relics Chapel).

That’s not to mention the catacombs themselves, including the Catacombs of Callixtus and the Catacombs of St. Sebastian.

Still not convinced? I’ll say it again: If you can’t tell from the photographs, the Appian Way is a peaceful, surprisingly rural-feeling part of Rome. It helps that after the first part of the Via Appia, the road becomes closed to most traffic, so it’s perfect for pedestrians.

And it’s not far. The best way to get to the start of the Via Appia is to take a bus. From the Colosseum, for example, it’s just 15 minutes on the #118. The 118 also stops close to the bike rental at Via Appia Antica 42, if you’d rather bike than stroll. (If you’re using Google Maps, don’t just put in “Appia Antica”, which takes you to a random spot far down the road. Instead, put in “Appia Antica regional park” as your destination).

Just remember not to take your stroll on a Sunday if you want to enter the sites, as that’s when the catacombs are closed.

Also: two facts about ancient Rome you probably didn’t know, why you should visit Rome’s only pyramid and why you might want to visit Naples.

If you liked this post, you’ll love The Revealed Rome Handbook: Tips and Tricks for Exploring the Eternal City, available for purchase on Amazon or through my site here! I’m also free for one-on-one consulting sessions to help plan your Italy trip.

Watch the video: Circus of Maxentius, Rome HD