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Lepcis Magna: Circus


Lepcis Magna: Phoenician colony, later part of the Carthaginian empire, the kingdom of Massinissa, and the Roman empire. Its most famous son was the emperor Septimius Severus (193-211).
 
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Circus

To the southeast of their city, the Lepcitanians built their circus or hippodrome, which measures about 100 x 450 m. The site, a flat area along the beach, not far from the Amphitheater, must have been in use for chariot races earlier, and it is likely that visitors' seats had already been cut into the rocks. In 162, starting gates (carceres) were added.

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Circus. Photo Jona Lendering.
At the same time, the stands along the sea were built, perhaps replacing a wooden structure. About 20,000 to 25,000 people could watch the games from the eleven rows of official seats, but if one climbed to the Amphitheater, one could also catch a glimpse, as the first photo, which is taken from that point, shows. This photo shows what remains of the stands.

At the spina (the median strip), five water basins with fountains were added, a type of decoration otherwise only known from Rome's Circus Maximus, fitting the "dolphins" on the corners, which indicated how many laps the charioteers still had to cover. (Here is a photo.) This mosaic, found in the Villa Selene, probably represents the hippodrome of Lepcis Magna. In front, you can see the starting boxes, with open doors: the race has begun. There are many chariots and horses, and you can see the spina, decorated with all kinds of monuments. The Circus of Lepcis Magna is one of the largest we know of.
Between the starting gates and the Amphitheater is the big hole in the ground that is shown on the two last photos. I do not know what it is. It may be a natural depression that was later used as a quarry, and was still later used to gather charioteers before the races and wild animals (or gladiators) for the games in the Amphitheater.
Entrance to the Circus. Photo Jona Lendering.
This photo was taken from the bridge that can be seen on the picture above. Entrance to the Circus
General view of the course
Seats. Photo Jona Lendering. Starting boxes. Photo Jona Lendering. The part of the Circus that was swallowed by the sea. Photo Jona Lendering.
Seats
Starting boxes
Part of the Circus was swallowed by the sea.

History Texts Photos
Jona Lendering for
Livius.Org, 2007
Revision: 16 May 2012
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