Bits and pieces on the Circus of Nero

Today I came across this picture here, clearly of a model, of the “Circus of Caligula / Circus of Nero” on the Vatican.  Whether the two circuses were indeed the same I do not know.  But the model-maker was clearly aware of the construction of a large circular building on the spina of the circus in the Severan period, which tooks terribly out of place in the model.  The ground level was artificially increased by something like 15 feet, and apparently the circular church of St Andrew had a basement level.

Anyway I thought that I would share the image with you.  I wonder where it comes from?

Model of Nero's circus, Vatican
Model of Nero’s circus, Vatican

Another interesting drawing from here:


And a 1911 map of Rome by Platner from here, showing the supposed location of the circus:800px-The_Topography_and_Monuments_of_Ancient_Rome_QNONote that I have now found an account of the modern excavations, by F.Magi, from which the “modern” plan of the circus derives, here.[1]

  1. [1]John H. Humphrey, Roman Circuses: Arenas for Chariot Racing, University of California Press, 1986, p.545 f.; on p.683 n.29 the article is given as F. Magi, “Il circo Vaticano in base alla piu recenti scoperte, il suo obelisco e i suoi ‘carceres’, Rendiconti della Pontificia Academia Romana di Archeologia 45, 1972-3 [1974], 37-73.  This also  gives the “Castagnoli” reference: F. Castagnoli, “Il circo di Nerone in Vaticano”, RendPontAcc 32 (1960), 97-121.   The Humphrey book can be read with difficulty at the UC Press website here.

4 thoughts on “Bits and pieces on the Circus of Nero

  1. Jona, A quick google search shows that you went on the St. Peter’s necropolis scavi tour with Bill Thayer (Lacus Curtius)? (I know your website and you had helped me out with questions years ago on soc.history.ancient and I recalled reading Bill’s account of the visit in the past).

    I believe that model is where the tour starts on the ground floor before you go downstairs to the excavations below the basilica?
    Although I could be wrong but I remember there is a Circus model on a table encased in plexiglass.

    p.s. The main question you helped me with was I had always wondered why there was a large rectangular dirt void in the Via Sacra in front of the Basilica Julia (an old photo showed it was a void when excavated ~1900).
    Anyway you said it might have been an entrance to Caesar’s tunnels beneath the Roman Forum where like Gladitors could pop-up (8 trapdoor like openings in the pavement) from during the Games held there.
    When I returned to to Rome I checked and it lined-up exactly with a trap door & tunnel a few meters away and during the Games this rectangualar opening would be beneath the temporary wooden seating stands (so an excellent staging area out of sight).

Leave a Reply