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Roman Circuses: Arenas for Chariot Racing Hardcover – February 13, 1986
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The structure is a hippodrome located at Lepcis Magna, near the coast of Tripolitania in northern Libya. It is the best-preserved chariot-racing circus and the first one described by J.H.Humphrey in his Roman Circuses, Arenas for Chariot Racing.
You are not watching a movie or reading a science fiction book. You are reading Humphrey's book. By the time you are at chapter 2, you realize that centuries of technological progress hopelessly unobtainable in your lifetime are not required to experience the excitement that arises from uncovering unexplored and unknown planets. A distant world and a long lost civilization are here on our own planet waiting for you to explore.
Is that structure a racetrack? What races were run there? Why is the wall in the middle of the racetrack slightly off axis? Why is the arena not symmetrical, having a triumphal arch on one curved end and twelve small buildings on the other? Why twelve? What is their purpose? Why are they positioned in a slight arch?
In the search for answers, Humphrey leaves no mosaic tile unturned. All known archeological and literary sources about Roman circuses and chariot racing found throughout the Roman Empire are cited, described and examined. Three hundred and three figures and over thirteen hundred notes are included in the book. Their detailed description may challenge your interest. Hence, it is OK to skim a few chapters here and there. It is humanly impossible to retain in one's memory all the facts and the many minutiae that Humphrey references.
By connecting the dots between the hippodromes, mosaics, coins, sarcophagi, lamps, glass bowls and other artifacts, Humphrey uses his vast knowledge to paint the most complete picture ever produced of chariot racing. You will be amazed and surprised by the level of sophistication reached after centuries of racing.
If you are interested in ancient Rome and how the Romans lived, you cannot ignore the immense effect that chariot racing had on their lives, the involvement by practically the entire population of the Empire, the political implications of circus attendance and the astounding energy produced by the passion for the races.
After the circus at Lepcis Magna, Humphrey dedicates a considerable number of pages to the most famous arena, Circus Maximus from Rome. From there, the books comes back to North Africa and then moves to Spain, Northeastern and then Eastern provinces, other Italian circuses to end with arenas built in late antiquity. The book is close to 700 pages, scholastic in approach and tone but written in a readable prose that is easy for the reader to follow.
I do not assign five stars easily as attested by my other reviews posted here, on Amazon.com. Humphrey's book deserves the highest mark. If you are on this web page, aside from being lost, it must be because you are interested in ancient Rome. In that case, this book is an essential read for you. I strongly recommend it. Enjoy it and your imagination will soar.
Roman Circuses, Arenas for Chariot Racing is prominently referenced by www.SportsInAntiquity.com for a good reason.