I think this will be the last one from the Toledo series that I post today … one could kill a lot of time with these:
The Circus Maximus is generally considered a place of spectacle where emperors indulged an impotent public with displays of power and largess to ensure public complacency. Romans gave up their freedom for “bread and circuses” Juvenal famously says. It makes good copy (or Juvenal would not have said it), but it overlooks the importance of the goddesses whose place on the spina, the central spine of the Circus, put them at the heart of the drama, both in the races and in the theater, that took place there. Three goddesses, the protectress Tutulina and her companions Sessia and Messia, goddesses of Rome’s vitality and wealth, and the goddess Victory, all had shrines on the spina, which, not coincidentally, marked the sacred boundary of Rome. Rituals and ritual drama of crisis, sacrifice, and triumph, performed by the Vestal Virgins, among others, throughout the year at these shrines taught the audience about the power these goddesses had to defend Rome. The significance of the Circus as the place in which protection and safety were reified by divine power in feminine form was so much part of Roman culture that even after non-Christian rites were officially suppressed in Rome (ca. AD 380), Romans turned to it in times of crisis. Both St. Augustine and Pope Leo bitterly lament the fact that when the Goths sacked Rome in 410, and for decades after, the Romans sought the reassurance of the Circus at the times of the old rituals, rather than attending to the martyrs’ churches. Interestingly, the earliest martyrs’ churches in Rome seem to have been built in imitation of the layout of the Circus.
Carin M. C. Green is Professor and Chair of Classics at the University of Iowa. She received a B.A. in Latin from San Jose State College, an M.A. in Latin from the University of Texas, and a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of Virginia. She teaches courses in Latin composition, Augustan poetry, Roman religion, Lucan, and Greek prose. Her book, Roman Religion and the Cult of Diana at Aricia, was published by Cambridge University Press in 2007. She is currently—when not occupied with departmental administration—working on a monograph about the Roman deity Consus and the Vestal Virgins.