Ancient Rome
Hippodromes and Amphitheaters

Hippodromes and Amphitheaters
Reading Level
     edHelper's suggested reading level:   grades 7 to 9
     Flesch-Kincaid grade level:   8.39

     challenging words:    factiones, spina, superdome, trendsetters, venationes, dismantle, bans, forum, unsavory, faction, oppressive, brutality, conceive, hippodrome, heyday, urgency
     content words:    Circus Maximus, When Vespasian, Domus Aurea, Golden House, Though Nero, Flavian Amphitheater, Emperor Titus, After Titus, Roman Empire

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Hippodromes and Amphitheaters
By Vickie Chao

1     The ancient Romans really liked to watch public games. To enjoy their pastimes comfortably, they erected numerous sports centers across the empire. All those sports centers were made of stone and concrete. Some, called hippodromes, were for horse and chariot races. Others, called amphitheaters, were for gladiator fights and venationes (combats between men and wild beasts.)
2     The Romans did not conceive the idea of sports centers in the beginning. At first, they held their public games outdoors. For horse and chariot races, they would choose a long stretch of land as their tracks. For gladiator fights, they would gather in a city's main square (called the forum) to watch the spectacle. Later on as such games became increasingly popular, government officials decided to put up proper venues to meet the demand. The earlier hippodromes and amphitheaters were made of wood. The Romans chose this building material because it was cheap. For a while, wooden hippodromes and amphitheaters were the trendsetters. But their drawbacks were exposed quickly. Many sports centers were so overcrowded that they actually collapsed, killing thousands. Many more were destroyed by fire. In the end, the Romans concluded that lumber was neither safe nor practical, so they decided to use stone and concrete instead.
3     Rome's oldest, largest, and most famous hippodrome is the Circus Maximus. Back in its heyday, this facility (about 2,000 feet long and 600 feet wide) had a seating capacity for 250,000 people. One end of the building was semicircular and the other square. Its oblong shape resembled a U with a closed top. Inside the stadium, there were rows of stone seats running the length of the arena and along the curve, overlooking a racetrack. The racetrack had a low wall, called a spina, in the middle to divide the course. This divider was often adorned with beautiful statues, fountains, and monuments. On top of the spina were two frames, one with seven eggs and the other with seven dolphins. Both devices served as lap counters. A typical chariot race consisted of anywhere from four to twelve chariots running for seven laps. As each lap was completed, an attendant would remove one egg and one dolphin, so everybody at the game knew how many more laps were left. During a race, the four Roman racing companies, called factiones, would compete against each other. Every faction was represented by a color -- blue, red, green, or white -- and commanded a sizable following. As fans liked to show up in clothes of their favorite team's color, it was very easy to tell who supported which faction. Sometimes, those fans would get so excited and carried away that any unsavory result could lead to group fights or riots. The Romans were very serious about their horse and chariot races. But as the empire began to disintegrate, those pastimes slowly faded into history, too. Subsequently, the Circus Maximus and other hippodromes were deserted. Today, very little of the Circus Maximus has survived, leaving behind little evidence testifying to its past glory.

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