ILLUSTRATIONS: The circus in later Roman political art.

Public games, given as gifts from the powerful to the population at large, had long been important in Roman civic life. As the influence of Christianity slowly made bloodsports unacceptable, the races rose in prominence.

In Constantinople, the circus was next to the palace, and there was an elevated walkway that gave the emperor direct access to his private box. This relief from the eastern capital shows Theodosius I presiding over the games from this box, and holding the wreath to be awarded to the winning chariot driver. Below him are shown dancers and musicians, who were part of the spectacle.

A consul presides over the races. The ancient republican office of consul was still one of the highest honors of the 5th century empire. One of perquisites was the right to preside over the games. The carving is taken from one of the ivory diptychs that were made up to commemorate the climax of a successful politician's career.

Ivory diptych leaf of Areobindus, 506 A.D. Aerobindus, eastern consul in 506, was like Stilicho in the west a century earlier, a general of barbarian background who married into the imperial aristocracy and rose to highest rank in the state. This diptych celebrates his triumphant career by showing him presiding over a hunt in the Hippodrome at Constantinople.

Back to text.