Significance of the Campus Martius

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Significance of the Campus Martius

Campus Martius - Map of the Hydrography and Chorography of Ancient Rome
Campus Martius - Map of the Hydrography and Chorography of Ancient Rome. "The Ruins and Excavations of Ancient Rome," by Rodolfo Lanciani. 1900

As befits an area named for the war god, Mars, the Campus Martius had military and political connotations as well as spatial limits. It was a field for exercise and for the military to gather. It was also the spot for citizens to vote. It was where the comitia centuriata and then the held elections and it included the voting pens, called the Saepta.


Since the pomerium separated the Campus Martius from the city of Rome, those aspects of life not suited for within the city limits could take place in the field. Armed generals were not allowed within the city, but were allowed in the Campus Martius. Foreign cults were not allowed in the city, but their temples were permitted in the field.

In 221/220 B.C., censor or consul Gaius Flaminius is thought to have created a circus named for himself. The circus itself is not in doubt, although we are unsure exactly where it was located. It is thought to have been northwest of the Theatre of Marcellus. In a Wissowa-based list of Roman temple construction, the temple of Bellona Victrix is noted as having been built in the Circus Flaminius, in the southeast section of the Campus Martius [See "The Conquest of Italy" in the references].

The layout of the Circus Flaminius may not have been much like what we think of as a Roman circus. Markets (see forum) and contiones (public meetings where the Romans stood -- that they did not sit, as the Greeks would have done, is significant, not only because debated, but also in connection with the innovation of permanent seats in the theater near the end of the Republic) appear to have been held within it, Caesar's army bivouacked there, and spoils of the Mithridatic wars, including siege engines, were displayed within it, according to T.P. Wiseman, who thinks it was "a broad open space unencumbered by spina, carceres or terraces of public seats." It is further identified either with the Flaminian fields or as being built around them. The dating of the Flaminian fields is unclear, and in case they were more ancient, Wiseman suggests the circus was as well. The explanation for the common assumption -- based on such writers as Livy and Varro -- that Gaius Flaminius built it, may have been based on an analogy with the road he built, for Flaminius constructed the Via Flaminia to Arminum, about three years before losing the Battle of Trasimene to Hannibal, in the Second Punic War. Triumphal processions passed through the Circus Flaminius, along the Circus Maximus, up the Palatine to the Capitol for the sacrifice.

A Greek Quarter

In the second century B.C., the area introduced new architectural styles from Greece and the East. At the end of the Third Macedonian War, a Greek-styled complex called the Porticus Octavia named for the 165 B.C. consul Gnaeus Octavius was built using spoils of war. Others followed. [See "The Transformation of Italy, 300-133 B.C. The Evidence of Archaeology" in the references]

Public building in the field started around the end of the Republic, with Pompey's stone theater there in 55 B.C. Permanent theaters were not allowed inside Rome, so putting it beyond the Pomerium kept Pompey within the letter of the law.

Strabo describes this beautification of the Campus Martius that accelerated during the final years of the Republic and start of the Empire:

" 236 In a word, the early Romans made but little account of the beauty of Rome, because they were occupied with other, greater and more necessary, matters; whereas the later Romans, and particularly those of to‑day and in my time, have not fallen short in this respect either — indeed, they have filled the city with many beautiful structures. In fact, Pompey, the Deified Caesar, Augustus, his sons and friends, and wife and sister, have outdone all others in their zeal for buildings and in the expense incurred. The Campus Martius contains most of these, and thus, in addition to its natural beauty, it has received still further adornment as the result of foresight. Indeed, the size of the Campus is remarkable, since it affords space at the same time and without interference, not only for the chariot-races and every other equestrian exercise, but also for all that multitude of people who exercise themselves by ball-playing, hoop-trundling, and wrestling; and the works of art situated around the Campus Martius, and the ground, which is covered with grass throughout the year, and the crowns of those hills that are above the river and extend as far as its bed, which present to the eye the appearance of a stage-painting — all this, I say, affords a spectacle that one can hardly draw away from. And near this campus is there is another campus, with colonnades round about it in very great numbers, and sacred precincts, and three theatres, and an amphitheatre, and very costly temples, in close succession to one another, giving you the impression that they are trying, as it were, to declare the rest of the city a mere accessory. For this reason, in the belief that this place was holiest of all, the Romans have erected in it the tombs of their most illustrious men and women. The most noteworthy is what is called the Mausoleum, a great mound near the river on a lofty foundation of white marble, thickly covered with ever-green trees to the very summit. Now on top is a bronze image of Augustus Caesar; beneath the mound are the tombs of himself and his kinsmen and intimates; behind the mound is a large sacred precinct with wonderful promenades; and in the centre of the Campus is the wall (this too of white marble) round his crematorium; the wall is surrounded by a circular iron fence and the space within the wall is planted with black poplars. And again, if, on passing to the old Forum, you saw one forum after another ranged along the old one, and basilicas, and temples, and saw also the Capitolium and the works of art there and those of the Palatium and Livia's Promenade, you would easily become oblivious to everything else outside.222 Such is Rome. "
~ Strabo V.3 Loeb English translation by H. L. Jones; 1923.

References (on previous page: Basics on the Campus Martius)