The first and largest circus in Rome, and the world, was originated in the large valley between Palatino and Aventino.
Legend tells that it was founded by Tarquino Prisco, in the place where the rape and abduction of the Sabine women took place, in order to hold the first recorded horse races, held in honor of Consus, an Italic deity of agriculture.
The first date documented origins of the Circus is 329 B.C. and accredited to the Tarquins who created the first seating for the senate and knights by erecting wooden platforms on supports from where they could view the games.
The structure itself went up some centuries later, perhaps not before the second century B.C., and Caesar held a feigned battle with 1000 infantry, 600 cavaliers and 40 elephants.
Augustus constructed the imperial box seats on the stratum of the Palatino and raised the obelisk, now found in Piazza del Popolo but how extensive and how permanent the circus was before the Augustan period, when in 31 B.C. a fire destroyed a considerable part of it, is impossible to say.
Some have given credit to the existing circus as the work of the dictator Caesar but definite information about the monument, whether due to Caesar or Augustus, begins with the Augustan period, and subsequent changes probably did not affect its original plan. According to Dionysius's description, written in 7 B.C., the circus was then one of the most wonderful monuments in Rome, 621 meters long and 118 meters wide, with a water channel, ten feet wide and ten feet deep, surrounding the arena.
The seats rose in three sections, the lower story being built of stone, and the two upper of wood. The short side, opposite the carceres or chariot stalls, was crescent-shaped, and the total seating capacity was 150,000. The carceres didn't have roves and were closed by a rope barrier which could be dropped before them all at once. Around the outside of the building was a one-storied arcade containing shops and a sort of pergola, a kind of booth or small house, so that those who passed by could easily look into it, above them. Through this colonnade were entrances to the lower section of seats and stairways to the upper, arranged alternately to facilitate ingress and egress.
The Neronian fire of 64 A.D. destroyed a considerable part of the Circus and Nero evidently rebuilt the circus, for it was in use in 68 when he returned from Greece and passed through it in triumphal procession. Again, in the reign of Domitian, both the long sides were injured by fire and a new structure was begun and The restoration was carried out by Emperer Trajan with stone He increased its seating capacity sufficiently by adding to the length of the cavea and removed a cubiculum, a sort of private box, from which Domitian, while invisible to the people, had viewed the games, and sat himself exposed to the gaze of the spectators. His enlargement of the circus was probably on the Palatine side, and it was under Trajan that the circus seems to have reached its greatest size and magnificence although the seating capacity of the circus has given rise to much discussion.
Throughout the republic the circus was used for gladiatorial combats and fights with wild beasts, as well as for races; but after the building of the amphitheatre of Statilius Taurus, and still more after the erection of the Colosseum, the first species of entertainment was largely, although not entirely removed from the circus. The last recorded games took place under Totila in 550 A.D. and it was in this century that the deterioration of the circus began. The form of the circus was still clearly recognizable up until the sixteenth century. Today a small portion of the seats on the northeast side at the curved end, are still visible, and other traces of the Circus were found while making a drain during the 19th century.