The circus

PUBLISHED : Monday, 31 May, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 31 May, 2010, 12:00am

Chariot races

Today, the circus is a travelling show with animals, acrobats, clowns and other performers. Shows take place in a tent, called the 'big top'. The original circuses of Europe were in stadiums - the biggest were in ancient Rome. The word circus comes from the Latin word for 'circle' or 'ring'. Today, the 'ring' is the area in which circus acts are performed.

Roman circuses were also different from modern circuses in other ways. They probably had juggling acts and even some acrobatics. Sometimes, exotic animals were shown to the crowds. But the main event was the chariot racing. In ancient Rome, the circus was the only public event that both men and women could go to.

Travelling show

After the fall of Rome in the 5th century, gypsies probably kept the circus tradition alive. Gypsies are a wandering people who likely went to Europe from India via Egypt. The word 'gypsy' comes from the word 'Egypt'. It is thought they trained animals, touring from fair to fair with their shows.

The modern circus did not appear until the 1760s. In 1768, Phillip Astley opened what he called Astley's Amphitheatre in London. An amphitheatre is an open area surrounded by seats that slope upwards, so that everyone has a view. He began with horse-riding shows. The horses and riders performed tricks. When he introduced clowns and juggling acts, the modern circus was born.

The big top comes to town

By the 1840s, travelling circuses were making their way around the world. Animals, such as lions and elephants, were introduced into the show. Acrobats performed on the trapeze. A trapeze is a short bar on ropes, high in the air. The man leading the show is called the 'ringmaster'.

By the middle of the 20th century, with the rise of film and television, it seemed the circus would die out. It was difficult to attract audiences and circuses were criticised for their treatment of animals. But the circus has survived. One of the most well known and successful modern circuses is Cirque du Soleil. One of its shows, Zaia, can be seen in Macau.

Now do this ...

1 Roman circuses featured ...

a. horse racing

b. gladiators

c. chariot races

2 The 'big top' is ...

a. another word for 'amphitheatre'

b. another word for the circus tent

c. the name of the first circus in London

3 Circuses have been criticised for

a. their treatment of animals

b. not keeping up with the times

c. their treatment of clowns


May 24:

1. b, 2. c, 3. c