The Colchester Roman Circus is a unique archaeological monument in Britain. It is the only place in the country where there is excavated and convincing evidence for a circus. 

What is Colchester’s Roman Circus?

Colchester’s Roman Circus is an arena, including a racing track and tiered seating (known as a cavea), which would have provided up to six tiers of seating for c.8000 people. It was probably constructed on the orders of the emperor, Hadrian, who was in Britain at that time.

At one end of the track there was a row of eight starting gates and at the other a sharp 180-degree turn. The two long straight sections were separated by a barrier called which supported a series of decorative columns and other features, including lap counters and pressurised water features.

Size: 450m long and 74m wide

Date in use: Approximately 2nd century AD, until probably the late 3rd century

Length of race: About 2.5 miles

Chariot Racing

This arena was built specifically for chariot racing, and would have attracted a large volume of visitors. Chariot racing was the oldest and most popular sport in the Roman world and the Circus building would have been used for other spectator sports, such as boxing and hand-to-hand combat (gladiatorial fights).

The Excavations

The buried archaeological remains of Colchester’s Roman Circus were identified during archaeological investigations at the former Colchester Garrison in 2004, although the remains were first discovered in 2000. Further excavations have revealed the extent of the Circus.

Unfortunately, there are no upstanding walls or earthworks from the Circus. Only the wall foundations survive, although much of this was robbed out in the medieval period. These can be viewed for visitors of the Roman Circus Visitor Centre.