The History of the Circus

For thousands of years in many cultures circus has entertained people. It has endured since Roman times where circuses featured gladiators fighting to their death, chariot races, animal duels, and horse trick riding. Through the dark ages it endured in the form of troubadours and street performers. Finally, in the late 1700s, circus took a shape similar to the circuses of today.

In 1768 Sergeant Major Philip Astley returned to his home town of London, England, and started a horse riding school. He had just come back from serving in the British military as a cavalry man. To promote his horse riding school he created shows showcasing his skill on a horse.

As Philip Astley’s shows became more and more popular, he decided to add further entertainment. He added musicians, clowns, jugglers, tightrope walkers, and dancing dogs, which were already popular entertainment at fairs and festivals of the time. When his circus became more popular than his riding school, he opened another. And another. And another. Before Philip Astley died in 1814, he would open 19 circuses. Mr.Astley is now known as the father of modern circus.

After Sergeant Major Philip Astley opened his second circus, the inevitable competition emerged. They opened rival circuses all over Europe and eventually all over the world. But there was one problem. With the small size of towns in the 18th century, if a circus was around long enough, sooner or later everyone in a town would have seen it. But being as innovative as they were, circus owners solved that problem easily. They began to travel. In order to do this efficiently, the circus tent was invented. It was great because of how quickly and easily it could be set up and taken down.

By the mid 1800s, circus was in its golden age. Going to the circus was as popular as going to a movie theater is now. Soon entrepreneurs and businessmen joined the craze. They added human freaks and exotic animals in different tents that could only be entered at extra cost. And people did enter. Everyone involved circus was raking in money.

But all great things must come to an end. By the mid 1900s, circus was getting less and less popular due to the invention of the radio and television. People no longer needed to leave the comfort of their home for entertainment. So, circus declined in popularity until it settled at where it is today. Don’t get me wrong, circus is still popular, just not nearly as popular as it was 100-200 years ago.

Is the end near for circus? I think not! Circus has survived for thousands of years, and I see no reason for it not to survive for thousands of years to come.