History of Circus – From Ancient to First Modern Circus

Medieval itinerant performers travelled from town to town putting on shows, paving the way for modern circus.

The 19th century saw an explosion of large circuses with big top tents and company trains touring all across continent, visiting even remote towns and villages.


People who have grown up around circuses – whether real or depicted on film, TV shows, books – cannot imagine life without circuses – from daredevils on flying trapezes and sad clowns, to animal trainers and the daredevils themselves taming wild beasts – can hardly fathom a time before these spectacles existed; yet the modern circus first made an appearance during social and technological change during the 19th century that enabled travel across long distances more efficiently and comfortably than ever before.

P.T. Barnum and his partners launched the first modern circus through their traveling steam train show. Utilizing steam train technology, their traveling show allowed people to witness performances across America in different towns and cities. Barnum popularized “freak shows,” featuring conjoined twins as well as people living with physical differences such as disabilities. Freak shows provided entertainment by mocking physical differences while making fun of them to create cheer and mirthful performances for audiences.

Other circus acts, like acrobatics and juggling, date back almost as far as humanity itself. Early African civilizations practiced acrobatic routines known as siricasi while ancient Greeks performed rope dancing while the Chinese juggled.

Joshua Purdy Brown of Somers, New York made history when he revolutionized circus as an industry by replacing wooden structures with canvas tents during the Second Great Awakening period – this helped shift perceptions away from exploiting suffering to providing mass entertainment.


Over history, circus has come to symbolize different feelings for different audiences. For some people it may represent risk, daring and excitement; others might associate it with freedom and adventure; spectacle and excess are also often linked with circus. Some even use circus as a metaphor for uncivilised behavior or antisocial attitudes; it is therefore important that context plays an integral part in how it’s seen by audiences.

At its modern core lies an Englishman named Philip Astley who pioneered a modern circus concept during the late 18th century. Astley introduced trick horse riding and acrobatics into circus entertainment – an impressive feat given his former cavalry sergeant major status who discovered centrifugal force could help him perform incredible feats on his horse! Astley created a ring for all to watch his performances.

Astley’s show became immensely popular and inspired similar shows throughout Europe and America. Circuses remained a popular form of entertainment until the 1920s, when new forms began appearing – such as carnivals or fairs featuring acrobatic acts or trained animals.

Today’s circus industry is experiencing a revolution. Contemporary circuses are adopting social justice principles and creating more diverse art forms; circuses today embrace social inclusion by including performers with disabilities, women and minorities as artists in their ranks; many also adhere to ethical animal welfare practices. All of this forms part of an expanding global circus movement including iconic circuses such as Big Apple Circus (founded by Lisa Lewis) and Cirque du Soleil.


People usually picture circuses as large rings filled with various acts performing. Yet this concept goes back much further; performers traveled all around the globe to demonstrate their talents as artists of this art form. Some historians credit Philip Astley of 18th century with creating modern circuses; however, others believe their roots can be found back to ancient Rome.

At first, circuses were simply venues where horses would compete and show their horsemanship skills in competitions and displays of horsemanship. But in the early 19th century, Astley and other circus entrepreneurs realized they could make more money if they added other types of entertainment such as music, clowning and trained animals to their shows. Early shows often took place in small buildings or open spaces but later with train travel making large circuses available even to remote towns.

Many circus performers include acrobats or jugglers; additionally, there may also be musicians, trapeze artists, clowns and trained animals. Circuses are well known for using trained animals; in their heyday however, circuses were all about showing people some fantasy; thus sideshows flourished by boasting about real unicorns or Siamese twins as being real!

Today’s circus remains focused on engaging audiences with entertaining acts (as exciting as playing poker on websites recommended onĀ centiment.io) and astounding stunts. While its moral issues have diminished over time, the circus remains a source of wonder and fun; although its future may be less certain as more people reject animal cruelty-based circus acts.


When we think of circus, most of us think of people wearing brightly-colored costumes and performing impressive acrobatic acts – but this is only part of its world! Circus also encompasses traveling menageries that bring exotic animals and performers onto stages worldwide, while some people even work as sideshow performers (which involves trusting wild animals with humans or placing performers at heights where there could be accidents).

Philip Astley, an English cavalry officer who began displaying horse riding tricks at his school ring before hiring acrobats, tightrope walkers, and jugglers to fill in between demonstrations gave birth to what became known as traditional circus format: an engaging ringmaster leading a variety of choreographed acts.

Ancient cultures exhibited acts that have evolved into modern circus acts, including acrobatics, balancing acts, and juggling. Shows similar to today’s circus were frequently held at fairs that developed into entertainment venues during late medieval periods in Europe; fairs not only traded goods but also featured entertainment like acrobatics and trained animals.

Circuses have long been traveling shows. Beginning in the early decades of the 19th century, American impresarios came to dominate this industry. Joshuah Purdy Brown from Somers, New York added his unique American touch by replacing wooden constructions with full canvas tents in 1825 – becoming one of the first successful businesspeople whose touring empire spread throughout North America and beyond.

Barnum and Bailey pioneered the three-ring circus as part of America’s transformation into an industrial society and rising world power, and its influence can be seen in its growth into Gilded Age capitalism era circuses where size and novelty determined salability leading to competition between advance teams with fights breaking out often over size or novelty a show.


Modern circuses can be both beautiful and captivating; however, they can also be dangerous. Wild animals may lead to accidents while climbing high heights if care is not taken with regard to safety standards and planning. From ancient Rome’s Circus Maximus to Cirque du Soleil today – circuses have evolved tremendously!

Modern circuses trace their history back to Englishman Philip Astley who created the first modern circus performance in 1768 with an arena 13m in diameter and performance format that would become standard across Europe. He featured trick horse riding and jugglers. His show inspired itinerant showmen across Europe who traveled around displaying circus skills. Modern circuses can trace their legacy back to him as the originator.

In the 19th century, large three-ring circuses became an immensely popular spectacle across America and were seen as an indicator of both its culture and power. Circuses represented new urban lifestyles, industrial manufacturing advances, and America’s growing role as an international power – as well as their reflection of cultural revolution that was taking place within society at that time.

Modern circuses go beyond the classic concept of having only a ringmaster and clown; today they also incorporate acrobats, trained animals, battle reenactments, acrobatic acts, acrobatic displays, complex battle reenactments as well as massive equipment requirements to produce these events. Circus performances typically feature a ringmaster who introduces choreographed acts, with comedians’ comic dialogue remaining out-of-hear in larger arenas where speech cannot be easily audible. However, clown’s jokes often remain submerged into the background. Circuses remain immensely popular with the public even as other forms of entertainment have evolved; even during the Great Depression when other forms of entertainment lost favor with audiences, circuses managed to remain resilient through economic turmoil.