The Colosseum: Rome’s Iconic Amphitheater and Its Gruesome History

The Colosseum: Rome’s Iconic Amphitheater and Its Gruesome History

The enormous Colosseum, a giant amphitheater ever constructed in ancient times, is situated east of the Roman Forum. Tens of spectators, possibly as many as 60,000, would have crammed onto these seats centuries ago. The grisly meal served as entertainment was made public at the arena. In front of adoring crowds baying for blood, gladiators battled to the death in the theater. As wild and exotic animals were brought to the empire’s center to satisfy the audiences’ curiosity before they, too, were dispatched, others fought against the kingdom’s riches. Still, other people were put to death in the Colosseum as criminals sentenced to die for other people’s amusement.

How The Colosseum Began

The Colosseum was constructed between Rome’s Caelian, Esquiline, and Palatine Hills. This part of the city had been devastated by a devastating fire in 64 BCE. The massive fire destroyed the area and allowed Emperor Nero to take control of the imperial capital for his purposes. He claimed the territory and built his infamous Domus Aurea, sometimes known as the “Golden Mansion of Nero,” to symbolize his superiority. Consequently, the emperor’s standing quickly fell dangerously. The empire committed suicide in 68 CE after embroiling in a civil war. There were four contenders, and Vespasian triumphed as the new emperor. He would work with his sons Titus and Domitian to establish the Flavian Dynasty and try to undo Nero’s influence on Rome.

The Domus Aurea had to go for that to happen. The land Nero had taken for his use was returned to the people in a symbolic act. It was a suitable gesture to build a sizable theater in the center of the imperial city as a location for public entertainment and imperial goodwill. Around 70 CE saw the start of Amphitheater construction, which was made possible by the extravagant wealth that the emperors had looted from the Jerusalem Temple after it had been taken during the First Jewish-Roman War.

Exterior of ColosseumSource: Pxfuel

The Name Of The Colosseum Means

Because it was constructed by Emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, the Flavian dynasty’s successors to Nero, the Colosseum was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater. The enormous bronze monument of Emperor Nero that once stood next to the structure is perhaps where the word “Colosseum” originates. The Colossus of Rhodes served as the inspiration for this statue.

The Arena and the Emperors

The Colosseum was a politically sensitive setting in the center of the imperial city for the monarchs that succeeded the Flavian emperors. Future emperors may follow the Flavian example and invest in the large arena, either in the games or the arena’s physical structure.

The descriptions of the inaugural games, which were under the direction of the emperor Titus and were chronicled by Cassius Dio, give some idea of the spectacle of the games. According to the historian, over 9,000 wild animals were also killed there, along with single combatants, groups of soldiers, naval conflicts, and horse races. Domitian, who is not the most well-remembered emperor, enhanced his family’s contribution to the imperial capital by constructing more seating on the arena’s upper floors. The hardwood floors on the arena’s upper levels were destroyed in a fire in 217 CE that Dio said was caused by a lightning strike. The third century saw continued restoration work.

The arena could also serve as a gathering place for the insane and the vile and a stage for the worst imperial excesses. According to one theory, this is how the Flavian Amphitheater got its enduring moniker from the Colossus of Nero. The Domus Aurea’s entrance had once housed this colossal bronze statue of the monarch. It was transported to a platform outside the arena after the emperor passed away, where the face was changed to resemble the sun, god Sol. Yet as this was also transient, Commodus, the emperor, had the statue altered once more. This time, it took on Hercules’s persona; the statue’s club can be seen on the Gordian medallion above.

Colosseum InteriorSource: Rawpixel

Rome’s Gladiators

The famous athletes of their era, the gladiators in Rome, risked life and limb for the amusement of the imperial capital. Despite this, gladiators were frequently from the lowest social strata and frequently enslaved people or condemned criminals. Like Spartacus, several people rebelled against their fate, often in vain. Others would become well-known, wealthy, and famous. Gladiators constantly kept their winnings and other gifts and were highly regarded for their abilities. Suetonius even claims that Emperor Tiberius offered a few gladiators who had retired money—up to 100,000 sesterces—to return to the fight! Special schools served as their training grounds.

The Ludus Magnus, which Domitian constructed in the late first century CE and located east of the Colosseum, is the most significant building in Rome.

Illustration of gladiator games held in ColosseumSource: Digitalt Museum

The Amphitheater’s Architectural Design

The Colosseum was and is a masterpiece of architecture. The construction is best understood as two traditional theaters connected, as the name amphitheater translates as “theater all around.” On the other hand, the amphitheater was entirely free-standing, unlike a Classical Greek theater, which was often constructed to maximize the benefits of natural terrain. The actual Colosseum is an oval building with dimensions of 189 meters long and 156 meters wide. The exterior wall rises 48 meters high.

The arena’s floor is also oval, measuring 87 meters long by 55 meters wide. A 5-meter wall divided the baying spectators from the bloodbath on the dunes below. The exterior wall is a beautiful combination of architectural styles, one per level:

  • Doric half-columns are employed at the base.
  • Ionic columns are utilized in the middle and on the top level.
  • Intricate acanthus leaves pour out from Corinthian columns.

While they are now gone, the attic’s top used to be surrounded by about 240 mast corbels. They held up a retractable awning that spectators might use to shield themselves from the scorching Italian sun.

Exterior of ColosseumSource: Wikimedia Commons

Ancient Roman Amphitheaters

Even though the Colosseum was the largest amphitheater in ancient times, many others existed. About 230 have been located thus far throughout the empire’s swaths, from Britain in the north to Tunisia in the south. The earliest are from the Republican era and might be a characteristic of the Italian Capuan region. But many of the long-lasting buildings date back to the imperial period. The arena at Pompeii, which researchers date to a time just after 70 BCE, is one of the most well-known of these older theaters.

The Colosseum In Contemporary Culture

The arena was transformed into a castle in the 13th century and fortified under the control of the Frangipani dynasty. Later, during the era of the Popes, much thought was given to the Colosseum. Pope Sixtus V, one of the great builders of modern Rome, proposed a proposal to turn the Colosseum into a wool factory to provide the prostitutes of the city with legitimate jobs. This idea was abandoned when he passed away too soon. The arena substructure wasn’t fully exposed until the 20th century and the ill-advised archaeological efforts of Benito Mussolini and the Fascists.

The Colosseum is still what it has always been one of Rome’s most well-liked tourist destinations. Every year, millions flock to the gigantic building, mesmerized by its stunning architecture, turbulent past, insane rulers, and the plans of Renaissance popes.

About The Author

Rajika Nanayakkara

My name is Rajika Nanayakkara and I am a passionate writer with a deep love for ancient history. With a keen eye for detail and a natural curiosity, I have dedicated myself to exploring the mysteries and wonders of the past. Through my writing, I seeks to bring the stories of ancient civilizations to life, providing a glimpse into the rich and fascinating world of our ancestors. My writings has been featured through

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