The Roman Colosseum
The Roman colosseum was the center of entertainment in ancient Rome. It was also the deathplace of countless innocents. Come explore the fascinating history of Rome's Colosseum.
The Roman Colosseum is one of the most recognisable landmarks of history. It towers above the modern surroundings as a reminder of a time long gone, a time when power hungry leaders ruled the land and the entertainment was had at the expense of human life.
And at the heart of that entertainment was the Colosseum, the grandest of the Roman Amphitheatres. Built in the form of an ellipse, with a greater axis of 617 feet and a lesser one of 512 feet, it has a perimeter of 1,729 feet and is 187 feet high. To build this massive structure was a huge undertaking. It required the quarrying of tens of thousands of tons of travertine, a type of marble found in the nearby town of Tivoli, and 300 tons of iron to secure the marble blocks to one another. Many of the component parts of the Colosseum, however, were built at other locations and then transported to their final destination in an early example of prefabrication. This allowed for a speeding up of the building process. In fact, the entire Colosseum was constructed in only about 7 years.
While slave labor was used for the heavy construction work, the precision of the finished product and the variety of materials used in construction indicate that specialised craftsmen were used for much of the project. The completed Colosseum rose to four stories. The first three stories contained 80 perfectly symmetrical arches, each of which originally was adorned with a statue. The fourth story had large, rectangular windows in its walls. Estimates of between 50 and 70,000 spectators were able to pack into the spectator areas provided on these four stories.
The amphitheatre was built on a concrete platform 42 feet thick. On top of this stood what was known as the subterranean area. It was here that the equipment and stage scenery used in the battle spectacles was held. Also, the weapons and hoists used to lift the wild animals and gladiators up to the level of the arena were held here. The actual arena itself was made of wood, which is now long gone. The edges of the arena were protected by high nets with spiked poles at their top to prevent the wild animals from getting out. Archers were also placed around the arena, just in case.
Entry to the Colosseum was free as part of an Imperial program to keep the masses contented. The real effect of these gruesome spectacles, however, was to desensitize the people to the horrors of murder for sport and to keep them hooked on an existence of debauchery and excess. The two main spectacles held were the munera, or combat between gladiators and the venationes – the hunting of wild animals. The gladiators were slaves, usually former prisoners of war. They were trained in gladiatorial schools before embarking on their new careers. The sword, spear, trident and shield were the weapons of choice.
The encounters normally ended with the death of one of the combatants. Initially the victor determined the fate of the loser, but in later times, it was the Emperor who gave the signal as to life or death with either a thumbs up or down signal. The winner was then given precious gifts and gold coins.
The Roman Colosseum was, therefore, the scene of horrendous bloodshed and murder – all in the name of entertainment. How could people be entertained by such a spectacle? Well, consider the gratification that many people today get from seeing one man beat another to a pulp in a boxing ring, or blowing someone's head off on the movie screen, and perhaps you’ll understand – we haven’t really progressed far since those times at all.