Also known as the Coliseum or the Flavian Amphitheater, the Colosseum is an oval-shaped amphitheater in the heart of Rome, Italy. To this day, it is the largest structure of its kind to have ever been built and is considered one of the new seven wonders of the world. The Colosseum was built as a multi-purpose structure during the Roman Empire and today is a popular tourist attraction.
Located on the eastern side of the Roman Forum, a plaza in Rome with many ruins from the Roman period, the Coliseum’s construction started in 72 CE under Emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 CE under Emperor Titus. Between the years 81 and 96, under the leadership of Emperor Domitian, a few modifications were made. These three emperors, Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian, are collectively referred to as the Flavian dynasty, which is why the word “Flavian” is in the alternate name of the structure.
It was built by at least 60,000 Jewish slaves, and about a third of the original structure still exists today. It was unique in tha many of the colosseums built prior to it were dug out of hillsides to provide support for the structure, whereas this one was freestanding. At the time of its construction, it had as many 80 entrances, and it was the sight of many displays of decadence, excess and brutality during the Roman Imperial period.
A Venue Unlike Any Other
Primarily, the amphitheater was used as a venue for gladiatorial contests as well as other social functions. The shows, which were known as munera, were mostly planned and organized by private citizens rather than the state. Despite their brutality, the gladiatorial shows had a strong religious aspect to them, and were seen as paying tribute to the death of powerful men. Wealthy and powerful families used the shows to demonstrate their status, and over the years the religious aspect came to be overshadowed by the politics of power.
Aside from munera, there was another popular show known as venation, which involved animal hunts. The animals that were hunted were mostly exotic beasts from around the world such as the Middle East and Africa. The animals included elephants, aurochs, Caspian tigers, Barbary lions, wisents, rhinoceros, crocodiles, bears, leopards, panthers, and many more. Usually, these hunts were held in the amphitheater after the stage was set properly to look like a forest. During lunch breaks, other things were done such as adbestias, which was the practice of carrying out a death sentence through animals. The condemned people would be placed in the Colosseum without any form of clothing or defense against vicious beats. Aside from the executions, lunch breaks also had entertainment such as performances by magicians and acrobat.
Simulated sea fights, known as naumachiae or navalia proelia, were also held in the Colosseum. Accounts from 80 CE, during the reign of Titus, state that the structure was filled with water during the shows. The accounts also assert that there was a show mimicking the famous fight between Corcyrean Greeks and the Corinthians. However, these accounts have been a source of debate as historians cannot understand how the structure could have been waterproofed or if warships would have enough space to fit. To explain this, historians have theorized that the Colosseum was abandoned as the location for these particular shows early on because of the extent of the preparation necessary to have them there.
Another use was a practice known as sylvae, which involved painters and artists creating works of art based on nature.
Today, the Colosseum does not have many uses except to act as a major source of tourism for the city of Rome. Every year, thousands of visitors go to see the ancient structure, including the passageways beneath that were used for transporting gladiators and animals. It is one of the most visited tourist attractions in Italy. The structure also has a museum dedicated to the Greek god Eros on the upper floors. In addition, the Roman Catholic Church has used it as a venue for ceremonies such as Good Friday celebrations.
Though in many ways the Colosseum symbolizes flamboyance, elitism and violence of the Roman Empire, it is still a stunning sight to behold to this day. To stand in the centre of this giant structure and marvel at its continued existence spanning millennia, the history it embodies, the millions of feet that stood on the same ground, the lives ended at your feet, is an experience unlike many other.