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 in the world and is considered one of the seven wonders of the world. The Colosseum was built as a multi-purpose structure and today is a popular tourist attraction.
Construction of the Colosseum
Located on the eastern side of the Roman Forum, the Coliseum’s construction started in 72 CE under Emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 CE under Emperor Titus. Between 81 CE and 96 CE, 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.
Historical Purpose of the Coliseum
Primarily, the amphitheater was used as a venue for gladiatorial contests as well as a selection of other functions. The shows, which were known as munera, were mostly planned and organized by private citizens instead of the state. Despite their brutality, the gladiatorial shows had a strong religious aspect in them. In addition to religion, wealthy and powerful families used the shows to demonstrate their 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 all 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 ad bestias, which was the practice of carrying out a death sentence through animals. The condemned people would be placed in the Coliseum 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 Coliseum. Accounts from 80 CE, during the reign of Titus, state that the structure was filled with water during the shows. The accounts also show 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 come up with theories like the water battles were held elsewhere or the structure had a floodable channel.
Another use was a practice known as sylvae, which involved painters and artists creating works of art based on nature.
Modern Uses of the Colosseum
Today, the Colosseum does not have many uses except act as a major source of tourists 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. Aside from tourism, 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.