The History of Rome’s Colosseum

One of the world’s most recognisable landmarks. But how much do you actually know about Rome’s iconic Colosseum? 

It is one of the world’s most recognisable landmarks, and Rome’s greatest treasure; the famous Colosseum. An ancient building still incredibly impressive in a world of skyscrapers, the Colosseum is Rome’s great gladiatorial arena. It once held some of the most exciting roman games, with thousands of citizens rich and poor cheering together for bloodshed and victory.

The Reason for its Construction

The life in ancient Roman times was anything but easy. The common folk worked from dawn until dusk, with no weekends on the calendar. Those in charge realised that without an outlet for their frustration, the people would soon rebel against the system. This was particularly important during the time when Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian came to power in 69 A.D. After the previous Emperor, Nero was assassinated, a year of civil unrest followed. Vespasian wanted to ensure no uprising would occur, so he commissioned the construction of Flavian Amphitheatre (now known as the Colosseum) in 72 A.D, stating it was a gift to the Roman people.

When was the Colosseum Built?

During the time of its construction, a lot of the city’s buildings were in decay due to numerous fires. The amphitheatre was built where the massive golden palace of Emperor Nero’s once sat before the fires. It was started in 72 A.D. and lasted until 79 A.D. to be completed, with numerous emperors in charge throughout its construction. It became an instant favourite, with the commoners and wealthy people flocking to its gates in the opening. Its name Flavian Amphitheatre, was later changed to the Colosseum, derived from the nearby statue of the colossal statue of Nero, called the ‘Colossus of Nero’ This statue was later pulled down, but you can still see its base today.

Colosseum’s Structure and Layout

The Colosseum was made using a number of arches and stone walls, with hundreds of skilled stonemasons and salves required to complete the building. There were four different levels of the Colosseum, with each level covered by wooden floors and sand. There different sections for certain guests, including better seats for officials and an Emperor’s Box for Roman’s ruler. The stadium measured up to 190 by 155 meters, is the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world at the time of completion. Sitting around about 50,000 citizens at once!

The Colosseum’s Games

The first ever Colosseum games were held in 80 A.D., which lasted 100 days and nights. The opening days included the opening parade, which introduced music, costumes, the racers, animals, and fighters. Sacrifices were also included in the opening acts, which honoured their religious beliefs and to bring luck to the games.

Chariot Racing

It was the ancient time’s car racing, but instead of a concrete loop with screeching cars, it was a bloodbath of horses, chariots, and barely any safety. Each contestant had one chariot, small enough to fit a standing rider and nothing else. The chariot was drawn by four horses, with typically four to six competitors racing at once. Nowadays, most think of gladiator’s fights being the favourite game held in the Colosseum, but it was in fact Chariot Racing, with accounts of the city being completely deserted when a race was on in the stadium.

Executions

This may not seem like the best entertainment; it was, in fact, one of the most common events in the Colosseum. Criminals, deserters, traitors, and Christians were all taken to the stadium for execution, with each one enduring a different type of finishing. It was forbidden to kill a Roman citizen in any other way apart from beheading, so even despite their crimes, this was the only punishment for them. However, those who were slaves were crucified or burned alive. Other punishments which were particularly gruesome but popular to the audience were criminals who were thrown to the animals.

Animal Hunts/Fights

The Romans were fascinated with anything exotic, including the native creatures from other countries. These mainly included Africa’s safari animals, as well as Asia’s jungle creatures. A display of these striking creatures was presented to the audience first, to showcase the sharp claws or beautiful feathers of each one. Then the animal hunts began, with the weaker, vulnerable animals hunted down in the ring. As these animals were usually quite harmless, even emperors or wealthy officials join in these displayed hunts. After this slaughter of innocence, the animal fights began. These involved the dangerous tigers, lions, and leopards, and usually were matched with a group of fighters, or an armed gladiator

Gladiator Fights

Undoubtedly the most famous event held at the Colosseum; the gladiator fights. The fighters were seen as ferocious warriors that were celebrities and sex symbols. A popular gladiator had huge endorsements, with action figures for children and public portraits of them on the streets. However, a lot of the time these fighters were actually salves and were kept in terrible facilities until they won enough fights to be free or were killed fighting. The Gladiators fights were the very last events held during the games and involved a range of fights. First up were the lightly armed fighters, then it was heavily armed, and finally, the gladiator style fights began. The event was so brutal that it was a common occurrence for the dead or injured bodies to be dragged to the side to make way for the next fight.

See it in person on our Rome Day Tour with Colosseum & Vatican!

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