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Research - Ancient Rome - The Colosseum

The Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman Empire. It was a true marvel at the time - the newest, greatest thing. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, after emperor Vespasian's family, and later, in the middle ages, it became Coliseum.

It wasn't the oldest - the honor for the oldest stone amphitheatre went to one built in Pompeii around 69 AD.

But it was the largest in classical history.

According to Colosseum.net - the measurements are as follows: 615 ft long by 510 ft wide with a base of 6 acres. The height of the outer wall was 157 ft. The central arena was 287 ft long by 180 ft wide.

For some comparison, a modern-day regulation NFL arena has the following dimensions: 120 yards long (360 ft) x 150 yards wide (450 ft).

After years of oppression under Emperor Nero's rule, the new Emperor Vespasian began to regain the people's confidence and approval with public building projects. One of his goals was to remove the reminders of the previous ruler. Construction of the Colosseum began around 72 AD on top of Nero's former palacial lake. It has been suggested the name Colosseum was from the colossal statue of Nero standing in front.

80 AD - The grand-opening or inaugural games lasted 100 days; over 5000 animals were killed. Exotic animals were brought to Rome from North African. However, since there were no zoologist or techniques to keep the exotic animals alive, many animals died even before the shows took place.

The last games were held in the 6th century AD.

The current colosseum is badly damaged and basically a shell of its former self. There have been fires, earthquakes, and people stealing materials (stones, bronze, etc) that have inflicted damage over time.

At the time, the building implemented a new technique in construction -

The invention of a type of cement allowed buildings to be built higher and higher. As buildings get taller, however, they get heavier and lean or crumble the bottom layers. Which is why builders experimented with arches in lieu of solid walls. The Colosseum consisted of 3 tiers or layers of 80 arches. Other buildings in Rome also utilized arches, which we'll talk about in later weeks.

The arena was made of a wooden floor covered with sand. Beneath the arena was an elaborate underground (hypogeum) network of tunnels, 32 elevators, and trap doors.

They flooded the arena for mock sea battles. The walls were lined with water proof material (hydraulic mortar). 4000-5000 cubic meters of water was required and a series of drains led to an elaborate drain system surrounding the Colosseum which sent the water back into the sewer system.

Each level had drinking fountains and toilets (latrines) which had running water so that waste could be moved down pipes into the surrounding drain system.

Exterior walls were covered with travertine stone (from Tibur or modern-day Tiboli). Interior walls made of tuff (tufa in English)(a porous, volcanic stone). Bricks and tiles were also used.

80 numbered arched entrances led to groups of seats. A spectator's ticket listed which door to enter. The design enabled quick crowd evacuation (an estimated 15 minutes). Interestingly, a separate tunnel was constructed just for the emperor and his party so they wouldn't have to mingle with the crowd.

There were four distinct row sections depending on status in society - the closest section to the arena was reserved for the emperor, high aristocracy and Senator class. Women and slaves sat/stood together in the very top section. The Colosseum contained approximately 50,000 seats.

At the very top, there was an awning system (velarium) put in place with 240 masts and a pulley system to spread sheets of canvas, leaving a hole in the center for stage lighting. Without it, the temperatures within the structure would have been horrendous not to mention the spectators sitting in direct sunlight all day long.

350 years of shows took place here, which included gladiatorial games, re-enactments of battles, dramas and even a few public executions. Today, a few shows take place on the outside using the building as a backdrop.




BBC - excellent animation with information

The-Colosseum - lots of useful information on materials, architecture, the drainage system, etc.

Synthreal - some interesting facts

TV Show - When Rome Ruled - Secrets of the Gladiators- http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/when-rome-ruled/4722/Overview

Thanks to Sports Know-How for the modern-day arena dimensions.

Research - Ancient Rome - Gladiators

As soon as you read the subject of today's entry, "Gladiator", I bet your brain immediately held images of sexy, half-naked men holding swords and shields, grunting, sweating, perhaps looking like Russel Crow...

Of course, that's Hollywood. They want the gladiator to look hot and be victorious, otherwise we wouldn't waste our money watching. Who wants to see a bloody battle where the hero dies?

But, tens of thousands of ancient Romans did enjoy them. The bloodier, the better.

Gladiators were like heavy-weight wrestlers of today. A lot of time and money was invested in these men (most of whom were slaves) to make them superior athletes, despite the fact that many died after one or two fights. Not very many actually made a career of fighting. Those that did became celebrities and sometimes were their freedom and a symbolic wooden sword. Ironically, these gladiatorial slaves had the best medical care and the best nutrition available.

So much focus went into these games because they correlated to the emperor's popularity with the people. If the spectators enjoyed the games and were happy, then they were happy with the emperor. Eventually, the emperor became directly tied with the outcome of the games as a sort of referee. When a gladiator fell or was defeated, it was the emperor who decided whether he should live or die. If the crowd wanted to see the gladiator's death, then the emperor gave the signal ("Jugula") to cut his throat.

Gladiators spent six long, dedicated months training at the Ludus or Ludi (gladiator school). They start with wooden swords and build up their stamina and muscles and finally learn to use real swords. The trainer is called a lanista. One recent archaeological excavation showed that the lanista was well-respected almost treated like royalty in his burial.

Each game consisted of several pairs of fighters. Romans believed in fair fights between "matched up" players. Each player had a specific role. For example, one role was the Net Man (Retiarius) who used a net and a trident to capture his opponent. Another role was the Fish Man (Murmillo) who relied on a sword. A fight would pair these opposing roles (Net vs Fish) for a more entertaining battle. Since their tools and armor were limited, they relied on their wits to win. Like modern day wrestling matches, they would include a lot of drama to woo the crowd.

The name Gladiator actually derives from Gladius, a type of two-edged sword.

The games lasted about 350 years, starting in 264 BC. The first games lasted 100 days and consisted of thousands of animals (many exotics imported from Africa). The largest games were held at the Colosseum which had a capacity up to 80,000 people.

Women did participate in Gladiatorial games and were called Gladiatrices.


"When Rome Rules - Secrets of the Gladiators" - http://channel.nationalgeographic.com/series/when-rome-ruled/4722/Overview

"The Real Story - Gladiator" - http://www.smithsonianchannel.com/site/sn/video/player/culture/related/the-real-story-gladiator-sneak-peek/876374365001/

Gladiatorial Games - http://www.vroma.org/~bmcmanus/arena.html