In its heydey the Colosseum was used to kill thousands of criminals, professional fighters and animals. The shows, called munera, were paid for by individuals (not the state) and entry was free to Roman citizens. The colisseum could hold up to 70,000 spectators but divided according to social status and sex. The higher ones status, the closer to the arena one sat; people of lower status and woman sat high up at the back.
In 240 a festival was held where the following deaths were recorded:
- 2,000 gladiators
- 70 lions
- 40 wild horses
- 30 elephants
- 20 wild asses
- 19 giraffes
- 10 elks
- 10 tigers
- 10 hyenas
- 1 hippopotamus
- 1 rhinoceros
However, the long held belief that many Christian martyrs met their death there is probably apocryphal.
The games were held as a symbol of prestige and power and to gain public favour. They would last for a whole day or several days - sometimes 100 days games were held - and usually began with a comedy act followed by a display of exotic animals. The climax to the games were fights to the death between gladiators and sometimes wild animals as well.
With a revolt by his army looming, Nero committed suicide in 68 leaving a power vacuum in Rome. After some wrangling, Vespasian became emporer and to make his mark, he began the building of the great Colosseum, paid for by booty from the Jewish War and in the grounds of Nero's palace.
The Colosseum was completed by his son, Titus in 80 CE. The opening ceremony saw hunts, battles and shows and included the killing of some 5,000 animals. The stadium was also flooded with water for a recreation of historical sea battles.
The building was eliptical and 188m by 156m. Originally it was white, covered in travertine stone slabs; it also had four floors with the first three having eighty arches each and those arches on the second and third floors decorated with huge statues.
Around 230 Emperor Alexander Severus restored the building. Since then it has several times been damaged by fire and earthquake and had to be restored several times until the end of the 5th century. Gladiatorial combats were outlawed by the Christian emperor Honorius in 407 and fights with wild beasts were banned in 523. After this, the arena went out of use.
After the 6th century, the Colosseum was used to house hospitals, a hermitage and a cemetary. It was threatened with demolition by Sextus V for town planning purposes, but saved by Benedict XIV who declared it a holy site dedicated to the Passion of Christ in recognition of the suffering there by the Christian martyrs.
At that time the building was known as the Flavian Amphitheatre but in the 7th century the name, Colosseum was adopted deriving from a massive statue of Nero which once stood there.
Today almost 60% of main external wall is missing. During the Middle Ages the Popes used the Colosseum as a giant store where they took stone for use in Piazza Venezia and St Peter's and as protective barriers on the Tiber.
Below the ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena. The Colosseum was also covered with an enormous awning known as the velarium. This protected the spectators from the sun. It was attached to large poles on top of the Colosseum and anchored to the ground by large ropes. A team of some 1,000 men was used to install the awning.
A major cleaning programme was begun in 1993 to take away years of grime caused by neglect and pollution. It took 7 years and cost over 20 million euro.
In 2010 a consortium of private businesses was set up to clean the colosseum. This fell through and Diego Della Valle has stepped in to save the project.
A CGI reconstruction of the Colosseum showing how it would have looked in its heyday.
|Whos here now: Members 0 Guests 1 Bots & Crawlers 0|