The Just History blog today put up this absolutely magnificent article about one of the great wonders of the classical world, the infamous Colosseum in Rome. I’ve been to the Colosseum, and it’s truly one of the most awe-inspiring things I’ve ever seen…and even more incredible when you consider its bloody history. Just History gives us a rundown on how it was built, who built it, what it was used for, and what happened to it after the era of gladiators and lions was long over. This is a great history, and it even makes reference to one of my favorites from the “Historic Painting” series, Pollice Verso from 1872. Read the whole thing at the link at the end of the article.
As this blog post has been delayed because I took a trip to Rome, I thought it only fair I return to writing with a Rome-themed post, and as the Colosseum is so emblematic of Rome and the Roman Empire, I thought it fitting. The Colosseum fits my theme of “Ancient Wonders” as although it wasn’t on any of the Ancient travel lists to make it into one of the Seven Wonders, it is certainly a beautiful piece of architecture, and one that has lasted the test of time.
Photograph my own.
Located near to the old Roman Forum, construction on the Colosseum began in 72 AD under the Emperor Vespasian, and was completed in 80 AD by his heir, Titus. Vespasian planned the Colosseum to be a gift to the Roman people, as it was on land that the hated Emperor Nero had built an enormous palace for himself. The Colosseum was fairly unique for Roman planning, as whilst most amphitheatres were located on the outskirts of a city, the Colosseum was constructed in the city centre, making it the heart of Rome. Moreover, whilst most early amphitheatres were dug into hillsides to provide support, the Colosseum was a freestanding structure. The funding for the project came from money and treasure taken from the Jewish Temple after the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 AD, and many of an estimated 100,000 Jewish prisoners who were brought to Rome after the Siege of Jerusalem were used to help build it.
Whilst slaves and prisoners did the bulk of the difficult manual labour, the Colosseum wasn’t going to be a shoddy affair, and professional Roman builders, engineers, artists and decorators were hired to make the building impressive and built to last. The finished structure was 189 metres long, 156 metres wide, with a base area of 24,000 square metres. The central arena was an oval 87 metres long and 55 metres wide, with a 5m high wall before the tiers of seating began. The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic metres of stone, and interestingly mortar was not used to set the stones, and instead 300 tonnes of iron clamps were used. This adds to impressive numbers, and was why the Colosseum was able to hold a huge crowd: it is estimated it could hold between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, with an average audience of 65,000 people.
How the structure of the Colosseum would have been in Roman times. Pinterest.
The Colosseum was used for a variety of public spectacles, most famously for gladiatorial contests, but also for mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, dramas and re-enactments. When entering, spectators were given pottery shards as their tickets, which told them which section and row they sat in. The more wealthy and higher status you were, the closer to the arena you sat. The best seats in the house were reserved for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, closely followed by the senatorial class who were allowed to bring their own chairs for comfort. Interestingly, whilst even slaves were allowed access to the very top of the building, some groups were banned altogether from the Colosseum, including actors and former gladiators…
Source: Ancient Wonders: The Colosseum