The Flavian Amphitheater is the vast structure known to later ages as the “Colosseum. ” The Colosseum is a ‘marvel’ of Rome. To some extent because of its size and to some extent because the circumstances under which the Colosseum was built made this amphitheatre one of the world’s great ‘gallery plays’. ‘Here, where the far-seen Amphitheatre lifts its mass august,’ wrote Martial, ‘was Nero’s mere.
‘ Vespasian, a popular general, had drained the artificial lake in the gardens of Nero’s Golden House and begun upon its site this massive theatre planned for the games and spectacles which the ancient Romans regarded with affection and tenderness. The Colosseum was finished by Vespasian’s son Titus. The Colosseum was almost ready for use when Vespasian died in A. D. 79. Titus opened it, still unfinished and imperfect, in A. D. 80, with impressive gladiatorial games.
The amphitheatre was completed by Domitian, Titus’ brother and successor, and later had to be reconstructed several times because of fires due to lightning and damages due to earthquakes. The Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world, and modern estimates have put the capacity in the region of fifty thousand spectators. Colosseum was constructed for the purpose of gladiator fights. To see the fine points of the combats the audience was concentrated around the contestants as closely as possible; hence the Colosseum – an huge oval of seats looking down upon a central arena.
The Colosseum – a Building for the People In building the Colosseum, Vespasian was strengthening his power. The Colosseum must have provided long-term employment for many skilled craftsmen and labourers alike. This contributed to a general feeling of prosperity and regeneration in Rome. Such a magnificent building showed the power of the imperial family and the Roman Empire to the citizens of Rome and to any foreign visitors in the city. Empire that had the power to produce such a magnificent construction should undoubtedly be feared and obeyed.
Moreover, the amphitheatre was a living monument to the kindness of the emperor, his gift to the people to exhibit them that he cared about them. Even today the ruin of the amphitheatre remains one of the most famous representations of the power of the Roman Empire. The Colosseum was described by Martial as one of the world’s wonders. The amphitheater was built to be the most prestigious place for blood games of power and politics. Standing isolated beyond the Forum, in the low area between the Palatine, Esquiline, and Caelian hills, this beautiful building was easy to enter from the center of the ancient city.
Yet, it was isolated enough to permit the easy movement of a large number of people. In entering the great amphitheater the visitor must direct his investigations, in the first place, to the way in which the vast crowds of spectators were handled, controlled, and distributed over the seats on showing days; and then, to the arrangement of the arena and of its structure. It could seat about forty five thousand, and likely had standing room for about five thousand more in its upper part. Its great shell having the shape of an ellipse was about one-third of a mile in circumference, its longer axis measuring about 617 feet, its shorter about 512.
The long axis, whose entrances were used for ceremonies, extends parallel with the Roman Forum, approximately towards the southeast and northwest. The seats for emperors were located at the south side, facing along the shorter axis. This location gave a closer view of the spectacles. Immense roofs of canvas supported by a frame sheltered the spectators. The Colosseum’s countless blocks of travertin were bound together by metal clamps. The exterior was faced with marble and decorated with hundreds more of those sculptures that populate Rome. The building rises 157 feet in four stories.
The lower three of thelevels were composed each of a series of eighty arches backed by piers. In the first story the flanking columns were Doric, the second Ionic, the third Corinthian. The fourth story had no arches but nothing more than windows and pilasters. Between these upper pilasters were designed stone brackets that held high wooden masts for the great roofs of canvas that stretch over the arena. These masts and roofs (red, blue, and yellow) when spread out under a shining sky, made the Colosseum look somewhat like a huge galley under a cloud of sail.
Outside of the Colosseum was a wide circular area whereon converge many roads from one place to another. This open space was scattered with huckster’s booths and with small ticket stands much like those around many amusement places in another age. There one could place wagers, obtain programs for the day, find food to eat between the spectacles, and very likely buy or hire pillows in case the stone seats prove too hard. Also on the outside and close to the foot of the main building was located a high wooden palisade. This was designed to help in controlling the movement of the crowds.
Viewer went in at one or two entrances, showing his tickets, then circled the stonework until he reached one of the staircases that were located under every fourth arch, and next he could easily mount to his reserved seat in one of the sub-sections (cunei). Once inside, the remarkable arrangements of the structure impressed the visitor no less than its unusually large in size territory. Everything moved towards the central arena; even from the highest seats the visitor could see all the details of the spectacles below. The seats were divided into three great terraces.
In addition, they were easily accessible by the stairways and corridors that the fifty thousand spectators could pass in and out without difficulty. The lowest tiers were made of marble and comfortably cushioned. They usually were reserved there for the senators, his friends, the chief priests, and the Vestal Virgins. Today, no trace is left of the Imperial suggestum nor of the cubicula connected with it. The balcony or pulpit (editoris tribunal) constructed specifically for use by the magistrate who exhibited the games has also ceased to exist.
On the other hand, there are many epigraphic records of the places belonging to senators, knights, high divines, ambassadors, guests of the S. P. Q. R. , etc. , according to the distribution made in A. D. 80 by the Imperial commissioner, Manius Laberins Maximus, assisted by officer named Thyrsus. The places were not appointed to individuals, but collectively to the body or college or institution to which they belonged; for example, “to the exconsuls, one hundred and ten feet,” or, “to the school-teachers, . . . feet. ” In the middle of the fourth century this classification was given up.
Spaces for one or more seats were for a long time occupied by the same individual, or by the same family, whose name was in an appropriate manner inscribed on the marble pavement. The arena or central open space, where the spectacles took place, has name associated with the sand that was on it to absorb the blood. Such Emperors as Caligula, Nero, and Carinus showed their extravagance by using cinnabar and borax as an alternative to the common arena. It included a boarded floor supported by beams which rested on the walls.
Some were parallel to the main axis; some followed the curve of the ellipse. The arena is 94 yds. long by 59 yds. wide. Beneath the arena and adjacent to the foundations of the inner wall were located chambers and dens for the wild animals. More towards the centre were located a number of walls, pillars, and arches. They were partly required for the support of the arena, and partly connected with the apparatus for hoisting up from below the scenery, properties, etc. , required in the combats with beasts and other performances.
The huge amount of fragments with very large letters, on the edge of the arena, belonged to the dedicatory inscriptions set up by Theodosius II. and Valentinian III. in 445. Although the main part of the gigantic structure have disappeared, the ruins are still tremendously impressive. The Colosseum has ever been something that represented the greatness of Rome, and gave rise in the 7th century to a prophetic proverb of the pilgrims: While stands the Colosseum, Rome shall stand, When falls the Colosseum, Rome shall fall, And when Rome falls, with it shall fall the World.
Though the outer part of the great building is impressive because of its rigorous and solid bulk, its prominent feature was its perfect capacity to the handle large and possibility uncontrollable crowds. Seventy-six of its eighty arches were numbered. The tickets had corresponding numbers, so that people could find their way without difficulty to their seats from the particular entrance without pressing in the corridors. It was a construction to delight the practical Vespasian and the architectural masters who had built it. The Colosseum had a complex system of water supply. It had fountains for use by the spectators.
Underground water was needed in large quantities for many reasons. For example, water was needed to clean away the blood. The Colosseum had a separate system for the removal of rainwater and for waste from various sources, particularly the toilets for the spectators. The ruins of the ancient amphitheater have seen many uses. There is evidence of plays that arouse curiosity held there in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. In 1490 the Confraternity of the Gonfalone, a group of citizens dedicated to charitable works, produced in the Colosseum the first of its Passion Plays – a mystery in seven acts in the Roman language.
Arnold of Harff, a German tourist to Rome in 1497, wrote of sight: A magnificent ancient palace, called the Colosseum, round in shape, vaulted and with various orders of architecture, and having in its centre a round open space surrounded by steps which made it possible to ascend to the upper part. In ancient times, they say, men sat on these steps to watch combats between gladiators and wild beasts. I saw there, on Holy Thursday, the Passion of Jesus Christ. Living men represented the Flagellation, the Crucifixion, the Death of Judas, and so forth.
Those who took part were youths of well-to-do families and everything was conducted with great order and decorum. The occasion to use of the Colosseum for religious spectacles did not prevent the popular creative imagination from providing it with the devils who were always ready to take over pagan memorials. A bull is reported to have been sacrificed in the Colosseum to satisfy the demons during epidemic outbreak of a deadly disease in 1522. Gladiatorial shows were called munero (dutiful gifts). They were always given by individuals, not by the Government.
Gladiatorial shows were being held as a regular public event, in December, as part of the New Year ritual, occurring simultaneously with the yearly political cycle. Gladiators were a mixture of condemned criminals and prisoners of war. Animals to the Colosseum came chiefly from Africa and included rhinoceros, hippos, elephants, and giraffes, as well as lions, panthers, leopards, crocodiles, and ostriches. Trumpets and cymbals announced the procession that moved through one of the four gates leading directly into the arena of the Colosseum.
The group of gladiators marched to the arena, nearly naked save for their glistening armor. From far up the applauding benches they could be recognized, and many favorite gladiators were met with encouragements. Suddenly the noise of chains was heard. In the very center of the sands (part of which were over wooden substructures) the arena opened and everybody could see a cage lifted by pulleys. It usually was opened by special mechanism. Forth bounded a dark-skinned lion, lashing his tail and growling with hunger and rage.