Colosseum – Italian name: Colosseo
The Roman Colosseum or Coliseum is the greatest amphitheatre of the Roman empire and still the main landmark of the Eternal City, where it was built almost 2000 years ago by the Flavian emperors. Originally known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was commisioned in AD 72 by Emperor Vespasian. It was completed by his son, Titus, in 80, then by Domitian.
This building was planned to change the relationship between power and people from then on: entertainment and distraction offered to the populace for free. It was used for gladiator fights and hunting simulations involving ferocious and exotic animals.
The capacity is estimated around 70.000 people; the shows became occasions to impress and control the people through an unforeseen display of astonishing special effects. Today it is possible to visit and understand how the underground theatrical system worked, with hoists, ramps and trapdoors, in order to present the animals, gladiators and scenery machineries to an overwhelmed crowd.
On entering, we see the arena straight ahead of us. The stage for shows, whose floor was once made from a mixture of bricks and wood, has now disappeared altogether. In its place you can see the cellars which housed equipment used to prepare and carry out the games.
The Colosseum is located just east of the Roman Forum and was built to a practical design, with its 80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank.
The Coliseum is a huge ellipse 188 meters long and 156 wide. Originally 240 masts were attached to stone corbels on the 4th level.
Just outside the Coliseum you can find the Arch of Constantine (Arco di Costantino), a 25m high monument built in AD 315 to mark the victory of Constantine over Maxentius at Pons Milvius. Vespesian ordered the Colosseum to be build on the site of Nero’s palace, the Domus Aurea, to dissociate himself from the hated tyrant. His aim was to gain popularity by staging deadly combats of gladiators and wild animal fights for public viewing. Massacre was on a huge scale: at inaugural games in AD 80, over 9,000 wild animals were killed.
Roman gladiators were usually slaves, prisoners of war or condemned criminals. Most were men, but there were a few female gladiators.
These combats were attended by the poor, the rich, and frequently the emperor himself.
As gladiators fought, vicious cries and curses were heard from the audience around the Roman Colosseum. One contest after another was staged in the course of a single day.
Should the ground become too soaked with blood, it was covered over with a fresh layer of sand and the performance went on.
The gladiatorial games continued until Christianity progressively put an end to those parts of them which included the death of humans.
Lots of different shows were put on in the amphitheatre, at different times, following a specific time schedule: in the morning the “Venationes” – fights between exotic animals, or between men and animals. But also less cruel and definitely more unique events.
The event the audience enjoyed most was definitely the gladiators.
The winners received golden palms and large amounts of money. After each battle, servants dressed like Charon, the Ferryman of the Underworld, made sure that the wounded were really dead and where necessary finished them off.
The gladiator’s blood was much in demand; people thought it had healing powers and could heal you from epilepsy and give you greater sexual vigour.
Roman spectators loved cruel shows, those that we consider violent to say the least. Their passion for these events can be compared to what some people nowadays feel for the so-called “splatter” cinema. With one basic difference: the crudeness of reality.