Thursday, December 12, 2013


Vespasian (69/79) began the construction in about 70/72 and dedicated it before his death in 79, even if it was unfinished
It was inaugurated almost complete in the year 80 by Titus (79/81)
The last finishing touches were given under Domitian (81/96)
It was restored by Alexander Severus (222/235) after a fire in 217 caused by lightning
It was reopened only in 223 after 6 years
The real name was FLAVIAN AMPHITHEATER from the name of the dynasty of emperors that had it built: Dad Vespasian (69/79) and his two sons Titus and Domitian
"Amphitheater" meant according to Professor Eugenio La Rocca, "Space for spectators around the arena", whereas according to Professor Filippo Coarelli it meant "Dual stage"
It was called Colosseum only in the Middle Ages (first mention in the eighth century) probably due to the vicinity of the 35 m (115 feet) high COLOSSUS, the largest bronze statue ever made in the world designed by the Greek sculptor Zenodorus in imitation, surpassing it in size, of the Colossus of Rhodes, made in the third century BC by Chares of Lindos, which was 32 m - 105 feet high. The statue was one of the seven Colossuses that sources mention existing in Rome
At the time of Adrian (117/138) the massive statue was moved next to the amphitheater with the help of 24 elephants from its original position where now the Temple of Venus and Rome is
The features of Nero, originally sculpted in the face of the statue, when it used to stand in the atrium of his Domus Aurea, were transformed into those of the Sun God Helios
One hundred years after that those features were temporarily transformed again into those of Commodus (180/192) with a lion's head in imitation of Hercules. Commodus was such a megalomaniac that he wanted to change the name of Rome itself into Colonia Commodiana (Colony of Commodus)
The first time one finds in the sources the term "Colosseum", rather than "Flavian Amphitheater", is the famous prophecy of the beginning of the eighth century. "Quamdiu stat Colysaeus stat Roma; quando cadet Colysaeus cadet Roma et mundus" or "As long as the Colosseum is standing Rome will stand; when the Colosseum will fall, Rome will fall as well and the world with it" written down in the Collectanea by the Venerable Bede, an Anglo-Saxon Monk
If we would go back in time and we would ask a passerby in ancient Rome: "Where is the Colosseum?" he would not know what we are talking about. It would be like if today in New York a time traveler from 3456 AD would ask a passerby: "Where is Susan?" and, after a speechless reaction, he would add: "You know... Susan! The huge white statue on an island with his arm raised!" - "The Statue of Liberty, you mean?" - "We call it Susan in 3456!"
The Frangipane and Annibaldi families fought between 1100 and 1300 for its possession in order to transform it into a palace
In 1312 it was returned to the Senate and people of Rome and in 1332 a show was staged during which eighteen knights of the Roman nobility died
In 1349 a disastrous earthquake turned it into a quarry for building materials
Among the buildings constructed in Rome certainly using marble from the Colosseum: 
Palazzo della Cancelleria, Palazzo Farnese, Palazzo S. Marco, Palazzo Barberini, the stairs in front of the St. Peter's Basilica, S. Giovanni in Laterano, S. Agostino, Ponte Sisto and the Porto di Ripetta destroyed at the end of the nintheenth century
Sacred dramas took place there with the representation of the Passion, however abolished in 1539 by Pope Paul III Farnese (1534/49) as the involvement of the audience generated episodes of intolerance towards Jews and some actors were even lynched
A 1714 renewal project of Carlo Fontana included a huge domed church dedicated to the martyrs in the Coliseum but it never started for lack of funds
Benedict XIV Lambertini (1740/58) in 1749 decided to stop the destruction of the Colosseum caused by the need for construction materials, and declared it sacred to the martyrs
48.50 m (159 feet) high, the longer diameter is 188 m (617 feet), the shorter diameter 156 m (512 feet)
The arena is about 80 x 50 m (263 x 164 feet)
It has been figured out that 100,000 cubic meters of travertine were used, as well as 300 tonnes (330 tons) of iron for the clamps that were fixed with lead to prevent oxidation
It was reused as a quarry for travertine and as a mine for iron through the holes now visible
SUPPORTING BUTTRESSES were built with bricks to prevent the building from falling down. On the right by Raffaele Stern (1774/1820) or Pietro Camporese in 1802, on the left (entrance) by Giuseppe Valadier (1762/1839) in 1820/23
INTERIOR RING ARCADES built by Luigi Canina (1795/1856) in 1820
It is impossible to figure out how many people were ever killed in the Colosseum. Some scholars conjectured that on this space smaller than a football field between 250,000 and 500,000 people were killed and some others reckon even more over the course of four centuries and a half. Perhaps there is no other place of this size on earth where more people died
There is not exact evidence regarding the CAPACITY
The marble steps were about 40 to 45 and calculating 44 cm (17 inches) per person you get about 40,000 to 45,000 spectators sitting, plus about 5,000 more standing in the wooden porch above, for an approximate total capacity of 45,000 to 50,000 people
Other calculations have been made with results of about 73,000, including standing room
The FOUNDATIONS are unbelievable:
It is a fifth-floor underground from 8 to 12 meters (26/40 feet) deep, consisting of travertine pillars resting on a platform of a large ring of concrete surrounding the surface of the arena. According to a recent study it would cost about 42,000,000 euros to build similar foundations now
Four different large teams worked at the same time to speed up construction
There were three sectors (MAENIANA) plus a fourth one made of wood under a colonnade (MAENIANUM SUMMUM IN LIGNAEIS) in which there was an area for women since Augustus forbade promiscuity in places of entertainment for moral reasons
80 ARCHES on the ground floor with the number above corresponding to the number of ticket (tessera) that the spectators had, except the four corresponding to the main axes: the only preserved towards the Oppian Hill was the imperial one and probably had a front porch
The shows were also an occasion for the Roman society to be able to see a small representation of itself ordered hierarchically, from senators and vestal virgins in the front rows to women and slaves in the top ring
It is assumed that the IMPERIAL BOX was at the center of one of the two long sides, probably the south one for its vicinity to the Palatine Hill, but scholars are divided on this
"The aditus (entrance) for the public were sixty-eight, not counting the six entrances reserved for the authorities, at the extremities of the minor axis, and the same number for the protagonists of the games. Nothing remains of the tribunalia, the boxes for the authorities dismantled early in late antiquity" (Rossella Rea)
240 BRACKETS were used to hold the poles supporting the big curtain divided into wedges known as VELARIUM. It protected the spectators from the sun and was operated by a team of about 1,000 sailors from the naval base of Miseno allocated in a separate nearby barracks, the Castra Misenatium
Each pole had to bear a weight of about 100 kg (220 pounds). The travertine stones still visible outside were probably functional to the curtain: winches were set in the holes to hold and pull the cables
60 ELEVATORS would lift to the arena gladiators, beasts and props for the shows from the vast underground area with extraordinary visual effects
"All the pieces meshed into a compact, powerful elevator system, capable of quickly delivering wild beasts, scenery and equipment into the arena. At the peak of its operation the hypogeum contained 60 capstans, each two stories tall and turned by four men per level. 40 of these capstans lifted animal cages throughout the arena, while the remaining 20 were used to raise scenery sitting on hinged platforms measuring 12 by 15 feet. 28 smaller platforms (roughly 3 by 3 feet) identified around the outer rim of the arena (also used for scenery) were operated through a system of cables, ramps, hoists and counterweights" (Heinz-Jürgen Beste)
Known since 1192 as SS. Salvatore de Rota Colisei and since 1490 with its present name
Renovated in 1622 when it was entrusted to the Arciconfraternita del Gonfalone (Archconfraternity of the Banner)
Rebuilt 1817 by Pietro Holl (1780/1855-56)
Relief "Our Lady of Sorrows" by an unknown nineteenth century artist
Mass is celebrated here every Saturday afternoon and Sunday morning
Next to the Colosseum the base of the META SUDANS is visible: a conical brick fountain dating back to the time of Domitian (81/96) demolished at the time of Mussolini so that it wouldn't interfere with the fascist parades
The remains of the LUDUS MAGNUS were found in 1937 east of the Colosseum: barracks probably three-story high, surrounding a miniature amphitheater for gladiatorial training with a capacity of about 3,000 spectators. It was built under Domitian and restored under Trajan
In 1939 an underground passage connecting it to the Colosseum was found. The area was confined as it is today in the years 1957/61
To the south of the remains of the Ludus Magnus similar but smaller barracks were found, maybe the LUDUS MATUTINUS for the Bestiarii who used to fight against animals. The Ludus had this name because events including Bestiarii generally took place in the morning
On the Forma Urbis it can be seen that the LUDUS DACICUS was north of the Ludus Magnus while the LUDUS GALLICUS was maybe in the immediate vicinity
Also near the Colosseum there were other service buildings: the SPOLIARUM where the bodies of dead gladiators were stripped, the SAMIARUM hospital for gladiators, the ARMAMENTARIUM weapons' warehouse and the SUMMUM CHORAGIUM for machinery and props used on the amphitheater stage
The Colosseum was used for gladiatorial combats (munera) until 438 (for 358 years) with Valentinian III (425/455) who authorized only the venationes (hunting), which continued at least until 523 (for 443 years)
However, the tradition of munera was very old: the first mention of fighting gladiators in Rome dates back to 264 BC (702 years in total!) and the first munera at the expense of the state took place in 42 BC
"For a long time it was believed that the origin of these events could be attributed to the Etruscans, considering especially on one hand, some etymological reasons (...), on the other some representations of duels in paintings and reliefs. The discovery of tombs at Paestum dating back to the first half of the fourth century BC with paintings depicting (...) duels between armed men made it possible to trace with more likelihood the origin of gladiatorial games to the Osco-Samnite area. However, it remains uncertain whether the Romans would have imported them from Campania(...) directly or through the mediation of the Etruscans. What seems certain is that in Rome the gladiatorial shows had, from their introduction (...) and at least until the early years of the empire, a private and funerary character. (...) It seems legitimate the hypothesis that the performances of gladiators began as funeral games, according to a custom that seems to have deep roots, common to other peoples of the Mediterranean basin" (Gian Luca Gregori)
Massacres took place in the Colosseum: the inauguration celebrations lasted for one hundred days during which about 2,000 men and 9,000 animals were killed. The emperor under whom more animals were killed (11,000) was Trajan
At the beginning parade of presentation of the participants in the event, the so-called pompa (pomp)
During the morning, fights between animals and circus numbers and then venationes or fights between men and animals. Among the animals: elephants, crocodiles, bears, lions, leopards, ostriches, and even polar bears and seals
At lunchtime executions of criminals and slaves who had tried to escape, sometimes interspersed with comic numbers or athletics
In the afternoon munera or gladiator fights
There is no document, testimony or evidence that proves that Christians were killed in the Colosseum, although it is very possible that during the executions at lunch time Christians were actually killed in the years (thirteen in the entire history of Rome) of persecution
According to studies done on the tombstones, only 13% of the gladiators was normally killed during the munera and the fights were usually duels between two gladiators judged by a referee known as Summa Rudis and an assistant known as Second Rudis. There were strict rules and spectators greatly appreciated the beauty of movement, the courage of the fighters and especially their "fair play" according to the rules
The gladiators were probably mostly slaves although it is impossible to determine exact statistics of slaves/free considering that the inscriptions identify them only with the surname and that does not exclude that they were free citizens who had chosen a "nom de guerre"
People condemned to death would rarely fight as gladiator and only a few slaves/gladiators could buy their freedom with money they earned
There were certainly many professionals (known as auctorati, gladiators volunteers) and therefore free citizens, so many that two laws in AD 11 and 19 had to ban senators, knights and their families from performing in the arena and walk the stage in theaters as well
Fighting in the arena was considered a test of courage but it was considered unseemly for money. However, the gladiators were often very rich and famous
A professional gladiator typically fought 2 or 3 fights per year and rarely exceeded 20 fights in his life
The most outstanding exceptions were Asteropeus with 107 victories, Columbus with 88 and Incitatus with 80
Gladiators were recruited when they were about 17/18 years old and their life expectancy was about 30 years, similar however to the average of the time
There were also performances by women gladiators, but Septimius Severus (193/211) forbade them
Most of the gladiators were specialized with a particular type of weapon and rarely changed
Traci, Mirmilloni, Oplomachi, Reziari, Secutores, Equites, Provocatores, Essedarii, Dimachaeri, Veles, Laquearii, Paegnarii, Andabatae
Various emperors have certainly fought in the arena: Caligula (37/41), Titus (79/81), Hadrian (117/138), Lucius Verus (161/169), Didius Julianus (193) and, of course, Commodus (180/192) who was however assassinated in his bath and not in the Colosseum as seen in the movie Gladiator
Augustus established the times of the year for munera: 2/8, 17/23 December and 19/23 March (19 DAYS ONLY THROUGHOUT THE YEAR) although there could be extra performances. The calendar of Furius Dyonisius Philocalus in AD 354 assigns 102 days to the theater, 64 to chariot races and only 10 days to munera out of the 176 registered days for festivities
Gifts were distributed at the end of the shows and, for the inauguration, Titus had little wooden balls thrown with symbols that corresponded to gifts that could be withdrawn after the show
The THUMB DOWN GESTURE is an unfounded popular belief generated by the Jean Léon Gérôme's painting "Thumbs Turned" now in Phoenix (Arizona) executed in 1872
The only source who speaks of pollice verso (which anyway doesn't mean "thumbs down" but "turned over to oneself") is Juvenal, while other sources even use different adjectives
The thumb in fact, if audiences wanted the death of the losing gladiator, was probably pointing upwards or horizontally towards the throat to indicate the kind of death that gladiators were given: they knelt down and waited for the sword straight at the throat
However very often people would save the gladiators who fought with courage and following the rules. A medallion found in France in 1997 indicates the gesture with the thumb of a referee within the clenched fist (not upwards!) to indicate the desire to save the loser
Even the phrase "Ave Caesar Morituri te salutant" has no historical evidence whatsoever in the Colosseum: according to Suetonius, it was delivered before a ships' battle for gladiators on Lake Fucino, east of Rome. The myth was born with another painting by Gérôme
Some ancient texts (Martial, Cassius Dio) mention NAVAL BATTLES in the Colosseum, though this seems impossible with the structures that were under the arena and that are still visible now. Perhaps, since these reports are dated at the time of Domitian (81/96), naval battles took place only when those structures were not yet built. Thus they maybe occurred in the Colosseum in the first few years and then continued to be held in stadiums built specifically for that purpose, the NAUMACHIE, which was also the name of the battles themselves
Among the NAUMACHIE there was the Pond of Agrippa in the Campus Martius but especially the huge Naumachia of Augustus built in 2 BC (533 x 354 m - 1750 x 1161 feet- about three times the size of the Colosseum!) or, later, the Naumachia of Trajan in the Prati area
No more than two or three ships could enter in the Colosseum whereas in the Naumachia of Augustus there was space for 30 ships (biremes and triremes) plus other smaller ships with a total of about 3,000 soldiers fighting, not to mention thousands of rowers
Some scholars believe that the Alsietino Aqueduct 33 km (20.5 miles) long which provided the Naumachia with water was built with the sole purpose of watching men killing each other on ships, because water was not drinkable
"Writing about two aquatic shows Cassius Dio mentions the scenario of the amphitheater, which Titus had filled with water for a display of animals and for the naval battle between Corfiotes and Corinthian. Recent discoveries in the basement of the Colosseum, where the febrile activities related to the final stages of preparation of the shows were happening, allow us to affirm that into the arena, during the inauguration, water games were carried out. The discovery of clear evidence of an arena with wooden substructures, functional only to the debut games, soon later replaced by brick structures, makes it understandable what happened: the wooden arena was reversible, allowing the flooding of the underground space" (Rossella Rea)
The gladiator SPARTACUS rebelled in 73 BC and his army of slaves was only defeated in 71 BC first by the legions of Crassus, and later by Pompey and Lucullus. About 60,000 slaves were killed and about 6,000 prisoners were crucified along the Appian Way between Rome and Capua, one every 30 m (100 feet) along 186 km (115 miles)
When at the end of the eighteenth century the vegetation grown in the Colosseum was removed 420 different species were counted including many exotic plants

187 "Colosseums" have been identified in the territory of the Roman empire and it is estimated that in the third century AD there were certainly more than 200

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