The Roman Colosseum
and the Entertainment it Provided 
Western Civ

Research Report
Web Resources



    From A.D. 75 through the present time, the Colosseum in Rome represents a lifestyle that we today are only able to study but never experience.  Through my findings in research I have been able to compile facts and descriptions of the way the colosseum impacted the life of the Romans: it allowed their violence to show through their participation in the Colosseum games.  These bloody spectacles caused Rome to stand as a symbol of not only strength and power but also violence.  Even though Christianity began to diminish the games held in the Colosseum, it is still studied and modeled after today.

Historical Background

    Around A.D. 75 an order was given by the emperor Vespasian to begin building what would later become a symbol of not only Roman strength and power but also violence.  Although the architect remains anonymous, during these times this building proved to be a spectacle of engineering.  Its oval-shape with outer walls reaching 157 feet high held some of the most gruesome entertainment that became favored by all.  Those 40,000 to 50,000 Romans who came to watch were assigned seating by their class: the lower tiers were reserved for the upper class allowing them to see more of the action in the arena, above them were the middle class seats and the seats near the top of the amphitheater were for the lower class.  But most importantly, these seats and the Colosseum itself provided Roman citizens with the chance to witness battles, in many different forms, up close.

Research Report

    The most popular entertainment provided within these walls were the gladiator, or swordsmen, fights.  Beginning around 264 B.C., at the funeral of Junius Brutus, slaves were forced to fight to the death.  Growing in popularity, it began to include prisoners of war, criminals, and slaves as the normal gladiators that were seen in the arena.  Fighting with different weapons or riding on chariots, gladiators battled until one was dominant over another. Fights that were bloody and showed much excitement were supported and praised by onlookers.  The chambers and tunnels that lay below the wood and dirt floor of the arena provided special effects during the fights.  "Animals and props would magically rise from under the arena…whole sections of the floor could be lowered and raised to provide an extravagant backdrop for the hunts" (Watkins 39).  Archers were placed along the walls of the arena to provide protection in case of an emergency.   Usually the gladiators played until one was killed, but another tradition as told by Encarta Encyclopedia states: "When a gladiator had overpowered his opponent, he turned to the spectators.  If they wished to spare the defeated man, they waved their handkerchiefs; to indicate that he should be killed, they turned down their thumbs" (2).  A successful gladiator was praised by all and could possibly be awarded his freedom.

 Another exciting battle that was held in the great Colosseum were sea battles.  Even before the Colosseum was built, "Julius Caesar presented the first recorded naumachia (sea fight) on a specially excavated lake in 46 B.C." (Watkins 45).  When the Colosseum was finally finished, it was a perfect place for tens of thousands of Romans to come and witness these great battles.  Fought by gladiators, the arena was flooded with water, releasing sharks and other dangerous sea creatures into the water that would help to make these battles more realistic and exciting.  But these battles took much preparation and training before they could be held for public entertainment; ships had to be built, gladiators and oarsmen trained and the arena filled with water.  Only a few emperors went through the trouble of providing these sea battles for their people's enjoyment.  So for a Roman citizen, it was seen as a once-in-a-lifetime experience to be able to witness this event.

     For gladiators in general their beginning in 264 B.C. did not cease until hundreds of years later by Constantine the Great.  Christianity began to spread throughout the whole Roman Empire and in A.D. 404.  Honorius enforced a law made by Constantine in A.D. 323 abolishing gladiatorial combat.  The era of the gladiator was over mostly due to Christianity.  As a result of this, the importance of the Colosseum and the desire for bloody amusement declined in need and popularity.  As the people of Rome changed, along with that came the fading and forgetting of the things that once ruled Rome, the events and symbols that gave the city dominance and greatness.

Historical Significance

    Over the course of over 500 years, Romans marveled at the many events held in the great Colosseum.  Even though if the arena was entered today what would be seen was a wooden floor rotted away, plants covering each surface, and a section of the wall that had collapsed, you may be able to feel the exhilaration and anticipation felt by the Romans over fifteen hundred years ago.  Through it all, the Colosseum has provided many people with wonder and unanswered questions about its marvelous structure and advanced architectural design.  "Archeologists continue to study its remarkable engineering and solid construction.  Its design is imitated every time a sports stadium is built" (Mann 45).  This historical structure was and still is providing guidance to what roman culture was like, their barbaric nature, fearless battle, and violent drive to win.  For the Colosseum to hold up to 50,000 Roman citizens and to have it be filled nearly every time an event was held shows their need for excitement and entertainment.  It shows how advanced the Romans were with their building techniques and knowledge of engineering and architectural abilities.  While only ruins remain, they stand as an impressive reminder of the past glory and brilliance of ancient Rome.


Watkins, Richard.  Gladiator.  Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1997.

 Mann, Elizabeth.  The Roman Colosseum.  New York: Mikaya Press, 1998.

 Kebric, Robert B.  Roman People.  Mayfield Publishing Company, 1993.

Moulton, Carrol.  "Colosseum."  Ancient Greece & Rome.  Volume 1.  1998 ed.

Liversidge, Joan.  Everyday life in the Roman Empire.  New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1976.

Web Resources

Encarta Encyclopedia provides a detailed explanation of Gladiators and their role in Roman society

This site provides information on Roman Culture, the Colosseum, and the part Gladiators play in affecting the everyday life of Roman citizens

This link provides an access to information on the Colosseum including the building of it, what took place there, and how it was destroyed

This site has information on the dates which the Colosseum was built and the measurements of this great monument

Under Roman entertainment, this site has a detailed description of the Colosseum and the events held within its walls

Created by: Jaclyn Mullahy