and the Entertainment it Provided
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.
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.
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.
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.
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