You simply can’t visit Rome and not go to the Colosseum. The Eternal City’s most iconic building is a marvelous sight, whichever way you look at it. While you may know that you can indeed admire the Colosseum from many places in Rome, how much do you actually know about it? Continue reading, and I will share some of the most interesting things to know about the Colosseum.
Facts About The Colosseum: Building The Colosseum
1. The Colosseum was built relatively quickly for a building of such enormous size. It took just under a decade to complete.
2. A vast amount of money was needed for the construction of the Colosseum. It was funded by treasures and other riches taken from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem following the first Jewish Roman War in 70 AD.
3. The Colosseum was built by professional Roman builders, skilled engineers, artists, decorators, and painters – as well as a large team of unskilled laborers.
4. What is the Colosseum made out of? Well, it is constructed from tuff (a type of rock formed by volcanic ash), limestone, wood, cement, tiles and mortar.
5. The exterior wall is thought to have used over 100 cubic meters of travertine stone – all held together with 300 tons of iron clamps.
6. Unlike earlier Greek amphitheaters that were built into hillsides, the Colosseum was entirely freestanding.
Facts About The Colosseum: An Architectural Marvel
1. The Colosseum was the largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire, measuring in at 620 by 513 feet (that’s 190 by 155 meters). The second largest was the Faleria (today known as Falerone), which was built in 43 AD. It’s located in Falerone, formerly known as Picenum in the Roman world. It measured 178 by 106 meters (583 by 347 feet).
2. When building the Colosseum, the Roman architects actually used advanced crowd control solutions that are similar to those used in modern stadiums. With such an enormous capacity, people had to be able to get in and out of the Colosseum smoothly. To deal with this, they installed 80 entrances at ground level, 76 of which were for ordinary spectators. Each entrance was numbered with the main entrance reserved only for the Roman Emperor and his aides.
3. Some of these entranceways remain, and you can still see remnants of the colorful paintings and vibrant stucco reliefs.
4. There were also velarium (sun shades) to protect the audience from the sun as they watched the games unfold. These were held up by 240 decorative corbels. These canvas velarium were retractable, and kept not only the sun but also the rain off spectators. These covered an estimated two thirds of the arena, sloping down into the center and provided a nice breeze for the audience as they also caught the wind. Sailors from Misenum were specially enlisted to work the velarium.
5. It’s believed that the Colosseum also contained both drinking fountains and latrines.
6. You may have heard of vomitorium, but these weren’t the places where the Roman elite would go to vomit at decadent feasts to make room for yet more food (that’s a myth). Vomitoria are actually passageways that led people to their seats and could be used to exit quickly. The word vomitorium is derived from “rapid discharge” and is related to the English word “vomit” today!
7. Though little remains today, the subterranean hypogeum once consisted of two levels. It featured cages where animals and people were held ahead of their scheduled games. There were shafts that allowed access into the arena for large animals, such as elephants, and even for pieces of scenery.
Facts About The Colosseum – The Name
1. Romans may have called the Colosseum the “Amphitheatrum Caesareum” – Theater of Caesar.
2. The name “Colosseum” is believed to come from a huge statue of Emperor Nero, which itself was based on the Colossus of Rhodes, a wonder of the ancient world. It was a statue that stood at the entrance to the port of Rhodes, Greece. Colossus means “gigantic”.
Facts About The Colosseum – The Emperors
1. The site on which the Colosseum was built was thought to have been densely populated during the 2nd century BC. However, it was destroyed by the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD. Nero took the opportunity to seize the land as his own.
2. Following Emperor Vespasian’s death in 79 AD, he had completed the building up to the third storey of the Colosseum. The building was finished by his son, Titus.
3. Titus’ brother, Emperor Domitian, added further features to the Colosseum. This included the hypogaeum, a network of tunnels beneath the structure that housed animals and slaves to be used in the games. Domitian also increased the seating capacity.
Facts About The Colosseum – The Spectators
1. The Colosseum boasted seating for an incredible number of people. In the Codex Calendar of 354 AD, it was suggested that it was around 80,000, but modern research has the more conservative estimate of 50,000 spectators.
2. Spectators sat according to social ranking. The emperor would sit in a special box at either the north or the south end of the Colosseum, alongside the Vestal Virgins; both these spots had the best views of the action. On the same level either side was a podium for the senators, who brought their own chairs. Some of the names of 5th-century senators can still be seen carved into the stonework – a form of seat reservation, perhaps! Above the senators in the maenianum primum sat the non-senatorial noble class, the Equites. The maenianum secundum above that was for ordinary Roman citizens; the lower part for the wealthy, the upper for the poor.
3. Emperor Domitian added the final top layer of the building. This included spaces for women, slaves and common poor. It was standing room only, or perhaps benches may have been used.
4. The audience wasn’t just split according to hierarchy, however. It was also split according to a variety of specific social groups: soldiers on leave; foreign dignitaries; boys with their tutors; scribes; and more. Inscriptions to this day can be seen identifying such areas.
.5 Even though it was well ordered, attending a show at the Colosseum wasn’t necessarily comfortable. It is thought that the audience was packed in like sardines.
6. Some people were banned outright from ever entering the Colosseum. These included former gladiators, actors, and gravediggers.
Facts About The Colosseum: Tickets Were A Thing Already!
1. You needed a ticket to get into the Colosseum, but these weren’t paper or card tickets as you know them today. They were actually in the form of numbered pottery shards, which gave spectators the information of where they would be sitting, according to the gradus (row), the cuneus (the section) and individual seat number.
Facts About The Colosseum: The Games
1. The Colosseum was officially opened in 80 AD, and its inauguration included 100 days of games.
2. Most of the gladiators who took part in fighting in the Colosseum were men, and were usually criminals, slaves or prisoners captured in war.
3. The animals involved in the venatio were more exotic than you may imagine. Imported mainly from Africa and the Middle East, animals involved in the hunts included leopards, Caspian tigers, elephants, giraffes, bears, Barbery lions, hippopotami, crocodiles, rhinoceroses, panthers, European buffalo, and ostriches. Some of the animals used in these venatio are today extinct.
4. The hunts and battles in the Colosseum were often very elaborate and used moveable trees and buildings. One particularly large-scale event was held in celebration of Emperor Trajan’s victories in Dacia in 107 AD. This is said to have involved 11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators across 123 days.
5. The punishment “ad bestias”, in which criminals were condemned to be killed by wild animals, was not a main event. In fact, these were lunch intervals.
6. Perhaps one of the most elaborate uses of the Colosseum was for the naumachia. These mock sea battles involved flooding the entire arena and using life-sized ships – with full crews – to re-enact famous naval encounters. These were held by Titus in 80 AD.
Facts About The Colosseum: Towards Its Abandonment
1. In 217 AD, a major fire caused damage to the Colosseum. This was caused by lightning, according to Roman historian Dio Cassius. The upper levels of the amphitheater were destroyed, and in the decades to come had to undergo much repair work.
2. The Colosseum was used for over four centuries, right up until the 6th century AD. Due to the influence of Christianity, gladiatorial combat had begun to wane in popularity by this time. Gladiator fights were banned by two orders of Emperor Flavius Honorus, one in 399 and one in 404 AD. Even so, the final gladiator fights at the Colosseum were mentioned around 435.
3. Animal hunts called venatio, however, continued. In 523, when Roman senator Ancius Maximus marked his consulship with numerous venatio, it even attracted the criticism of Ostrogoth king Theodoric the Great for their high costs.
4. During the medieval ages, the Colosseum – as well as being used as a quarry – underwent many changes. The arena was converted into a cemetery, for one thing. The arcades under the seating area were used for housing and workshops. There are actually records of these spaces being rented out as late as the 12th century.
5. The Frangipani family took ownership of the Colosseum in 1200. It was thought that the powerful Roman clan fortified the former amphitheater and used it as a castle.
6. There have been many earthquakes over the centuries that have affected the structure of the Colosseum. One particularly severe earthquake in 1349 caused some of the south side to collapse.
7. In the mid-14th century, a religious order moved into the northern portion of the Colosseum – and lived there up until the 19th century!
8. In its later years, the Colosseum was (almost) completely abandoned. Its stone was quarried for buildings around the city, including St Peter’s Basilica and the Palazzo Venezia, as well as hospitals and other buildings. The interior was stripped of stone and reused; the marble facade was burned to make quicklime; even the iron clamps which held together the stone work were chiseled out and reused. Visitors today will be able to notice the hacking marks left on the building from this gradual deconstruction.
9. Though it was practically abandoned, in more modern times (the 16th and 17th centuries) the Church looked to give the Colosseum a more productive role. One example being the plan of Pope Sixtus V to turn the Colosseum into a wool factory. Why? He wanted to find employment for Rome’s sex workers.
10. Cardinal Altieri planned to use the Colosseum for bullfights in 1671, much like its original use. But the plan was quickly abandoned due to a public outcry.
11. In 1749, Pope Benedict XIV backed the idea that the site be consecrated as holy ground due to it being a place where many early Christians were martyred. This put a stop to the Colosseum being used as a quarry, and led to the installation of the stations of the cross, declaring it sanctified by the blood of the Christian martyrs. However, there is no evidence to back up this claim; there’s no historical grounds to back this up, other than a high probability that some of those killed at the Colosseum were Christian.
12. Eventually the Colosseum was restored by later Popes, who removed the overgrown vegetation and reinforced the facade.
13. The first excavation of the Colosseum was in 1810. This happened again in 1874. But it wasn’t fully excavated until the 1930s, under Mussolini.
Facts About The Colosseum: The Colosseum Today
1. The Colosseum receives millions of tourists annually and is one of Rome’s most popular attractions.
2. The Colosseum has been damaged by pollution and general wear-and-tear over the years. This resulted in a restoration program that took place between 1993 and 2000. This cost an incredible 40 billion Italian Lira (that’s 20.6 million Euros at the time).
3. The Colosseum has become a symbol of the anti-capital punishment movement. It is lit in gold when someone’s death penalty is commuted, or if a country abolishes their capital punishment laws. For example, it turned gold when US state Connecticut abolished the death penalty in 2012.
4. Though the Colosseum no longer hosts large events, due to its ruined interiors, large concerts are still held just outside that use the building as a backdrop. Recent performances include Elton John, Paul McCartney and Billy Joel.
These posts will be interesting:
- A Guide To Visiting The Colosseum
- The Most Famous Landmarks In Rome
- The Most Famous Buildings In Rome
- The Most Famous Games In Ancient Rome
- The Most Interesting Facts About Rome
- The Most Interesting Ancient Sites In Rome