The Colosseum/Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, is one of Rome’s most iconic structures and was built as the Romans were nearing the height of their civilisation in the first century AD. The area in which the Colosseum was built had been largely destroyed by the Great Fire of Rome in 64AD and Nero had built his grand palace ‘Domus Aurea’ on the site, and around which he created an artificial lake, gardens and porticoes. After the death of Nero and the dismantling of the Domus Aurea, the lake was filled in and the Emperor Vespasian felt that the site of an area once selected by Nero for his own personal use was to be returned to the people of Rome as a populist gesture. The Colosseum is situated close to the Roman Forum (previously featured on this site) and construction began on it in 72AD and was funded by the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Great Jewish Revolt in 70AD which led to the Siege of Jerusalem. The Colosseum had been constructed up to its third tier by the time of the death of Vespasian and was completed around 80AD by his successor and heir Titus. The inaugural games were held in 80 or 81AD, Dio Cassius recounted that over 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games. The Colosseum was used to host gladiatorial shows but also other events known as ‘munera’, which were funded by private individuals not the state. Another type of popular show was the animal hunt or ‘venatio’ here the stage was utilised to its maximum potential with elaborate sets of movable trees and buildings where animals from Africa and the Middle East were hunted on a huge scale. There have also been reports of vast naval battles being re-enacted in the amphitheatre and also plays and fights based around Roman mythology. The Hypogeum, which is the elaborate maze of tunnels used to house animals and slaves, was constructed under the reign of Vespasian’s younger son Emperor Domitian, he also added a gallery to the top of the Colosseum. Vespasian, Titus and Domitian were all known as part of the Flavian dynasty.
Its hard for us to understand the scale of the battles and contests that were undertaken but one of the largest occurred in 107AD when Emperor Trajan after his victories in Dacia held an event over 123 days involving up to 11,000 animals, 10,000 gladiators and untold numbers of slaves and prisoners. During lunch intervals executions would happen, these were known as ‘ad bestias’ and during these those condemned to death would be sent into the arena, unarmed and naked to face wild animals angered by hunger and a roaring crowd of an estimated size of between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators.
In 217AD the Colosseum upper levels were badly damaged by a fire caused by lightning and it was almost thirty years before it was repaired. Its believe the last Gladiatorial fights were mentioned as having taken place around 435AD. An earthquake in 443 caused considerable damage but the amphitheatre still continued to hold contests well into the 6th century and the animal hunts last until at least 523AD. In the early medieval era the contests and hunts ceased and a small chapel was built inside the Colosseum, it was later used for such purposes as workshops, housing, quarters for a religious order, a Christian shrine and a quarry.
In 2018 the Colosseum was the most visited tourist attraction in the world and its quite easy to see why. My visit was around the end of November 2015 and even at that time of the year the place was very busy. I’ve heard if one wishes to visit during the high point of the tourist season that booking in advance is essential, but its worth it as the sheer size and iconic nature of the Colosseum makes it a ‘must see’.
GPS: 41.89021, 12.49236