(5 minutes read)
“Ave Cesar, morituri te salutant” (Hail, Caesar, we who are about to die, salute you) pronounced gladiators as they entered in the exalted arena. The games hosted during the Roman Empire were a spectacular political and entertainment stage. Symbol of the greatness of Rome, the Colosseum is fascinating and remains the most visited monument in the city. Let’s go backstage to explore and (re)discover this amphitheater through 20 amazing and interesting facts. Let’s the games begin!
Grandeur of Rome
- Originally named Flavian amphitheater in reference to the Flavian dynasty (Vespatian, Titus, Dominitian), its current appellation alludes to the Colosso di Nerone, a statue representing Nero erected nearby.
- Commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, it was finalized by his son and successor Titus in 80 AD. Pompous festivities lasted 100 consecutive days for the inauguration.
- Symbolically, it was erected on the ground of Nero’s Domus Aurea palace, in the heart of Rome. Vespatian broke with his predecessor, the Tiran Nero, by giving this place back to Romans, who were previously expropriated.
- The emperor was, most of the time, the editor of the games meaning the person who organized and paid for it. Indeed, they were free for all and sometimes free food was also provided.
- The Colosseum was the scene of the celebration of political power and greatness of the emperor. As an example, to celebrate his victory in Dacia, Emperor Trajan organized a 123 days festival which included more than 10,000 gladiators and 11,000 animals.
A masterpiece Structure
- Sign of the greatness of the Flavian dynasty, the Colosseum was the most famous amphitheater of the Roman Empire. Today, it remains the largest in the world.
- The amphitheater could seat 50,000 spectators who could navigate quickly and easily thanks to the 80 entrances (vomitoria). It’s said that spectators could exit in 10 minutes. Over the arena, a velarium (awning) provided sun and rain protection for the audience.
- The arena, a wood floor recovered by sand, was flooded for naumachia. During the games, sand was used and replaced to absorb the blood and perfume was spread to mask the odor.
- The hypogeum (a Greek word for “underground”) was an elaborate engineering system. Gladiators and animals stayed and navigated underground thanks to numerous rooms and passages. They accessed the arena through one of the 36 trap doors. A lot of mechanisms, ramps, lifts, counterweights, etc were used for special effects and spectacular entrance during the show.
- Spectators sat on the cavea according to their rank, social class, and gender. It was divided into four sections (ima cavea, media cavea, summa cavea, and maenianum ligneum). Senators were closest to the arena, women, and slaves sat at the upper level. As for the emperor and the Vestal Virgins, they had special boxes.
Spectacular and Brutal Games
- The Colosseum hosted prestigious gladiatorial combats (munera), animals hunts (venationes), ship naval battles, dramas based on mythology, and capital punishments.
- The games were divided into three parts. Animal hunts in the morning, executions at noon, and finally, in the afternoon, the main event of the day, the gladiators.
- Gladiators were slaves, prisoners of war, criminals and sometimes free Romans. Trained in schools, they learned how to perform and to die. Lucius Aurelius Commodus was the only emperor to fought in the arena as a gladiator.
- The hunts were staged in sets reproducing natural environments. Wild animals were mainly imported from Africa like lions, elephants, hippopotamus, and rhinoceroses. Quantity and rarety of animals were really appreciated.
- Public executions were scripted and inspired by mythology. Condemned were eaten by beasts or burned to death.
- The last recorded gladiatorial games and animal hunts were held respectively in the fifth century and on the six century as it became too expensive to host them.
The End of the Icon
- During the Middle Ages, the Colosseum housed a fortress owned by the Frangipani family and even a church and cemetery later on.
- Earthquakes, fires, and vandalism destroyed two-thirds of the Colosseum. As an example of vandalism, travertine, and marble were plundered to build and decorate the Basilica St Peter and other Roman palaces like the Palazzo Venezia.
- The Colosseum was semi-abandoned when almost 400 species of plants flourished on its ground. This wild botanical garden bloom thanks to a micro-climate. It attracted a lot of botanists during the 1600s.
- Previously a place of gruesome games, the Colosseum became, in 1999, the symbol against capital punishment. Now on, when the death penalty is abolished or when a death sentence is commuted, the white night lighting switches to gold.
Ready for the next Colosseum Trivia Game?
- Location: Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma RM, Italy.
- Hours: From 8:30am until one hour before sunset.
- Cost: $12 per adult. If you booked it online (+ $2 web reservation fees), you’ll avoid the slow ticket-buyer line.
- Free on the first Sunday of the month (no priority admission) and free for people under 18.
- Ticket includes the entrance to the Roman Forum and the Palatine Hill. It’s valid for two consecutive days (one entrance only to each site).
- Duration: We spent 1h inside and 30 minutes waiting before to enter (the maximum capacity is 3,000 visitors inside. So, even with an advance ticket, you’ll wait if the capacity is reached).
- There are three lines to get into: the group, the ticket holder (Roma Pass, online ticket, etc.) and ticket buyer (the longest line).
- More information available at https://www.coopculture.it/en/colosseo-e-shop.cfm