If ever there was a structure which reflected the skill, beauty, durability, ruthlessness and presence of the Roman Empire it is the historic Colosseum in Rome. Those who have ever visited the region will be able to vouch for the beauty and the presence of the great Roman Coliseum which is a testament to Roman architecture and engineering in time when the tools and techniques of today were nowhere to be found.
Even though the great structure has felt the force of time and is partially ruined it is worth remembering that construction began around 70 AD and was completed in 80 AD. Commonly known as the “Amphitheatre Flavium” the structure can tell many stories and has played a major part in the history of the region.
The history of the Colosseum
The ancient history of the Colosseum is very well documented due to its unique presence and unique position in the Roman Empire and Italian culture. The Emperor Vespasian was behind the construction of the Colosseum in around 70 AD at a time when there was nothing quite like it in the world. Initially the structure was built on a flat area of land which was uninhabited but by the second century the Colosseum had created its very own society and the area became densely populated.
The great Fire of Rome in 64 AD caused serious damage to the Colosseum although this gave the Emperor Nero the chance to reclaim the land for his personal possession and build his own garden complex with an artificial lake. However, the Colosseum remained the central piece of the area and has gone on to become the focal point of Roman architecture and engineering.
The building of the Colosseum
The Colosseum itself is 189 m long, 156 m wide with a maximum height of 48 m and a base area of some six acres. It is estimated that over 100,000 m³ of stone were used in the outer wall although it’s not common knowledge that the wall is not held together by any form of mortar with the Romans choosing to use 300 tonnes of iron clamps to secure the structure. This in itself is a major statement of the architecture and building skills at the time when you consider that the old wall seen today consists mainly of the original structure.
Originally there was an awning type material which was retractable and allowed spectators to be shielded from the natural elements. This particular roofing structure was held in place by 240 secure corbels which were placed around the very top of the structure. Much of the seating area has been destroyed over the years as there was a large element of wood to the original structure which has been open to the elements for hundreds of years.
Rather bizarrely even in ancient Roman times the architects were very careful to ensure escape routes were both accessible to each and every member of the crowd and able to evacuate the Colosseum in a very short space of time. In all there were 80 entrants and exit points at ground level although only 76 were open to the public with the rest the exclusive domain of emperors and VIPs. Even in those days there was a ticketing system in the form of numbered pottery shards which directed crowds to their relevant sections and seating area.
The structure itself has undergone a number of radical changes over the centuries due to a mixture of damage to the area as well as differing religions and emperors in the region.
While there is some debate as to the full capacity of the seating system in the Colosseum there are some who suggest 87,000 people could be accommodated at any one time although the consensus figure seems to be in the region of 50,000. As with the modern day football stadiums there were specific “boxes” for emperors and VIPs at the North and South ends of the structure and the seating arrangement was very similar to those of a modern day stadium with sloping tiers which rose to the maximum height of the Colosseum.
The uses of the Colosseum
Originally the Colosseum was used for gladiator contests and a number of public spectacles which included mock battles, executions, animal hunts and classical dramas based upon the beliefs of the time. This was in fact one of the earliest ever entertainment venues and literally saw millions upon millions of visitors during its existence. Over the years it has been estimated that more than 500,000 people were killed and over 1 million wild animals died as a consequence of the so-called Colosseum games.
However, the Colosseum is now one of Rome’s more prominent tourist spots and a prominent figure in the worldwide tourist industry. The structure now tends to be more associated with religion and the pope traditionally leads a Good Friday torchlit procession down to the amphitheatre each year.
Strange facts about the Colosseum
The Colosseum itself is very prominent in historic documents and there is evidence it remained in use for approximate 500 years. The latest recorded games are said to have been held as recently as the sixth century.
While the word amphitheatre will be forever associated with the Colosseum this was not the only such structure built in Roman times as other copies were created across Italy.
Despite the brutal games which were held within the Colosseum there is a very strong relationship between the building and the Roman Catholic Church which continues to this day.
The structure itself has been decimated by earthquakes, natural erosion and stone robbers who over the centuries have literally taken away part of Rome’s ancient history.
Even to this day the Colosseum remains the largest freestanding structure in the world and is unlikely to be bettered in the modern day. The fact that the stones were not held together by any form of mortar whatsoever, with hundreds of tons of clamps used instead, demonstrates the quality and long lasting nature of the structure and the architectural work which went into it.
There are no other Roman buildings which quite captured the brutality and the culture of ancient Rome with such extreme examples of life in olden times. The fact that 500,000 people are said to have died during the games and executions is a reflection of life in ancient Rome not to mention the 1 million wild animals killed in the name of the “Colosseum games”.