The Roman Coliseum (word coliseum also spelled as coloseum or colosseum) was the largest sports arena of its kind formerly known as “Amphitheater Flavian” and it was called “coliseum” in the middle ages because a huge colossal statue of Nero used to stand beside it. The Roman Coliseum is considered World’s most impressive architecture. When we are going to discuss World’s great monument it is necessary to realize the time, place cultural background of that nation.
Etruscans of the North and Greeks of Italy of South both influenced the Roman society but had its basic roots from a long time of Samnite government. The Etruscans were very cruel and deeply superstitious. Their prisons / slaves were ordered to fight among themselves until the last faced death. The Etruscans would have a dominant and deep impression in Roman lifestyles thinking and philosophies. The people of Rome enjoyed theatres, battles, races, baths, comical events, and the game of death as well. There were many forums, temples, and many amphitheaters in the history of Rome, however only a few are present today and Coliseum is an example of it.
Coliseum was built during the reign of Vespasiano and his successor Titus
- both emperors belonged to Flavian Family. Construction began around 70 AD and was completed in 80 AD. It was constructed in a low-lying area between the Palatine, Esquiline and Caelian hills. The purpose of construction of this great sports arena was to provide various sorts of entertainment to one million residents of Rome and Royal Family including gladiators’ fights, mock naval battles and exotic animal combats.
The coliseum is 465 feet long, 386 feet wide and 118 feet high whereas the foundation of cement measures 23 feet thick. The coliseum had 80 entrances and could hold upwards of 50,000 spectators. The coliseum has four-story structure – the first three stories have 80 arches and each arch has been separated by a column - with the columns of each story lining up exactly with those in the story immediately above it. The floor was wooden covered with sand to soak the blood and on the ground level there were a maze of hidden passageways where gladiators and animals were kept in holding areas before their fighting events. A hand-operated elevator was used to raise animals from holding area to the arena floor.
The spectators holding tickets used to enter this sports arena through 76 entrances on the ground floor. They would then climb ramps to their assigned seats. Women and poor classes either stood or sat on wooden benches mounted on top floor. The upper class and Royal used to sit on marble benches on lower floors. Senators had their reserved seats with their names carved on the base. The emperor had his own entrance and used to sit in his private cell from where he decided the fate of defeated gladiators.
As far as the architecture is concerned this coliseum has elliptical shape and having northwest to southeast axis.
The core material of this building is brick and somewhat soft porous rock called tufa. The exterior of this arena was built of brilliant white stone. It is also necessary to mention here that initially that coliseum had three stories and the fourth story was later added by Alexander Severus when he renovated the building around 230 AD.
The first three stories have 80 arches each and a thin horizontal band around the whole coliseum separates stories. The column in one story corresponds to the column in next story. The bottom story has 80 entrances arches, separated by a Doric column. The second story has Ionic column and the third has Corinthian. The fourth story, which was built later, was made of solid bricks wall with thin Corinthian plaster and the space between the plaster was filled alternately with 40 small windows and forty bucklers, which do not exist now.
A typical day at coliseum starts withbloodless comic battles in which women or cripples participated and held fights with wooden weapons – afterwards gladiators fights started which were most demanded and popular amongst public.
Other demanding contest was the famous wild beast hunts. Some beast’s slayers fought bears, bulls, lions and tigers and even harmless animals like ostriches, giraffes, deer, elephants – all was done for delight of crowd. Coliseum was used to decorate with trees, hillocks and other stuffs to simulate natural surroundings.
Another public demanding contest was mock sea battles. Romans were at that time very famous for running water in their architecture and hence that allowed them to flood the battle field and hold mock sea battles. Gladiators’ fights were banned in 438 AD and the last animal show was held in 523 AD.
The coliseum was used regularly almost 400 years and after fall of Roman Empire this sports arena was abandoned and remained vacant hundreds of years until medieval times where it was used as a fortress.
Over a period of time the place has faced many extensive damages from earth-quakes, neglecting from existing rulers of that time, vandalism but still the coliseum is present as a fascinating ancient structure. Today, the Roman Coliseum is one of its most famous monuments and tourist attractions. It is not only a symbol of ancient Roman Empire but even today it is a prominent sign of dignity and a history-loving nation.