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The Colosseum or Coliseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre, is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering.The name Colosseum has long been believed to be derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby. This statue was later remodeled by Nero's successors into the likeness of Helios (Sol) or Apollo, the sun god, by adding the appropriate solar crown. Nero's head was also replaced several times and substituted with the heads of succeeding emperors. Despite its pagan links, the statue remained standing well into the medieval era and was credited with magical powers. It came to be seen as an iconic symbol of the permanence of Rome.

Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vestavia and was completed in 80 AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domitian's reign (81–96). The name "Amphitheatrum Flavium" derives from both Vespasian's and Titus's family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia).


Unlike earlier amphitheatres that were built into hillsides, the Colosseum is an entirely free-standing structure. It is elliptical in plan and is 189 metres (615 ft / 640 Roman feet) long and 156 metres (510 ft / 528 Roman feet) wide, with a base area of 6 acres. The height of the outer wall is 48 metres (157 ft / 165 Roman feet). The perimeter originally measured 545 metres (1,788 ft / 1,835 Roman feet). The central arena is an oval (287 ft) long and (180 ft) wide, surrounded by a wall (15 ft) high, above which rose tiers of seating.

The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic meters (131,000 cu yd) of travertine stone which were set without mortar held together by *** tons of iron clamps. However, it has suffered extensive damage over the centuries, with large segments having collapsed following earthquakes. The north side of the perimeter wall is still standing; the distinctive triangular brick wedges at each end are modern additions, having been constructed in the early 19th century to shore up the wall.The remainder of the present-day exterior of the Colosseum is in fact the original interior wall.

The surviving part of the outer wall's monumental façade comprises three stories of superimposed arcades surmounted by a podium on which stands a tall attic, both of which are pierced by windows interspersed at regular intervals. The arcades are framed by half-columns of the Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian orders, while the attic is decorated with Corinthian pilasters. Each of the arches in the second- and third-floor arcades framed statues, probably honoring divinities and other figures from Classical mythology.

Two hundred and forty mast corbels were positioned around the top of the attic. They originally supported a retractable awning, known as the velarium, that kept the sun and rain off spectators. This consisted of a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center. It covered two-thirds of the arena, and sloped down towards the center to catch the wind and provide a breeze for the audience. Sailors, specially enlisted from the Roman naval headquarters at Misenum and housed in the nearby Castra Misenatium, were used to work the velarium.

The Colosseum's huge crowd capacity made it essential that the venue could be filled or evacuated quickly. Its architects adopted solutions very similar to those used in modern stadiums to deal with the same problem. The amphitheatre was ringed by eighty entrances at ground level, 76 of which were used by ordinary spectators. Each entrance and exit was numbered, as was each staircase. The northern main entrance was reserved for the Roman Emperor and his aides, whilst the other three axial entrances were most likely used by the elite. All four axial entrances were richly decorated with painted stucco reliefs, of which fragments survive. Many of the original outer entrances have disappeared with the collapse of the perimeter wall, but entrances XXIII to LIV still survive.

Spectators were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the appropriate section and row. They accessed their seats via vomitoria (singular vomitorium), passageways that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind. These quickly dispersed people into their seats and, upon conclusion of the event or in an emergency evacuation, could permit their exit within only a few minutes. The name vomitoria derived from the Latin word for a rapid discharge, from which English derives the word vomit.


The arena itself was 83 metres by 48 metres (272 ft by 157 ft / *** by 163 Roman feet). It comprised a wooden floor covered by sand (the Latin word for sand is harena or arena), covering an elaborate underground structure called the hypogeum (literally meaning "underground"). Little now remains of the original arena floor, but the hypogeum is still clearly visible. It consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath; larger hinged platforms, called hegmata, provided access for elephants and the like. It was restructured on numerous occasions; at least twelve different phases of construction can be seen.

The hypogeum was connected by underground tunnels to a number of points outside the Colosseum. Animals and performers were brought through the tunnel from nearby stables, with the gladiators' barracks at the Ludus Magnus to the east also being connected by tunnels. Separate tunnels were provided for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins to permit them to enter and exit the Colosseum without needing to pass through the crowds.

Substantial quantities of machinery also existed in the hypogeum. Elevators and pulleys raised and lowered scenery and props, as well as lifting caged animals to the surface for release. There is evidence for the existence of major hydraulic mechanisms and according to ancient accounts; it was possible to flood the arena rapidly, presumably via a connection to a nearby aqueduct.

The Colosseum was used to host gladiatorial shows as well as a variety of other events. The shows, called munera, were always given by individuals rather than the state. They had a strong religious element but were also demonstration of power and family prestige, and were immensely popular with the population. Another popular type of show was the animal hunt, or venatio. This utilized a great variety of wild beasts, mainly imported from Africa, and included creatures such as rhinoceros, hippos, elephants, giraffes, lions, panthers, leopards, crocodiles and ostriches. Battles and hunts were often staged amid elaborate sets with movable trees and buildings. Such events were occasionally on a huge scale; Trajan is said to have celebrated his victories in Dacia in 107 with contests involving 11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators over the course of 123 days. The Colosseum today is now a major tourist attraction in Rome with thousands of tourists each year paying to view the interior arena, There is now a museum dedicated to Eros located in the upper floor of the outer wall of the building. Part of the arena floor has been re-floored.

The iconic status of the Colosseum has led it to be featured in numerous films and other items of popular culture:

In the 1953 film Roman Holiday, the Colosseum famously serves as the backdrop for several scenes.

In the 1954 film Demetrius and the Gladiators, the Emperor Caligula anachronistically sentences the Christian Demetrius to fight in the Colosseum.

The conclusion of the 1957 film 20 Million Miles to Earth takes place at the Colosseum.

In the 1972 film Way of the Dragon, Bruce Lee fought Chuck Norris in the Colosseum.

In Ridley Scott's 2000 film Gladiator, the Colosseum was re-created via computer-generated imagery (CGI) to "restore" it to the glory of its heyday in the 2nd century. The depiction of the building itself is generally accurate and it gives a good impression of what the underground hypogeum would have been like.

In the 2008 film Jumper, the Colosseum was used as the location for one of the battles between the jumpers and those trying to kill them.

The Gladiators

The Roman gladiators, whose name comes from the antique Roman sword "gladius", were for the main part war prisoners, slaves or persons sentenced to death. To the spectacles, however, were participating only free men attracted by the rewards and glory, but whoever decided to become gladiator was automatically considered "infamis" for the law. We suppose that the gladiator spectacles found their origin in the far back mortuary ceremonies celebrated with the human sacrifice to calm the rage of the hellish Gods and the anxiety of the dead. The fighters were following a hard training in the schools founded by Nerone and Cesare in which they were exposed to tortures and a established order with the repetitive use of restraints with fire and whip.The discipline was hard, with unbending rules and with severe punishments in such a way to have the gladiators become real fighting machines.At the end of the training period all the fighters were grouped in "companies" of exclusive ownership of the Imperator. The challenges were starting by a parade where the gladiators were making their stage entrance on chariots or by foot followed by a group of drummers; once they had reached the podium of the Imperator, they were greeting him with the words "Ave cesare morituri te salutant" ("Ave o Cesare, those who are about to die are greeting you"), then they were going towards the organizer of the games who examined the weapons which were different on the base of the category of the fighter. The "retiarii", inspired by the God Triton, were fighting half nude armed of a net, a trident and a knife; the "mirmilloni" however had a helmet, a shield and were armed of a sickle, the gladiators, who were part of the category of the "sanniti" were wearing a helmet equipped of crests, a strong armour and were grasping a javelin. The duellists who were chosen were belonging to diverse categories in such a way to make the spectacle more compelling; from some chronicles of the time, in fact, it even seems that the Imperator Nerone, to honour the king of Armenia, Tiridate, made a dwarf fight against a woman. Sometimes the attacks, after having rendered the arms inoffensive, were only simulated but in the main part of the cases the fights were hard and bloody and were ending by the death of one of the gladiators. If the defeated was wounded he could ask for grace by raising the arm, therefore the public was asking for salvation or death with the authority present on the imperial podium, by showing the inch facing downwards, or waving a white handkerchief. The fighters killed, before they were taken away, were approached by two slaves dressed as Caronte and Ermete Psicopompo: one was checking the death by touching with a hot piece of iron, the other, eventually, was giving them the final stroke making then the sign to the "libitinarii" to take the body away dragging it on the arena with a hook. The winners were rewarded with gold palms, money and the immense popularity won above all among women; if the winning gladiator was a slave, after ten victories, which were written on a metallic collar, he was granted back liberty; he could therefore decide if continuing to fight for money or starting other activities such as for example the instructor.

In the schools for gladiators.Another game very appreciated by the public was the "venationes" where the gladiators were fighting against ferocious animals such as elephants, hippopotami, lions, bulls, tigers, panthers, and leopards. The hunts could also consist in a challenge between one or more animals contemporaneously, or they could also be a pretext for executions, when the sentenced persons were introduced in the arena without any defence together with the wild beasts. The "naumachie" were also much appreciated, that consisted in false naval battles, but as they cost a lot in expenses relative to the armament of the ships, they were rarely organized. From time to time were participating, also if the law was forbidding it, women and members of the upper classes, but obviously they were not mixed with the other gladiators and were not fighting up to death.  


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