September 21, 2021 7 min read
Have you heard of gladiator games? These games were played in the Roman Empire as early as 250 BC and were a major source of amusement for the Roman population.
It reached the peak of its fame in 70 AD when Emperor Flavius Vespasian commissioned the Flavian Amphitheatre or Roman Colosseum as known today. The Colosseum was going to be the largest Amphitheatre ever built, at 50 meters high, 156 meters wide and 189 meters long. It was constructed at the site of a former lake by thousands of slaves from stones, concrete, bricks, and sand. It had 80 entrances and exits out of which 76 were accessible to the public.
When completed, the Colosseum shone as a massive 4 level structure that could accommodate more than 50,000 watchers who sat according to their rank. The best seats were reserved for the Senate and their families, magistrates and priests, the most upper echelon of Roman society. And like the Wimbledon, where was a special Royal Box for the Emperor and his family. The equestrians and other officers sat on the second level. Average citizens and soldiers sat on the third level while women, slaves, and foreigners on the last.
The Amphitheatre was opened in 80 AD by Emperor Titus, the son of the late Vespasian. The grand opening was celebrated with 100 days of theatrical performances, public executions, and of course, gladiatorial combat.
Another popular event held in the Colosseum was Naumachia, staged naval battles for which channels from a nearby aqueduct diverted water and flooded the arena floor. Small “battle ships”, 7-10 meters long were specially made to enact the most famous Roman wars with gladiators dressed as Romans and enemies, fighting, drowning, and incapacitating their foes in a mock war.
Apart from battles, there were many other performances in the flooded arena. Chariot drivers could glide across the water producing waves, piloting chariots across the sea, because of a submerged stage. Animals walked on water and myths were re-enacted by convicted criminals. However, since Naumachia was very popular, it was given its separate lake in early 90 AD.
The area under the arena floor was remodeled to build the hypogeum. The hypogeum was an underground maze of tunnels and cages, with elevators that allowed animals and gladiators to suddenly enter the arena through trapdoors in the floor.
Many animals like lions, tigers, panthers, elephants, rhinos, bears, etc. were imported from various parts of the world for gladiatorial combats. These animals fought trained gladiators in the arena until one of them, generally the animal, was dead. Another form of gladiatorial combat was two gladiators fighting to the death. The winners would be very popular with the public and often rewarded huge amounts of money.
Apart from combats and fights, the colosseum was also used for theatrical performances like enacting ancient Greek and Roman stories, plays and musical performances. These events and the Colosseum were the major source of entertainment for the Roman population and would remain so until around the 6th century AD.
After the 6th century it was largely used as a quarry for hundreds of years. An earthquake destroyed parts of the monument in 1349 and it was never repaired. Today, the colosseum stands as symbol of the power Rome once yielded.
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