The Colosseum (Coliseum), originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater, is an elliptical amphitheater in the center of Rome, Italy that is the largest stadium built by the powerful Roman Empire. It is considered one of the greatest works of Rome's architecture ever built. Originally capable of seating 50,000 spectators, it was once used for gladiatorial combat.
The construction of the Roman Colosseum began under the rule of Emperor Vespasian around 72 A.D. and was completed by his son, Titus, in the 80s A.D. It was built at the site of Nero's lake below his extensive palace, the Domus Aurea, which had been built covering the slope of the Palatine after the great fire of Rome in 64 A.D. Dio Cassius said that 10,000 wild animals were killed in the one hundred days of celebration which inaugurated the amphitheater opening. The arena floor was covered with sand, presumably to soak the blood and make it easier to clean away.
Roman Games, Shows and Naval Battles
The Colosseum hosted large-scale spectacular games that included fights between animals, the killing of prisoners by animals and other executions, naval battles (via flooding the arena and bringing in ships) up until 81 A.D., and combats between Roman gladiators (munera). The munera were always given by private individuals rather than the state. It has been estimated that several hundreds of thousands died in the games.
One popular type of Roman show was the animal hunt, or venatio. This utilized a great variety of wild beasts, mainly imported from Africa and the Middle East, and included creatures such as rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, elephants, giraffes, aurochs, lions, panthers, leopards, bears, caspian tigers, 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. Roman emperor Trajan is said to have celebrated his victories in Dacia in 107 A.D. with contests involving 11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators over the course of 123 days.
Where did it get its name?
The name of the Roman Colosseum (Coliseum) has long been believed to be derived from a colossus (a 130-foot or 40-metre statue) of Nero located nearby. This statue was later remodeled by Nero's successors into the likeness of Sol, the sun god, by adding the appropriate solar crown. Nero's head was also replaced several times by the head of succeeding emperors. At some time during the Middle Ages, the statue disappeared; experts suspect that, since the statue was bronze, it was melted down for reuse. After the colossus' disposal, the link to it seems to have been forgotten over time, and the name was corrupted to COLISEUM during the Middle Ages. Both names are frequently used in modern English, but Flavian Amphitheater is generally unknown.
How was it designed?
The Roman Colosseum measures 157 feet (48 meters) high, 617 feet (188 meters) long, and 511 feet (156 meters) wide. The wooden arena floor was 228 feet (86 meters) by 177 feet (54 meters), and covered by sand. Its elliptical shape kept the players from retreating to a corner, and allowed the spectators to be closer to the action than a circle would allow.
This large arena was ingeniously designed. It has been said that most spectacle venues (stadiums, and similar) have been influenced by Colosseum features, even well into modern times. Seating (cavea) was divided into different sections. The podium, the first level of seating, was for the Roman senators; the emperor's private, cushioned, marble box was also located on this level. Above the podium was the maenianum primum, for the other aristocrats who were not in the senate. The third level, the maenianum secundum, was divided into three sections. The lower part (the immum) was for wealthy citizens, while the upper part (the summum) was for poor citizens. A third, wooden section (the maenianum secundum in legneis) was a wooden structure at the very top of the building, added by Domitian. It was standing room only, and was for lower-class women.
After its first two years in operation, Vespasian's younger son (the newly-designated Emperor Domitian) ordered the construction of the hypogeum (literally meaning "underground") under the Colosseum. It was a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages where gladiators and animals were held before Colosseum contests began. Numerous trap doors in the floor 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.
Today the arena floor no longer exists, though the hypogeum walls and corridors are clearly visible in the ruins of the structure. The entire base of the arena covers an area equivalent to 6 acres (160,000 square meters). There are also tunnels, still in existence, configured to flood and evacuate water from the floor, so that naval battles could be staged prior to the hypogeum's construction. Recent archaeological research has shown evidence of drain pipes connected to the city's sewer system and a large underground holding tank connected to a nearby aqueduct.
Did the Roman Colosseum have air conditioning?
Another innovative feature was its cooling system, known as the valerium, which consisted of a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center. This roof covered two-thirds of the arena, and sloped down towards the center to catch the wind and provide a breeze for the audience. Sailors, standing on special platforms, manipulated the ropes on command.
The Roman Colosseum incorporated a number of vomitoria - passageways that open into a tier of seats from below or behind. The vomitoria were designed so that the immense venue could fill in 15 minutes, and be evacuated in as little as 5 minutes. Each entrance and exit was numbered, as was each staircase. There were 80 entrances at ground level, 76 for ordinary spectators, two for the imperial family, and two for the gladiators. Spectators were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the appropriate section. The vomitoria quickly dispersed people into their seats and, upon conclusion of the event, disgorged them with abruptness into the surrounding streets (giving rise, presumably, to its name).