The Colosseum

Through the Ages – The Colosseum

The Colosseum is a well known landmark around the world. Today, in Rome, the Colosseum is one of its most famous landmarks and tourist attractions. Although it survives only as a ruin, it still rates as one of the finest examples of Roman architecture and engineering.

Building of the Colosseum started in 72AD and was built as an entertainment centre for the Emperor’s subjects. In 80AD it was nearing completion and the Emperor’s son Titus opened the arena with 100 consecutive days of public events, including gladiator flights and theatrical productions.

Among the most popular crowd pleasers were bloody contests pitting gladiators against each other and wild beasts. Even naval battles were staged in the Colosseum and the arena’s floor would be flooded with 3 feet of water for those events. Not all events were blood thirsty and non – martial events were staged there too including lavish theatrical productions and tamed animal acts.

Although most of the combatants in the arena were trained gladiators, convicted criminals and prisoners of war, occasionally individuals in the crowd volunteered to fight – often overestimating their skills and suffering the consequences.

Sometimes the Emperor of the time would select people in the crowd and have his guards toss them into the arena. Sometimes the Emperor may have disliked the person or was simply amusing himself by randomly selecting a spectator to meet his death.

Commodus was the only Emperor to enter the arena himself which he did many times. His matches were often rigged by selecting opponents who were already maimed or under-armed. He is the person portrayed as the malicious emperor in the movie “Gladiator”.

The Gladiators

Gladiators were often “owned” and they were valuable assets to their owners. Not all gladiators would fight to the death. Understandably the owners would try and keep their gladiators alive as long as possible because training a replacement was time consuming and expensive. Owners would be reluctant to enter their gladiator if they thought his chances of survival were low. The event organisers recognised they had to keep the death rate down if they were to have enough gladiators show up but not too low or the spectators stayed home.

Gladiators would be specialised in a particular field. One type was armed with a short sword and would a strong helmet plus protective arm and leg armour. Brut strength was his forte and this is the gladiator class that has become the most recognised in the movie cliche image of the bad guy.

Another type was the gladiator who had limited armour and relied on cunning and quickness. He only had a light sword and a small shield.

Yet another gladiator would have nothing but a trident or spear and a net for catching his opposition.

The Beasts

The managers of the Colosseum would import animals from as far away as Africa and India. Lions, tigers, elephants, leopards, rhino’s and hipps were kept in cages directly beneath the wooden floor of the arena. There were several trapdoors under the floor and they were strategically hidden so that suddenly one would open and a charging lion or other animal would rage into the areana to attack anyone who was in the Colosseum of Rome arena. The crowds loved this surprising twist.

In the 3rd century the Colosseum was badly damaged when lightning caused a massive fire. But it was restored and used again. Eventually in 404AD Emperor Honorius outlawed gladiator death duels but other less grisly events were still held there. From 476AD the events at the Colosseum cease and it started falling into ruin.

In the 19th Century the archaelogical significance is recognised and the restoration of the Colosseum is started to preserve it for future generations.

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