Colosseum – Bread and Circuses

Colosseum – Bread and Circuses

Colosseum is an amphitheater, which has become one of Rome’s most popular tourist attractions, with millions of visitors each year. The building was begun by Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD., and the top floor was completed by his son Titus in the year 80.

The original Latin name was “Amphitheatrum Flavium”. The first one to use the name Colosseum, was the english monk Bede in 700 AD. The name probably referred to a giant statue of Nero that stood nearby.

The plant had marble benches with seating for over 50,000 spectators. The closer you sat the arena, the higher the social status you had. The least significant, including women, were put on top. You came into the arena through 80 entrance arches, known as the “vomitoria”. Colosseum’s huge crowd capacity made ​​it essential to fill or evacuate the premises quickly.

The solution the architects chose was very effective, and has inspired the design of some modern stadiums of today. Unlike Greek theaters, the Colosseum was a standalone construction and had enclosed structures. The building is elliptical and has a length of 188 meters, is 155 meters wide and has a height of 48 meters. Many other amphitheatres were located on the outskirts of town, but the Colosseum was constructed in the center – in the heart of Rome.

Colosseum in Rome Colosseum in Rome

As sports stadiums of today, Colosseum protected the crowd effectively against the sun. The overlying roofing, called “velarium”, was a huge linen cover, which was set up with a system of ropes, winches and wooden posts. One hundred sailors from the Imperial fleet were needed to maneuver the tarpaulin. It was done in perfect timimg with the drum beat.

Little remains today of the original arena floor, but the underlying area “Hypogeum” is still clearly visible. It consisted of a two-storey underground network of tunnels and cages. Inside were gladiators and animals held before the racing and fighting began. Eighty vertical shafts provided direct access to the arena for wildlife and scenery. Hinged platforms, called “hegmata”, made it possible for animals as large as elephants to appear in the middle of the arena.

Fighting was seen as entertainment, and started usually with comedy and display of exotic animals. This scaled, and ended with fights to the death between animals and gladiators or between gladiators only. Sometimes, even emperors took part in the action. The most popular entertainment were gladiators fighting against each other. Gladiators were typically men who were considered criminals, slaves or prisoners of war. However, there were also some female gladiators.

Another popular show was the animal hunt, “Venatio”. A wide variety of wild animals, mainly from Africa and the Middle East were hunted down and killed in the arena. Among the animals used were elephants, giraffes, lions, bears, tigers, crocodiles and ostriches.

Colosseum in Rome Colosseum in Rome

At dinner time there was a break in the entertainment. It was used to remove the dead bodies and spread more sand over the blood on the arena floor. The arena had a wooden floor covered with sand to prevent the combatants from slipping, and to soak up the blood. The winners received palm leaves and large amounts of money.

In the area around Colusseum there were different schools that would prepare the gladiators in different arts they made ​​use of during the fighting. “Ludus Matutinus” – The Morning School, where visited by those who would fight the animals.

It was free entry to the Colosseum for all Roman citizens. Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public. Entertainment was a symbol of prestige and power, and it increased the popularity of the emperor. Colosseum can be seen as a major victory monument built in the Roman tradition of celebrating great victories.

The arena was built to appease the Roman people, rather than to bring the soldiers home from the battlefield. The people get both what they need and what they want – “bread and circuses”. The bread was distributed as food in large quantities to the spectators, while the there was a break in the performances.

Colosseum underground in Rome Colosseum underground in Rome

“The Circus performances” continued until Christianity takeover put a stop to the killing of people. After the fall of Rome, the amphitheater began to decay. Parts of the building, including marble, was later used for the construction of other landmarks, such as St. Peter ‘s Basilica. Colosseum got heavily damaged by a powerful earthquake in 1349, as the southern side collapsed.

In recent times, the Colosseum has become a symbol for the fight against the death penalty, which was abolished in Italy in 1948. The color of the Colosseum’s night illumination changes from white to gold whenever a doomed person somewhere in the world get their punishment reversed or is set free.

On the 7. july 2007 the Colosseum was elected one of the seven modern wonders.

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