Flavian Amphitheatre

Flavian Amphitheatre

The Flavian Amphitheatre (Amphitheatre Flavium) in Pozzuoli was constructed during the reign of the Emperor Vespasian, probably in around 70AD.

Vespasian, who was the first Flavian dynasty emperor, built this vast amphitheatre – the third largest in Ancient Rome after those of Rome and Capua – in Pozzuoli as it was at an important crossroad.

Later damaged by ash and rubble from the eruption of the Solfatara volcano, Pozzuoli’s Flavian Amphitheatre lay abandoned and was used as a quarry for its marble. Nevertheless, when it was excavated in the nineteenth century, archaeologists found the Flavian Amphitheatre in a very good state of preservation, with many of its walls and floors intact.

However, one of the key highlights of a trip to the Flavian Amphitheatre is the fact that you can explore the underbelly of this once-thriving stadium and wander through the rooms and chambers below the arena itself. It is even possible to see the quarters in which the gladiators themselves would have prepared for their contests. This amazing set of underground corridors and passageways remains in an excellent state of preservation and gives a genuine glimpse into the amphitheatre’s past .

Today, the Flavian Amphitheatre operates as a popular destination for those who visit the (now dormant) Solfatara volcano and the local area.

The Flavian Amphitheatre and the Impact of Public History.

Joe Clark is studying on the MRes Humanities course at Newman University. He is currently researching the reasons why Emperor Domitian was subject to damnatio memoriae (damnation of memory) by the Senate following his reign. The Senate attempted to wipe a ‘bad’ emperor’s reign from history, and he is interested in the intentions behind the Senate’s move as well as the effectiveness of damnatio memoriae. You can find him on twitter @Joe96Clark.

I visited Rome for the first time in 2015 on a Newman University field trip. It was the first opportunity I had as an undergraduate to travel abroad with my cohort, and I made sure I seized every opportunity to visit as many historical sites as I possibly could. We visited sites such as the Pantheon, Trevi Fountain (although just our luck it was closed for that summer), the Roman Capitol Building and the St Peter’s Basilica. Though seeing Rome from what felt like the top of the world at the top of St Peter’s Basilica was incredible, the highlight of the trip was well and truly the Flavian Amphitheatre.

I stood inside the Colosseum in awe, appreciating the history that it held with the huge number of gladiatorial shows, and it was at this point that I knew I wanted to study its history further. I explored for two hours, reading descriptions on models of how the Colosseum once stood upon its completion and I had so many questions that needed answering. I spent a great deal of time admiring the amphitheatre from all different angles on both the ground and the upper floor. I was completely encapsulated by the scale of the building work and appreciated how well preserve the amphitheatre was – considering it is nearly 1,950 years old. Henceforth, it became one of the focusses in my undergraduate dissertation just over a year later when preparing for my final year. I knew the Colosseum had to play a role. Eventually, my dissertation’s focus was on the Emperor Domitian. He was the second son of Emperor Vespasian (who commissioned the Colosseum’s construction) and the third of the Flavian Dynasty to become Emperor.

The consensus amongst both ancient and modern historians alike is that Domitian had a bad reputation. That he ran a largely tyrannical regime and he forced the Senate to take a position against his rule. However, thanks to my research, I put forward the case in my undergraduate dissertation that Emperor Domitian was in fact, not a ‘bad’ emperor, and instead his reign was a continuation of his Flavian predecessors’ successful reigns before him. Both Emperor Vespasian and Emperor Titus had successful and popular reigns, and I found that Emperor Domitian had an equally successful reign in most aspects of his reign.

I decided to continue with postgraduate study because I felt that more had to be done to prove that Domitian was in fact a successful emperor. This has led me to research further the concept of a ‘bad’ emperor across Roman history. My MRes dissertation will be looking at the impact damnatio memoriae had on various emperors including Domitian. I will be arguing that Domitian did not deserve the treatment he posthumously received when comparing his reign to other emperors who also succumbed to damnatio memoriae such as Commodus, Elagabalus and Caracalla. I chose these emperors as they ruled across each of the first three centuries and this will emphasise changes in patterns for how Roman emperors suffered damnatio memoriae, as sanctioned by the Roman Senate.

The link between studying the Colosseum through primary and secondary literature and visiting the Colosseum just a couple of years ago is a strong reason behind why I chose to study ancient history for my undergraduate dissertation. I originally struggled to choose a specific period to study when choosing my undergraduate dissertation topic, and often felt uncomfortable talking to my peers about it. However, the university trip to Rome and visiting the Colosseum inspired me and helped me to decide the direction I want to take in my studies. Furthermore, it is the reason why I am studying on the MRes course at Newman University for the next year.

Rome day 3 (continuation 8)

The Colosseum is found a stone’s throw from the arch.

Colosseum from the Palatine and Colosseum aerial G.B. Falda map of the Colosseum and its surrounding 1676
Youtube Walking around the Colosseum reconstruction Danila Loginov (10.50 minutes) Livecam Colosseum

On the way to the Colosseum large size

Colosseum aerial large size Youtube Colosseum aerial drone Sky View Productions (5.07 minutes)

As its original name indicates, the Flavian Amphitheatre was built by the Flavian emperors. Construction began under Emperor Vespasian in 72 AD, and finished in 80 AD under the rule of Titus. In that same year, a coin was minted depicting the Colosseum. These days, the Colosseum adorns the 50 cent euro coin.

The building owes its current name to the statue that Nero erected in his own honour at the very location where the amphitheatre was later built. It was a truly colossal statue of some thirty-two metres in height.

The Colossus of Nero a reconstruction large size The Colossus of Nero
Reconstruction Colosseum large size Model Colosseum Museo della Civiltà Romana

This makes it all the more impressive that an enormous mass of concrete, natural stone and marble was placed on this kind of subsurface without it ever having subsided or shown any tears (for more information about Roman concrete, click here). The Colosseum has a long axis of 188 metres and a short axis of 156 metres. It is 527 metres in circumference and is 57 metres tall.

Common knowledge today, the Colosseum was used for the immensely popular gladiator fights.

Jean-Léon Gérôme, ‘Pollice Verso’, 1872 large size Jean-Léon Gérôme ‘Ave Caesar Morituri te Salutant’ 1859
Asterix and Obelisk in the Colosseum AVE CAESAR MORITURI TE SALUTANT
Youtube ‘Tumb down’ 20 seconds Youtube Asterix s and Obelisk in the Colosseum (7.55 minutes)

Wikipedia: A murmillo has defeated a retiarius in the Colosseum.

Velarium sun blinds Youtube Velarium (2.07 minutes) Youtube Velarium Le Plan De Rome (1.58 minutes)

Le Plan De Rome (click here for images and a video)

The first stone amphitheatre was built in Pompeii. It could hold roughly thirty thousand people, but the entrance was limited to just two staircases in the building’s exterior. The Flavian Amphitheatre (or Colosseum) was a marvel of engineering. It had an awning and beneath the wooden boards of the arena floor was a complex substructure of corridors and cages to hold wild animals, with mechanical elevators to hoist them up to the arena floor. The holes into which the poles were mounted, which in turn would wind up the ropes in a rotating fashion to hoist up the 28 elevators, can still be seen in the hypogeum today.

Model Colosseum with corridor system and a model of the arena
Amfitheater Pompeii one of the two entrance stairs and the arena
Colosseum large size Hypogeum or underground space arena Arena with the hypogeum Top of the Colosseum

Foto: Giovanni Flamini (JoBro)

This allowed the fifty thousand spectators to enter and leave the Colosseum quickly. Quite the improvement when compared to the mere two entrances of the Pompei amphitheatre.

There wasn’t usually an entrance fee, though you were required to get a ticket that would list the number of your entrance gate. If you look closely, you can still make out the Roman numbers above some of the entrance arches. The core of the structure was made of concrete and lined with marble.

The exterior also used natural stone, but without any cement. Instead, metal clamps were used to connect the stone blocks. You will notice that many of these clamps have been ripped out over the centuries needless to say, the same goes for much of the precious marble. When we walk inside the Colosseum, you can easily notice the important contribution made by carpenters. It was they who made the formwork for the concrete of the columns and arches. Here and there, you can still see the seams between the wooden planks where the concrete leaked out, leaving a small upright ridge.

The architecture of the Marcellus theatre served as a model for the exterior. The natural stones and concrete were lined with a layer of marble. The ground level used the Doric order, followed by the Ionic order on the second level, the Corinthian order on the third and it finished with Corinthian pilasters in the attic.

Reconstruction of the Colosseum and the surrounding large size Youtube 3rd trailer “Walking around Colosseum” 10.50 minutes

Colosseum large size Reconstruction facade Reconstruction facade Reconstruction Colosseum

Colosseum large size

This sequence of using orders, first applied for the theatre of Marcellus, owes its popularity in large part to the Colosseum. During the Renaissance and onwards, countless architects used this sequence of orders, starting with Alberti in 1460. Another favourite and often applied element was the arch motif, flanked by two semi-columns on either side. In the 19th century, excavations uncovered the underground corridor system and animal cages.

Hubert Robert ‘The Colosseum’ 1780-1790 Madrid Prado
Hubert Robert ‘The Colosseum’ detail 1780-1790 Madrid Prado large size

At first, the arena consisted of nothing but sand. This allowed the arena to be flooded, and so the Colosseum hosted water battles with crocodiles and sea serpents. This quickly resulted in all sorts of logistical issues to keep the enormous amount of wild animals accommodated (temporarily). All kinds of animals were used for the spectacles, ranging from herds of elephants and zebras to hippos and elks. The solution was to build several floors below the arena. Wooden boards, covered with sand to ease the task of removing spilt blood, closed off the underground floor. Gladiators were kept, trained and held captive inside two amphitheatres, the foundations of which we will examine when we pass through the Via di Giovanni Laterano on our way to the Basilica San Clemente.

Reconstruction arena with the hypogeum and the remnanats of the hypogeum 2012 Large size Water battles
Video Naumachia navel battles (1.45 minutes) Video Naumachia navel battles (1.50minutes)

After the fall of the Roman empire, the amphitheatre went into decay. The precious marble and bronze stands were removed later one, leaving many holes exposed in the natural stones. The Colosseum’s precious marble can be traced back to many places in Rome. For instance, the facade of the S. Agostino (the location of a famous painting by Caravaggio) is made of marble taken from the Colosseum.

What occurred in the Colosseum can be read in the classical writings by contemporaries. The shows in the Colosseum, which could last up to a hundred days, had a fixed pattern. Animals were killed in the mornings. Followed by the clowns, and the criminals were then killed gruesomely and often painfully slowly. The criminals wore a sign that listed their crimes. The gladiators were next. Dion described the hunt and the killing of animals at a show in 203 held in honour of the emperor Septimius Severus:

In that time, there were all kinds of shows to honour Severus’ return, his ten-year anniversary as ruler and his victories. At these shows, at a given signal some sixty wild boars would fight each other, and many other animals were slaughtered, including an elephant and a krokotta (a kind of cow, barbarian in origin and appearance) […]

Cited from: Jona Lendering, ‘Stad in marmer Gids voor het antieke Rome aan de hand van tijdgenoten’, Athenaeum- Polak&Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2002 p. 237.

This was followed by the executions of criminals. The below is roughly how it transpired, according to a source that describes a punishment in Lyon in 177.

Maturus and Sanctus endured the entire plethora of tortures again in the amphitheatre, as if they had suffered nothing prior to it. […] Once more they had to endure the whips, the bites of wild animals that dragged them through the arena, and anything else demanded by the loud screaming audience from all sides. The iron chair was their last rest. As their bodies were being roasted, the stenh of their own burning meat engulfed them.

Cited from Jona Lendering, ‘Stad in marmer Gids voor het antieke Rome aan de hand van tijdgenoten’, Athenaeum- Polak&Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2002 p. 240

Detail Jean-Léon Gérôme, ‘Pollice Verso’, 1872 and large size Wikipedia: A murmillo has defeated a retiarius in the Colosseum.

Gladiator Ridley Scott large size Youtube ‘Gladiator’ Ridley Scott (7.11 minutes)
Gladiator Ridley Scott large size Gladiators and ‘Gladiator’ Ridly Scott and youtube (11 minutes)

These gruesome events did not just spawn from sadism. No matter how cruel, it was a way to demonstrate that crime was unacceptable in the Roman empire. It was one of the few options available to emperors to make this known amongst the public. The biggest spectacle was reserved for when the sun was at its highest point: the gladiator fights.

Gladiator Ridley Scott Youtube ‘Fight for life and death’ (2.43 minutes)

film: ‘Gladiator’ van Ridly Scott

The reasoner Psuedo-Quintilianus described the battle from the point of view of a gladiator, as follows:

Dawn was here, the people gathered to witness the spectacle of our punishment, the bodies of those who were about to die put on show by parading them around the arena, and our owner, whose fame was linked to how much of our blood was spilled, sat ready. One aspect of my situation roused some sympathy with a few spectators, as it would happen with someone who is thrown randomly into the arena, of who no one knows the father, the sons or the fate: it seems my opponent was too strong. I would fall prey to the sand, no one was cheaper in the eyes of the host. The tools of death sounded everywhere.

one would sharpen his sword, the other heated metal plates in the fire [used to keep gladiators in the, they would sometimes throw burning torches), batons here, whips there. You would think people are pirates. The trumpets then sounded their sinister sounds, stretchers were carried into the morgue and a funeral procession could be seen before actual death. Wounds, spitting and blood all around.

Cited from: Jona Lendering, ‘Stad in marmer Gids voor het antieke Rome aan de hand van tijdgenoten’, Athenaeum- Polak&Van Gennep, Amsterdam 2002. p 244.

Gladiator after the battle

Entry to the games was usually free. The best spots, at the front, were reserved for imperial court members, senators and knights. The ‘unworthy’ were all the way at the top, with women directly beneath them. Emperors increased their popularity by organising gladiator fights. The saying of ‘bread and games’ is still used to this day. They would also distribute wheat at locations like the granary of the Trajan’s market (nowadays the Museo dei Fori Imperiali). To entertain the audience even more, wooden balls were thrown towards the spectators during the Colosseum fights. These balls had a sign on them. Depending on what sign was listed, one could collect clothes, food, horses or slaves. The enormous amount of wild animals used for the games resulted in the problem of getting rid of all the dead bodies. Fik Meijer wrote a great book about gladiators, posing the following question: ‘Corpses: to eat or to discard?’

The more animals, the larger the logistical problem of getting rid of the bodies. Animals that weighed up to ninety kilograms could be thrown onto carts like their human counterparts and carried away yet this wasn’t the solution for larger wild animals. Weighing a few hundred kilograms, lion and tiger corpses were more difficult to transport let alone the problems caused by dead hippos, rhinos or elephants. Still, a large portion of the corpses ended up the same way as the dead arena victims. Their final resting place became deep ravines, desolate places or specially dug pits. Also, the trained predators had to be fed. Next to getting their precious protein from smaller, living animals, they were also fed the remains of deer, antelopes and other animals that were killed during the arena games. Doing so reduced the costs. […]Transporting the corpses was so time-consuming that many animals were just left there, along with all the risks of maggots, insects, disease and rotting. Every possible solution to reduce the corpse pile had to be tried, and so consumption of the dead animal meat was one of them. The potential consumers were by no means the prominent citizens of Rome. […] Hares, rabbits and pheasants could be collected immediately after the games, but a piece of deer, wild board, bear or lion took a bit longer, likely until the next day so the butchers had enough time to cut them open and process the meat. At presenting a ticket one would be given his prize.

Fik Meijer, ‘Gladiatoren Volksvermaak in het Colosseum’, Athenaeum-Polak&Van Gennep, Amsterdam, 2003 pp. 183-187.

“Thousands of bears, panthers, leopards, lions, and elephants were killed in the Colosseum—but how did they get there in the first place?” Source: Caroline Wazer The Atlanticscience

A Supply of wild animals Villa del Casale Piazza Armerina Sicily large size Detail: embarkation of a Roe deer
Elephant being loaded onto a ship, 3rd-4th century AD Roman mosaic from Veii Badisches Landesmuseum Karlsruhe, Germany

The gladiators that can currently be seen at the Colosseum are rather struck by the 2009 economic crisis.

A gladiator sights under the economic crisis of 2009
‘I had days where I pulled in 300, 350 euros’, Di Capua explains. People were lined up to see me, money in their hands. Those were the days. But tourism has been dealt a deathblow. The tourists that do come here keep their wallets shut. […] Instead, many tourists offer you candy instead. And if only you knew how many pictures are taken without paying for them. They’ll stand way over there, zoom in and snap their pics.’

As taken from a Volkskrant article of May 28, 2009 (page 9) titled: ‘Centurion’ Di Capua barely makes a living with tourists in Rome keeping their money in their pockets ‘ They give you candy instead’. Despire the economic crisis, there is still plenty to earn off the millions of tourists. As of 2011 (August), some gladiators appear to be affiliated with criminal gangs. Policemen went undercover to catch these gladiators red-handed. The NOS and the Volkskrant write on August 11:

‘Roman police claims that seven families distributed the different tourist spots among themselves. Outside competitors who want to share in the wealth are cast out forcefully. […] Officers in the Italian capital therefore arrested twenty gladiators yesterday. According to the police, they attacked and intimated fellow gladiators. During an undercover operation, officers dressed up as gladiators and were subsequently attacked by the criminals. Other police-officers on standby could then act swiftly and apprehend these aggressive actors. NOS
The police arrested a gang of twenty of these ‘gladiators’ for abusing and intimidating competitors, according to Italian media today. The aggressive actors mostly set up shop around famous tourist spots like the Colosseum, the Castel Sant’Angelo and the St. Peters Basilisk. There is so much money to be made off the millions of yearly tourists, that the criminal gangs divided the market between themselves and defend their territory with brute force if need be’ Volkskrant

Apprehension criminal gladiator August 2011

In August 2011, the hypogeum (underground corridor system with wild animal cages) was opened to the public, as can be read in the ‘Revealed Rome’. has a nice little video that shows the hypogeum.

Hypogeum large size Bottom view

On November 24, 2014, spitsnieuws mentions the following:

A Russian tourist was eager to carve his legacy into a wall of the famous Roman Colosseum. That eagerness cost the 42 year old man: he was fined 20.000 euros and a suspended prison term of 4 months. Last Friday, he began to carve his initials, a K, into a wall of the Roman ruin. He was caught by the police when the deed had been done. He was convicted this weekend in an emergency court procedure, Italian media report. The Flavian Amphitheatre, nowadays known as the Colosseum, was the largest theatre of the Roman Empire, completed in the year 80. Some five million people visit the monumental spot in Rome every year. It is currently undergoing a 25 million euro renovation. Some tourists damage the monument, like the Russian man. He was the fourth tourist this year who was apprehended for damaging the Colosseum.

Piranesi ‘Colosseum’ 1776 MET large size Piranesi ‘Colosseum interior’ ca.1757 Rijksmuseum Amsterdam
C. van Wittel ‘The Colosseum seen from the Southeast’ c. 1700, oil canvas, 72 x 125 cm. Harvard Art Museum, Cambridge Massachusetts

Wikipedia (Dutch) has this listed about the Colosseum’s later history:

‘The Colosseum suffered various natural disasters. A lightning strike in 217 damaged the Colosseum to such a degree that for five consecutive years it could not host any games. Various earthquakes caused considerable damage to the building, but the Romans and later the Ostrogoths continued to make repairs. Two major earthquakes in the Middle Ages in 847 and 1349, further destroyed the Colosseum (see image below). In the 12th century, the ruins of the amphitheatre were converted into a fortress of the Frangipani family. The prominent Roman families, with the Pope often belonging to one of them, saw the Colosseum as but a quarry to strip of its precious metals for their newly constructed churches and palaces. The marble was stripped away and re-used for new buildings, or simply burned to obtain lime. The iron that pinned the stone blocks and the marble together was in high demand as well. This looting did not cease until Pope Benedict XIV became aware of the Colosseum’s historical value in 1749 and forbade its further use as a stone quarry. He dedicated the Colosseum as a church in memory of Christ’s suffering and had a Way of the Cross constructed inside. The grounds of the amphitheatre were seen as holy because of the spilled blood of Christian martyrs. This was regardless of the fact that most Christians were likely killed in the Circus Maximus. Subsequent Popes had the Colosseum further restored and investigated archeologically.’

Colosseum view of the missing parts large size Aerial picture: white lines represent missing parts
Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg ‘Colosseum Way of the Cros’ 1815-1816 en ‘Het interior’ google art project
Christoffer Wilhelm Eckersberg ‘Colosseum’ 1813-1816 detail

The opulent flora had to be dealt with to keep the Colosseum as well. After all, mother nature was just as much a threat to the Flavian Ampitheatre.

‘After 1970, all plant growth was exterminated and the cells underneath the arena – the area that held the animals and stored the materials – was dug up, which according to Augustus Hare was met with great disappointment by botanists. The Colosseum’s flora has two books attributed to it, describing some 420 different plants, some of which having a rather exotic origin having been brought in during Antiquity along with the animals.

Cited from: Georgina Masson, ‘Agon gids voor Rome’, Agon, Amsterdam, 1993 p. 495.

Click here for a scientific treatise about the plants in the Colosseum by the authors: G. Caneva, , a, A. Pacinia, L. Celesti Grapowb and S. Ceschina. As of 2010, a patron has been found who is willing to finance the drastic restoration of the Colosseum. The Italian entrepreneur Diego Della Valle is willing to contribute 23 million euros, as can be read in the S.P.Q.R – Rome, the eternal city of December 5, 2010. In exchange, his shoe company Tod is allowed to use the logo of the Colosseum on products like shoes and hand bags for fifteen years. Visitors to the Colosseum receive a ticket that also holds the Tod’s logo. The total restoration was estimated to be some 25 million.

We now walk east and cross the Piazza del Colosseo to arrive at the Via di San Giovanni. Right at the beginning of this street, you can see the dug out foundations of the gladiator training complex, and the Ludus Magnus where they practiced.

Underground corridor to the arena

For more info about the Ludus Magnus click here for Wikipedia. An underground corridor existed between the Ludus Magnus and the Colosseum, where gladiators had to ascend but a few steps to commence their life or death battle in the arena.

How did the Colosseum get its name?

As one of Rome's most popular landmarks, both ancient and contemporary, the Colosseum is visited by millions of visitors each year. A 2014 Travel and Leisure magazine article reported, in fact, that more than 5 million tourists traversed the intricate vaults of the Colosseum that year [1] . When it was first built, though, the famous amphitheater held a different name, one that served as a reminder of the man who built it. Interestingly, the name it now holds is connected to another, a more fiendish man that Rome wanted to forget.


When the Roman Emperor Nero took power in October 54 CE, one could have assumed greatness would ensue as he was a descendent from the Julio-Claudian family line, a lineage that traced back to Julius Caesar. The result of Nero's rule, however, was far from rosy. From the murder of his mother in 59 BCE to his growing conflicts with the Roman Senate in the years following, Nero's control of Rome was rather tumultuous [2]

These tensions came to a head in July 64 CE, when a raging fire broke out and burned across the city of Rome for almost a week. [3] While interpretations of how Nero responded to the blaze and its aftermath vary, it is clear that Nero was tasked with rebuilding substantial portions of the city in the midst of the city's recovery. In this project, Nero planned a massive new palace complex for himself. Know as the Domus Aurea, or "Golden House," the fantastically decorated palace stretched across the heart of the Roman Forum. Including lavish reflecting ponds and a monumental bronze sculpture of the god Sol that stood just outside its main entrance, the Domus Aurea irked many Romans as it consumed a significant amount of land that was previously used for the citizens.

Vespasian and Flavian Favoritism

Soon after his brilliant new home was built, Nero was condemned to death, and the doomed ruler committed suicide on 9 June 68 CE. [4] In his stead, Emperor Vespasian had taken control of Rome one year prior (July 69 CE). His task was to reassure Rome's citizens that imperial rule was reliable and just. As part of this reassurance, and to win favor with the Romans, Vespasian embarked on constructing a massive entertainment amphitheater, a wish of Roman citizens for many years.

Construction on the complex began in 72 CE, with Vespasian selecting a location at the juncture of three of Rome's hills: the Palatine, the Esquiline, and the Caelian. Conveniently, to facilitate this location, Vespasian requested the demolition of much of Nero's Domus Aurea such that his theater would quite literally rest on the ruins of Nero's reign.

The amphitheater was a massive project and was designed to seat over 55,000 people. The amphitheater's construction was funded with the spoils seized from the Jewish Temple after Roman crushed the Jewish Revolt of 70 AD. Stolen Jewish artifacts not only funded the building of the Colosseum, but Jewish slaves seized during the revolt built the building. [5]

A Lingering Colossus

Work progressed on the amphitheater for the following eight years and thus stretched across several Vespasian's successors, known to history as the Flavian dynasty. Because of the sharing of this project, the amphitheater took the name of the "Flavian Amphitheater," and the citizens of Rome received its debut joyously. With a capacity for tens of thousands of audience members and novel features that allow for feats as fantastic as mock naval battles in the main arena, the amphitheater became a hub for Roman entertainment.

While Vespasian and his successors received the Romans' favor for this monumental contribution, a lasting remnant of Nero's disastrous rule still stood close by. That colossal sculpture of Sol had been preserved by Vespasian and moved closer to the Flavian Amphitheater's main entrance. As time passed, this prominent Colossus became so inextricably connected to the amphitheater that the name of "Colosseum" came into common parlance soon after.

So, while the efforts to manifest the impressive amphitheater were the work of the Flavian emperors, in some regards, one could suggest that Nero's legacy also lives on with this connection to his Colossus. This massive statue, though, has long since disappeared. Last mentioned in an illuminated manuscript from the fourth century CE, it is unclear what happened to the Sol sculpture. [6] It was most likely destroyed or melted down its pedestal adjacent to the Colosseum, however, still stands today.

Interesting Facts

The Colosseum was built by the Emperor Vespasian, inaugurated during the reign of his son, Titus, and completed under his youngest son, Domitian. Together these rulers were known as the Flavian Dynasty (colosseum history/FLAVIANS) and the name of the building followed suit: The Flavian Amphitheatre . The ‘Colosseum’ is a nickname that emerged later during the middle ages and relates to the gigantic 100-foot (30m) bronze statue of Nero as the sun God created to rival the Colossus of Rhodes. The Colossus Neronis or Colossus of Nero was placed by the Flavian Amphitheatre by Hadrian when he built the adjacent temple of Venus and Roma(A.Rome/RForum/temple of venus and Rome . The meaning of Colosseum may be ‘building by the Colossus’. The Colossal bronze statue disappeared sometime in the 8 th century but the nickname stuck.


Two of the Grand Archways of the Colosseum were named Porta Libitinaria (Door of Death) and the Porta Triumphalis (Door of Victory). Those who fought in the Colosseum however, did not have the liberty to choose through which gate they would leave. The death of animals and criminals was almost a given, but the fate of gladiators on the other hand, was not so certain. Gladiators did not come cheap – feeding, housing and training gladiators was a pricey affair. Killing every gladiator who fought did not make financial sense for anyone involved (especially the gladiator). Although we do not know the rules, there were referees and combatants could call a timeout – this is very different from what we imagine. Injured or dead gladiators left through the Porta Libitinaria (named after Libitina goddess of tombs) which led to the hospital and morgue situated by the Ludus Magnus . Winning gladiators left through the Porta Triumphalis . Occasionally, no doubt if a gladiator was seriously injured, the crowd may be asked to decide the fate of the defeated warrior.


We’ve all seen the “photogenic” side of the Colosseum with its distinctive archways and columns. Only one side of the Colosseum is the original height and still faced with Travertine when you continue around the other side of the structure the picturesque facade is nowhere to be seen, it is capped with brick. Where did it all go? Whilst we know recycling is good it seems the massive re-use of parts of the structure left it unstable. After the iron clamps that held the travertine together were taken sometime in the 6 th century fires, lightning and earthquakes caused structural damage and part of the outer wall collapsed. The Colosseum fell into disrepair and over the centuries the masonry and marble columns were recycled into later building projects.

Amphitheatrum Flavium

From Samuel Ball Platner, A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome, rev. Thomas Ashby. Oxford: 1929, p. 6-11.

Ordinarily known as the Colosseum, built by Vespasian, in the depression between the Velia, the Esquiline and the Caelian, a site previously occupied by the stagnum of Nero's domus Aurea (Suet. Vesp. 9 Mart. de spect. 2.5 Aur. Vict. Caes. 9.7). Vespasian carried the structure to the top of the second arcade of the outer wall and of the maenianum secundum of the cavea (see below), and dedicated it before his death in 79 A.D. (Chronogr. a. 354, p146). Titus added the third and fourth stories (ib.), and celebrated the dedication of the enlarged building in 80 with magnificent games that lasted one hundred days (Suet. Titus 7 Cass. Dio LXVI.25 Hieron a. Abr. 2095 Eutrop. vii.21 Cohen, Tit. 399, 400). Domitian is said to have completed the building ad clipea (Chron. ib.) which probably refers to the bronze shields that were placed directly beneath the uppermost cornice (cf. Cohen, Tit. 399) and to additions on the inside (HJ 282).

Roman Art during the Flavian dynasty (69 to 96 AD). The Colosseum

Reconstruction of the Colosseum, with the Colossus of Nero to the right.

After the end of the Augustan dynasty, with the death of Nero about the year 69 AD, another royal dynasty inaugurated the second period of the Roman Empire. Vespasian was the first emperor of the Flavian family and was succeeded by Titus and Domitian.

The Flavian emperors ordered large constructions on the spaces previously occupied by the buildings planned by Nero, especially on his Domus Aurea. In general, all the buildings commissioned by Nero, by this time abandoned and almost in ruins, were transformed by the Flavian emperors into constructions for public use.

The Colosseum or Flavian Amphitheater. Its construction began under Vespasian in 70 AD and was completed in 80 AD under his successor Titus, with further modifications during the reign of Domitian (81–96 AD).

In the place occupied by the Domus Aurea gardens and the Colossus of Nero, Vespasian and Titus built the Flavian Amphitheater or Colosseo, which is still the most gigantic ruin preserved in Rome. The amphitheater*, with its elliptical shape, is a genuinely Roman construction. However, the shape of the Colosseum comes from the floor plan of a Greek theater. Indeed an amphitheater is just the union of two coupled theaters. A grandstand surrounds the building and leads to each one of its floors. The Flavian Amphitheater, the greatest of all the Roman world, had four floors and the highest was internally enclosed by a colonnade. Almost all the Colosseum was built of carved stone, its vaults were of concrete mortar, and the lower part had a monumental portico. A clever combination of stairs allowed the near forty thousand spectators to exit the building in just a few minutes. Externally, the Flavian Amphitheatre had an elegant overlay of the three architectural orders: Doric in the lower floor, Ionic in the second, and Corinthian in the top two, which interrupted the monotony of the exterior facades. Also, the lower three floors had open arcades which reduced the impression of heaviness of the huge mass of the construction.

The Colosseum arena, showing the hypogeum, its elaborate underground structure. The facade of the Colosseum showing its overlay of the three architectural orders. Diagram showing a cross section and the internal layout of the Colosseum.

The Arch of Titus with the Colosseum in the background.

In front of the Colosseum (or Colosseo as Romans call it) and at the entrance of the ancient Roman Forum was a triumphal arch built as a testimony of Emperor Titus’ campaigns in Asia. The Arch of Titus was erected to commemorate the capture and destruction of rebellious Jerusalem in 70 AD, and has served as the general prime model for the design of many of the triumphal arches erected after the XVI century, like the 1836 Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Externally, the arch has little decoration, just some reliefs in the frieze and the two top corners over the entrance, but on its inside walls there are two historical reliefs of great artistic and technical quality. In one of them is the triumphant chariot procession with the Emperor’s carriage preceded by two figures: one with helmet, holding the horse’s bridle, apparently the personification of Rome, and another of a semi-naked genius who must be the same representation of the Roman Senatus or Populus also found in the frieze of the Ara Pacis. In the second relief was represented other part of the triumphal procession: a group of servants who carry the utensils from the temple of Jerusalem taken as war trophies: the table for the bread, glasses and trumpets for the Jewish worship, and finally the famous seven-branched candelabrum or Menorah*.

The Arch of Titus built in 82 AD., is located on the Via Sacra, just to the south-east of the Roman Forum. “The Emperor Titus riding his chariot”, internal relief of the Arch of Titus. The victorious Romans exhibit trophies from the capture of Jerusalem, internal relief of the Arch of Titus.

The most important feature of these two reliefs is the skillful combination of full bulk figures in the foreground with those simply “drawn” on the almost flat relief of the background between both there is an “air” layer that produces an extraordinary illusion of perspective*. This clever use of perspective wasn’t fully developed until the Roman art, particularly during the Flavian period. The polychrome that existed on the Arch of Titus’ reliefs must have contributed to this effect of illusionism and perspective.

The Flavian emperors also built thermal baths known as the Baths of Titus. In honor of the emperor Domitian a large equestrian statue* was also erected in the Forum.

Amphitheater: (from the ancient Greek amphitheatron: from amphi, meaning “on both sides” or “around” and théātron, meaning “place for viewing”). An open-air venue used for entertainment, performances, and sports. Ancient Roman amphitheaters were oval or circular in plan, with seating tiers that surrounded the central performance area, like a modern open-air stadium. In contrast both ancient Greek and ancient Roman theaters were built in a semicircle, with tiered seating rising on one side of the performance area.

Equestrian statue: A statue of a rider mounted on a horse. A full-size equestrian statue is a difficult and expensive object for any culture to produce, and figures have typically been portraits of rulers or, more recently, military commanders.

Menorah: (from the Hebrew menorat ḥanukkah, meaning “Hanukkah lamp”). Also known as chanukiah or hanukkiah. A nine-branched candelabrum lit during the eight-day holiday of Hanukkah, as opposed to the seven-branched menorah used in the ancient Temple or as a symbol. On each night of Hanukkah a new branch is lit. The menorah is among the most widely produced articles of Jewish ceremonial art. The seven-branched menorah is a traditional symbol of Judaism, along with the Star of David.

Perspective: The art of drawing solid objects on a two-dimensional surface so as to give the right impression of their height, width, depth, and position in relation to each other when viewed from a particular point.

The structure of the Colosseum

The dimensions of the Colosseum:

Height of outer wall 48.5 meters
Total length 188 meters
Total width 156 meters
Original outer perimeter length 527 meters
Dimensions of the arena 3357 m²

The Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre to be built during the Roman Empire. The second-largest Roman amphitheatre was located at Capua in southen Italy. This was one of the first such buildings to be made of stone, and may have been built about a hundred years before the Colosseum, which was perhaps based on its design. Its outer dimensions were 167 x 137 meters.

The basic structure of the Colosseum consists of eighty radial walls built upon an elliptical foundation that converge towards the arena from the outer perimeter wall. These walls support vaults, which in turn support the marble steps of the stands for spectators, or cavea.

In the external perimeter wall, between each of the radial walls, there are arches, which led to the stairways that went up to that the various sectors of the cavea. Above each of the arches that still stand today the progressive numbers of the entrances are carved, which corresponded to the tessera (“ticket or“card”) of the spectators (see TABLE 52.0).

Ground plan of the Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheatre) The building materials of the Colosseum

The main building material for the construction of the Colosseum was travertine stone or “lapis tiburtinus” . Over a hundred thousand tons of this durable limestone were transported on wagons from the nearby quarries of Albulae at Tibur, the town now known as Tivoli, on a twenty-kilometre road that was specially made for this purpose.

An estimated seven hundred and fifty thousand tons of dressed and squared stone, eight thousand tons of marble, six thousand tons of mortar and three hundred tons of iron were also used in the building. There were also stucco decorations that embellished the wall surfaces in addition to the wood used for the floors (especially on the upper levels).

The foundations

The underground foundations of the amphitheatre covered 25,298 square meters, amounting to an area of just over two and a half hectares. Several previous buildings dating up to the time of Nero were demolished to clear the space for the massive new structure and an elliptical ring was excavated which was 31 metres wide and 6 metres deep, with a perimeter of 530 metres.

This was filled with cement mixed with stones to create an enormous doughnut, mostly resting upon the clay bed of what had been Nero’s lake. Four big drains ran through it, created by casting the concrete around a structure made of oak planks. They led from the arena to the four entrances of the building on the east-west and north-south axis.

Since only one of these seems to be connected to the outgoing drain it has been supposed that the other three were intended to bring water into the arena for the naval battles or naumachiae. Perhaps they also brought water for the refreshment of the spectators.

A second layer of foundations was then laid, enclosed by an external and an internal brick wall 3 metres wide, bringing the thickness of the foundations to over 12 metres. Two gaps were left in these foundations to make space for underground tunnels on the main east-west axis of the building. It is presumed that the celsa pegmata or theatrical machinery and scenery were transported to the arena by means of the underground passage to the west.

They were normally stored in the Summum Choragium (in the area later occupied by the temple of Venus and Rome) and were raised from the hypogea (the underground spaces) through trapdoors in the wooden floor of the arena.

Above this entrance, on the surface, was the “Porta Triunphalis”, where gladiators, musicians and processions entered the amphitheatre in triumph. 4 Less prestigious gladiators and those condemned to death (the damnati, or “condemned”, such as prisoners of war and criminals) entered the arena from the east via a tunnel leading from the “Ludus Magnus” training school.

This entrance corresponded, on the ground-floor, to the Porta Libitinaria or “undertaker’s gate” where dead or wounded combatants were removed. A fifth tunnel, the so-called Passage of Commodus, was excavated after the Colosseum was completed. It is decorated with stuccoes but it has never been completely explored or excavated.

To the north there was the entrance reserved for the emperor and his family, perhaps connected with a passageway leading to the Esquiline Hill, while in the south there was an entrance for important authorities, such as the senators, the Praefectus Urbi, the vestal virgins and priests.

The Colosseum in Ancient Times

During the Roman Empire and under the motto of "Bread and Circuses" the Roman Colosseum (known then as Flavian Amphitheatre) allowed more than 50,000 people to enjoy its finest spectacles. The exhibitions of exotic animals, executions of prisoners, recreations of battles and gladiator fights kept the Roman people entertained for years.

The Colosseum remained active for over 500 years. The last recorded games in history were celebrated in the 6th century.

Since the 6th century the Colosseum has suffered lootings, earthquakes and even bombings during World War Two. Demonstrating a great survival instinct, the Colosseum was used for decades as a storehouse, church, cemetery and even a castle for nobility.

Political and Cultural Significance of the Flavian Amphitheatre

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Assess the political and cultural significance of the construction and initial use of the Colosseum. Throughout the history of Ancient Rome, the construction of public buildings was used as a political tool, to manipulate the views of the people and to demonstrate the power of the State. The very first emperor of Rome, Augustus, initiated social reform through the construction of buildings from 27 BC onwards. Emperor Vespasian in 69 AD used a similar initiative, and throughout Rome’s history it can be seen that times of civil unrest are often followed by a flourish in architecture and the arts.

An example of this can be seen in one of Vespasian’s major building projects, the Colosseum, officially the Flavian Amphitheatre, which had distinct political motivations for its construction and upon completion, was used as a political tool for centuries onwards it also enhanced the distinctive culture of the Romans. The start of the Flavian dynasty (69-96 AD) saw the beginnings of the construction of a number of ambitious buildings.

Prior to the reign of Vespasian as emperor, in 69 AD, Rome had experienced civil war and unrest after the death of Nero in 68 AD, who was despised for tax rises to fund his own agenda. The following year saw four emperors, the last being Vespasian, who embarked on a series of efforts to stay in power and to clean up the mess left for him by the short and vicious civil war leaving Rome broke and many unemployed. He needed to find a way to reunite the Roman people, to assert himself as a favourable emperor, and to create work for the unemployed.

Although the construction of his Flavian Amphitheatre offered Vespasian a possible solution, it also required an amount of money and manpower greater than anything ever required before, but this was money that Rome did not have, and Vespasian could not risk raising taxes for fear of losing support of the Roman people. However his son, Titus, at the time was involved in the sacking of Jerusalem and upon the fall of Jerusalem, they gained the wealth and treasures of the temples there, as well as thirty thousand Jews.

There is the possibility that the Jews worked on the construction of the Colosseum, however some think it is more likely that they were sold to fund the Amphitheatre. The sacking of Jerusalem showed the power of the Romans, and the outcome of this was the amphitheatre, a building which was intended to be a manifestation of the power of the Roman state, and a lasting memory of Vespasian and the Flavians. The chosen area for the Colosseum was Nero’s lake (Appendix a) the draining of the lake alone was a monumental task that required a huge workforce.

The location of the Colosseum is very important for understanding the motivation for Vespasian to construct it. Martial a Latin poet helps us to understand the importance of the placement “Here, where, rayed with stars, the colossus views heaven from close up, and in the middle of the street tall scaffolding rises, once gleamed hatefully the Palace of a savage king, and but a single house stood in the entire city here where the far-seen Amphitheatre lifts its august mas was Nero’s pond here where we now admire the gift so swiftly erected, the Thermae, once a proud park had robbed the lowly of their dwellings.

Where the colonnade of the Temple of Claudius extends its outspread shade the Palace once extended to its farthest limit. Some has been given back to herself, and under your direction, Caesar, and what was once the delight of a Master is now the delight of the People. ” Where the Colosseum is situated was formerly known as the Valley of the Golden House, and it is where the infamous Nero converted public domain into his own lavish palace and gardens, using the taxes paid by the people of the Roman Empire to do so.

What the Latin poet reveals to us is that the returning of the Valley of the Golden House to the public domain was a popular decision, and would have promoted Vespasian’s reputation hugely. He had already done this in various ways before he built the Colosseum, but deciding to build his amphitheatre in the Golden Valley was letting the people know that he would not be the same selfish emperor that Nero was, and an attempt to erase Nero from the map and Roman history.

In 79 AD Vespasian came to his final days, dying before the construction of the Colosseum was complete. His son, Titus, was to take over his role as emperor. Titus, new in his role, knew that he too must impress the people as his father had done, and so he announced the opening of the Colosseum would occur one year later. This seemed like an impossible goal for the constructers, and Titus had planned an extravagant opening to ensure that none would think he was less visionary than his father.

Upon the opening of the great amphitheatre there were one hundred days of fighting. These one hundred days involved the slaughter of an unfathomable number of animals and men one source tells us that five thousand animals were killed in the first day. The writer Cassius Dio tells us just how extravagant the opening may have been “Titus suddenly filled this same theatre with water and brought in horses and bulls and some other domesticated animals that had been taught to behave in the liquid element just as on land.

He also brought in people on ships, who engaged in a sea-fight there, impersonating the Corcyreans and Corinthians. ” This suggests that Titus had the Colosseum flooded in order to stage a naval battle however several historians question the technicalities of this, despite the multiple writings of its occurrence, no evidence of water proofing has been found, and an enormous amount of water would have been required in order to actually float ships.

Either way we know that Titus’s opening was one of grand proportions, typical of Roman culture and a way of Titus presenting that he, like his father, was there to please the Romans. The events that took place within the arena were an expression of Rome’s power. Animals were imported from all over the empire to be slaughtered and fought within the games. The exotic animals were a way of showing the widespread conquering of the Roman Empire lions, tigers, ostriches and many other animals were used. The gladiators themselves were named after Rome’s enemies, or mythological characters.

It was done as a constant reminder of Rome’s power, and their victories, a way to keep the people of Rome happy, and to affirm the mastery of the empire. Though today, these events seem barbaric, to the Romans this entertainment was a celebration of their civilisation and the culture they had built. Here was a place where they celebrated their many victories and executed criminals this amphitheatre was the very symbol of Roman order and culture. The Colosseum was designed meticulously to reflect Roman culture this was achieved in many ways.

One of these was the plan of the seating and how they accessed the stadium. Every Roman had their place in the theatre, and there were strict divisions between the different classes of society. The seating structure (Appendix b) defined who entered through each of the eighty entrances/exits seventy-six of which were used by the general public. They were designated to each of the different sectors of society- the lower your class, the more difficult it was to get to your seats, and the longer you had to wait.

This was not a new idea, however the colosseum greatly expanded what had been done previously, with the social classes more divided. Archaeologists have identified stone bollards (Appendix c) that are still outside the Colosseum today to be a form of crowd control, where those wishing to enter would have been ordered to stand behind while queuing for entry, similar to stadiums today. There is a contrast between the purpose of the building, designed to unite the people of Rome, and how they were segregated within it.

Although there was a clear hierarchy imposed, it was still a place where so many of the Romans could unitedly enjoy the games. Well into the 6th century its purpose remained the same. It was used as a political tool for emperors appearing in the Colosseum as one with their people, demanding their respect. The Colosseum, or the Flavian Amphitheatre, is a building that stands at the heart of Roman civilisation, embodying their culture and politics, hence why today the Colosseum is still used as a symbol of ancient Rome.

The Colosseum served the emperors and the ordinary people of Rome alike, for hundreds of years, a proof of the power of the Roman Empire. Vespasian’s ingenious idea for the construction of the Colosseum must be admired. He was able to create one masterful building that fulfilled his purpose as emperor, to remodel the Roman Empire both physically and within the minds of the people, turning the destruction left by Nero on its head and creating a building to which the entire world would forever associate with his family, and the colossal power of Rome.

Watch the video: Colosseum Flavian Amphitheater (November 2021).