#37 – Visit the Colosseum at Rome

A visit to Rome has been on my wish list for over 10 years, so this challenge was on The List in order to make it happen!  I wasn’t disappointed – like the Pyramids, the scale of the Colosseum is only really apparent once you’re standing right next to it.  It’s hard to imagine you’re standing inside something which is that old and following in the footsteps of actual Romans.

The first thing I learnt on my visit is that the Colosseum should not actually be called the colosseum at all!  Its correct title is the Flavian Ampitheatre (because it’s an ampitheatre built by the Flavian emperors…).  The name Colosseum actually derives from a Colossus (or GIANT statue) of Nero which once stood adjacent to the ampitheatre.  The statue is long gone but the name stuck.

Visiting the Flavian Ampitheatre

Visiting the Flavian Ampitheatre

The types of ‘games’ held at the ampitheatre were originally staged by very wealthy families during funerals, but eventually they had to be regulated so the emperors got in on the act and built the ampitheatre to keep the populace happy – basically as a political tactic.  Entry was free to the citizens of Rome – they had a kind of season ticket which admitted them to a specific doorway, from where they were cleverly routed to a seat in keeping with their social standing.  That’s the men of course, the women had to stand right at the top, if they went at all.  Unless they were a Vestal Virgin (and believe me, as a lifestyle choice that really doesn’t sound like fun).

The ‘games’ included hunting games – animal fought animal, as well as humans fighting animals and each other.  There were also stage productions and apparently public executions were held on the arena floor as well.  At the time it was possible to be sentenced to death by wild animal – literally being thrown to the lions.


The tunnels and the arena

The tunnels and the arena

Animals and scenery were introduced to the arena  from below via mechnical lifts operated by slaves who raised and lowered trapdoors.  The system of tunnels and cells under the arena floor can now be seen but wouldn’t have been visible to the Romans who attended the games.  The human fighters entered the arena on foot.  (Incidentally, this is where the word arena comes from; the floor area was covered with sand to soak up the blood – rena in Latin.)  Some of the animals featured in the fighting were prey animals such as deer, boar and antelope which were ‘hunted’ by the carnivores – lions, leopards, tigers and bears but elephants, camels, rhinos and hippos also made appearances.  Fighters could find themselves up against any of these and the animals were starved for a couple of days beforehand to ensure they were aggressive enough to put up a good fight.

The construction of the ampitheatre predates Christianity so although some Christians were killed there, this is largely another popular misconception.  The fighters were war prisoners, criminals who had been condemned to death or slaves.  They were also not all gladiators.  Fighters were named after the weapon they used (each had a specialty), so the gladiators were merely those who used the gladios, a type of long dagger.  For some reason their name has stuck.  Warriors were trained to fight before going into the arena and could win their freedom if they survived.  But this was highly unlikely.  Most fought once and once only.

From our current perspective it can be seen as a strangely brutal attitude to public entertainment, but I wonder if it’s actually very different from popular shoot and slash video games?

Completing this particular challenge was an interesting and informative experience – the rest of the holiday in Rome was pretty good as well, not least the pizza and gelato!

Two down, 38 to go…


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