The  Colosseum and his history

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
Colosseum from the Palatine

picture: Wikipedia

On the way to the Colosseum large size
Colosseum Rome

picture: Jonathan Thiell

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

picture: Martin Conde

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.

Originally, the site of the Colosseum was a pond that belonged to Nero’s large palace, the so-called golden house or domus aurea. You can click here for a reconstruction Youtube  at, showing the golden house with the pond: the location that would later serve to host the Colosseum.

Youtube internet:
1.   Youtube Le Plan De Rome 
2.   Youtube lecture Colosseum by professor Kleiner Yale University (starts at 19.53 minutes)
3.   Youtube  documentary  HD  The secrets of the Colosseum 2015 (50.39 minutes)
4.   Youtube documentary National Geographic (47.25 minutes)
5.   Youtube History of the Colosseum (9.45 minutes)
6.   Youtube reconstruction pound Golden House the place where Colosseum was built
7.   Youtube Fact and Fiction of the Roman Colosseum Documentary (45.23 minutes)
8.  Youtube  Khan Academy Colosseum (8.33 minutes)
9.  Youtube navel battles Naumachia (1.45 minutes)
10. Youtube navel battles Naumachia (1.50 minutes)

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.


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

Prior to the construction of this amphitheatre, gladiator fights were held at the old Forum Romanum. Poles would be mounted to support tent walls, surrounded by wooden stands. These were taken down again when the fights were over, which was far from practical.

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.


In all respects, the Flavian Amphitheatre was remarkably well thought-out. For example, it had no less than seventy-six entrances and a refined, extensive system of corridors that lead to the seats and the standing room areas on the different floors.

Colosseum large size        Hypogeum or underground space arena       Arena with the  hypogeum        Top of the Colosseum
 Hypogeum or underground space arena Colosseum Rome

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.

picture: edwin.11

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.

picture: icomei

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

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.

Especially during summer, the sun was quite the obstacle for Roman spectators. To solve this, the sailors from Osta, the port of Rome some thirty kilometres west of the city, were requested to construct a sunscreen. With an ingenius system of levers, pulleys, cables, an iron ring above the centre of the arena and thatched mats, the sunscreen could be deployed. We will still see the natural stone poles at the exterior, to which the ropes for the sunscreen were presumably attached to. Modern research, however, revealed this to have been impossible. The angle of the ropes against the upper wooden poles would be so sharp that they wouldn’t be able to carry the force. The stone poles were possibly used to mount crowd control barriers.

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) […]

mozaïek gladiatoren

The entire arena was designed like a boat that could hold or release some four hundred animals simultaneously. When the boat suddenly fell apart, the bears, lionesses, panthers, lions, ostriches, wild donkey and bisons appeared, so that the spectators witnessed some seven hundred animals of all kinds running around and being slaughtered.

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

1. Wikipedia gladiator
2. Youtube Etruscans as precursors of the gladiators
3. Youtube  trailer Gladiator HD ( 7.11 minutes)
4. Youtube lecture Fik Meijer gladiator Dutch spoken (Volkskrant Universiteit)
5. Youtube  Titus Pullo Enters the Arena (gladiator in the arena)
6. Youtube Colosseum A Gladiator’s Story (50.34 minutes)

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

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.


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.

mozaïek gladiatoren

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
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

Around 1995, archaeologists discovered that the Jewish treasures from the temple of Jerusalem largely financed the Colosseum. The evidence was a stone of one of the amphitheatre’s entrances.

Stone insrciption: Imp. T. Caes. Vespasianus Aug. Amphitheatrum Novum Ex Manubis Fieri Iussit.

The text on this stone could be reconstructed using the small holes left behind by the nails of the copper letters. “Imp. T. Caes. Vespasianus Aug. Amphitheatrum Novum Ex Manubis Fieri Iussit.”The translation is: “The Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus had this new amphitheatre erected with the spoils of war. There is no doubt what war this was, the sack of Jerusalem,” said Cinzia Conti, the director of surface restoration at the Colosseum. Source

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
A gladiator sights under the  economic crisis of 2009 Colosseum Rome

picture: workrelease

‘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
Apprehension criminal gladiator August 2011 Colosseum Rome

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
Hypogeum Colosseum Rome

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.

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.’

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
underground corridor to the arena Colosseum Rome

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.

Youtube  gladiator enters the arena (7.11 minutes)
gladiator enters the arena of the Colosseum


As we continue walking, we see an old church on our left-hand side.

way to the San Clemente Rome

picture: snauzzy

The next page.