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Location: Regio IV Templum Pacis ("Temple of Peace")
Built in: 70–80 AD
Built by/for: Vespasian, Titus
Type of structure: Amphitheatre
The Colosseum or Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium; Italian: Anfiteatro Flavio or Colosseo) is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy. Built of concrete and stone, it was the largest amphitheatre of the Roman Empire, and is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. It is the largest amphitheatre in the world.
The Colosseum is situated just east of the Roman Forum. Construction began under the emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, and was completed in 80 AD under his successor and heir Titus. Further modifications were made during the reign of Domitian (81–96). These three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name (Flavius).
The Colosseum could hold, it is estimated, between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators, and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
Although in the 21st century it stays partially ruined because of damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions and has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession that starts in the area around the Colosseum.
In 2007 the complex was included among the New7Wonders of the World, following a competition organized by New Open World Corporation (NOWC).
The Colosseum is also depicted on the Italian version of the five-cent euro coin.
The Colosseum's original Latin name was Amphitheatrum Flavium, often anglicized as Flavian Amphitheater. The building was constructed by emperors of the Flavian dynasty, following the reign of Nero. This name is still used in modern English, but generally the structure is better known as the Colosseum. In antiquity, Romans may have referred to the Colosseum by the unofficial name Amphitheatrum Caesareum (with Caesareum an adjective pertaining to the title Caesar), but this name may have been strictly poetic as it was not exclusive to the Colosseum; Vespasian and Titus, builders of the Colosseum, also constructed an amphitheater of the same name in Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli).
The name Colosseum has long been believed to be derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby (the statue of Nero was named after the Colossus of Rhodes). This statue was later remodeled by Nero's successors into the likeness of Helios (Sol) or Apollo, the sun god, by adding the appropriate solar crown. Nero's head was also replaced several times with the heads of succeeding emperors. Despite its pagan links, the statue remained standing well into the medieval era and was credited with magical powers. It came to be seen as an iconic symbol of the permanence of Rome.
In the 8th century, a famous epigram attributed to the Venerable Bede celebrated the symbolic significance of the statue in a prophecy that is variously quoted: Quamdiu stat Colisæus, stat et Roma; quando cadet colisæus, cadet et Roma; quando cadet Roma, cadet et mundus ("as long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world"). This is often mistranslated to refer to the Colosseum rather than the Colossus (as in, for instance, Byron's poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage). However, at the time that the Pseudo-Bede wrote, the masculine noun coliseus was applied to the statue rather than to what was still known as the Flavian amphitheatre.
The Colossus did eventually fall, possibly being pulled down to reuse its bronze. By the year 1000 the name "Colosseum" had been coined to refer to the amphitheatre. The statue itself was largely forgotten and only its base survives, situated between the Colosseum and the nearby Temple of Venus and Roma.
The name further evolved to Coliseum during the Middle Ages. In Italy, the amphitheatre is still known as il Colosseo, and other Romance languages have come to use similar forms such as Coloseumul (Romanian), le Colisée (French), el Coliseo (Spanish) and o Coliseu (Portuguese).
Sestertius of Titus celebrating the inauguration of the Colosseum (minted 80 AD).
A map of central Rome during the Roman Empire, with the Colosseum at the upper right corner
Construction of the Colosseum began under the rule of the Emperor Vespasian in around 70–72 AD, funded by the spoils taken from the Jewish Temple after the Siege of Jerusalem. The site chosen was a flat area on the floor of a low valley between the Caelian, Esquiline and Palatine Hills, through which a canalised stream ran. By the 2nd century BC the area was densely inhabited. It was devastated by the Great Fire of Rome in AD 64, following which Nero seized much of the area to add to his personal domain. He built the grandiose Domus Aurea on the site, in front of which he created an artificial lake surrounded by pavilions, gardens and porticoes. The existing Aqua Claudia aqueduct was extended to supply water to the area and the gigantic bronze Colossus of Nero was set up nearby at the entrance to the Domus Aurea.
Cross-section from the Lexikon der gesamten Technik (1904)
Although the Colossus was preserved, much of the Domus Aurea was torn down. The lake was filled in and the land reused as the location for the new Flavian Amphitheatre. Gladiatorial schools and other support buildings were constructed nearby within the former grounds of the Domus Aurea. According to a reconstructed inscription found on the site, "the emperor Vespasian ordered this new amphitheatre to be erected from his general's share of the booty." This is thought to refer to the vast quantity of treasure seized by the Romans following their victory in the Great Jewish Revolt in 70 AD. The Colosseum can be thus interpreted as a great triumphal monument built in the Roman tradition of celebrating great victories, placating the Roman people instead of returning soldiers. Vespasian's decision to build the Colosseum on the site of Nero's lake can also be seen as a populist gesture of returning to the people an area of the city which Nero had appropriated for his own use. In contrast to many other amphitheatres, which were located on the outskirts of a city, the Colosseum was constructed in the city centre; in effect, placing it both literally and symbolically at the heart of Rome.
The Colosseum had been completed up to the third story by the time of Vespasian's death in 79. The top level was finished and the building inaugurated by his son, Titus, in 80. Dio Cassius recounts that over 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games of the amphitheatre. Commemorative coinage was issued celebrating the inauguration.
The building was remodelled further under Vespasian's younger son, the newly designated Emperor Domitian, who constructed the hypogeum, a series of underground tunnels used to house animals and slaves. He also added a gallery to the top of the Colosseum to increase its seating capacity.
In 217, the Colosseum was badly damaged by a major fire (caused by lightning, according to Dio Cassius) which destroyed the wooden upper levels of the amphitheatre's interior. It was not fully repaired until about 240 and underwent further repairs in 250 or 252 and again in 320. An inscription records the restoration of various parts of the Colosseum under Theodosius II and Valentinian III (reigned 425–455), possibly to repair damage caused by a major earthquake in 443; more work followed in 484 and 508. The arena continued to be used for contests well into the 6th century, with gladiatorial fights last mentioned around 435. Animal hunts continued until at least 523, when Anicius Maximus celebrated his consulship with some venationes, criticised by King Theodoric the Great for their high cost.
Map of medieval Rome depicting the Colosseum
The Colosseum underwent several radical changes of use during the medieval period. By the late 6th century a small church had been built into the structure of the amphitheater, though this apparently did not confer any particular religious significance on the building as a whole. The arena was converted into a cemetery. The numerous vaulted spaces in the arcades under the seating were converted into housing and workshops, and are recorded as still being rented out as late as the 12th century. Around 1200 the Frangipani family took over the Colosseum and fortified it, apparently using it as a castle.
Severe damage was inflicted on the Colosseum by the great earthquake in 1349, causing the outer south side, lying on a less stable alluvial terrain, to collapse. Much of the tumbled stone was reused to build palaces, churches, hospitals and other buildings elsewhere in Rome. A religious order moved into the northern third of the Colosseum in the mid-14th century and continued to inhabit it until as late as the early 19th century. The interior of the amphitheater was extensively stripped of stone, which was reused elsewhere, or (in the case of the marble façade) was burned to make quicklime. The bronze clamps which held the stonework together were pried or hacked out of the walls, leaving numerous pockmarks which still scar the building today.
During the 16th and 17th century, Church officials sought a productive role for the Colosseum. Pope Sixtus V (1585–1590) planned to turn the building into a wool factory to provide employment for Rome's prostitutes, though this proposal fell through with his premature death. In 1671 Cardinal Altieri authorized its use for bullfights; a public outcry caused the idea to be hastily abandoned.
In 1749, Pope Benedict XIV endorsed the view that the Colosseum was a sacred site where early Christians had been martyred. He forbade the use of the Colosseum as a quarry and consecrated the building to the Passion of Christ and installed Stations of the Cross, declaring it sanctified by the blood of the Christian martyrs who perished there (see Christians and the Colosseum). However there is no historical evidence to support Benedict's claim, nor is there even any evidence that anyone prior to the 16th century suggested this might be the case; the Catholic Encyclopedia concludes that there are no historical grounds for the supposition.
Nero's rule is often associated with tyranny and extravagance. He is known for many executions, including that of his mother, and the probable murder by poison of his stepbrother Britannicus.
He is infamously known as the Emperor who "fiddled while Rome burned". He was rumored to have had captured Christians dipped in oil, and then set on fire in his garden at night as a source of light.This view is based on the writings of Tacitus, Suetonius and Cassius Dio, the main surviving sources for Nero's reign, but a few surviving sources paint Nero in a more favourable light. Some sources, including some mentioned above, portray him as an emperor who was popular with the common Roman people, especially in the East. Some modern historians question the reliability of ancient sources when reporting on Nero's tyrannical acts....
The Great Fire of Rome erupted on the night of 18 July to 19 July 64. The fire started at the southeastern end of the Circus Maximus in shops selling flammable goods.
The extent of the fire is uncertain. According to Tacitus, who was nine at the time of the fire, it spread quickly and burned for over five days. It destroyed three of fourteen Roman districts and severely damaged seven. The only other historian who lived through the period and mentioned the fire is Pliny the Elder, who wrote about it in passing. Other historians who lived through the period (including Josephus, Dio Chrysostom, Plutarch and Epictetus) make no mention of it in what remains of their work.
It is uncertain who or what actually caused the fire—whether accident or arson. Suetonius and Cassius Dio favor Nero as the arsonist, so he could build a palatial complex. Tacitus mentions that Christians confessed to the crime, but it is not known whether these confessions were induced by torture....
Tacitus, in one of the earliest non-Christian references to the origins of Christianity, notes that the population searched for a scapegoat and rumors held Nero responsible. To deflect blame, Nero targeted Christians. He ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified and burned....
Christian tradition and secular historical sources hold Nero as the first major state sponsor of Christian persecution, and sometimes as the killer of Apostles Peter and Paul. Some 2nd and 3rd century theologians, among others, recorded their belief that Nero would return from death or exile, usually as "the Anti-Christ. He is also seen as one of the most savage persecutors of Christians."
Non-Christian historian Tacitus describes Nero extensively torturing and executing Christians after the fire of 64. Suetonius also mentions Nero punishing Christians, though he does so because they are "given to a new and mischievous superstition" and does not connect it with the fire.
Christian writer Tertullian (c. 155–230) was the first to call Nero the first persecutor of Christians. He wrote, "Examine your records. There you will find that Nero was the first that persecuted this doctrine". Lactantius (c. 240–320) also said that Nero "first persecuted the servants of God", as does Sulpicius Severus. However, Suetonius writes that, "since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [emperor Claudius] expelled them from Rome" ("Iudaeos impulsore Chresto assidue tumultuantis Roma expulit"). These expelled "Jews" may have been early Christians, although Suetonius is not explicit. Nor is the Bible explicit, calling Aquila of Pontus and his wife, Priscilla, both expelled from Italy at the time, "Jews"....
The first text to suggest that Nero ordered the execution of an apostle is the apocryphal Ascension of Isaiah, a Christian writing from the 2nd century. It says, the slayer of his mother, who himself (even) this king, will persecute the plant which the Twelve Apostles of the Beloved have planted. Of the Twelve one will be delivered into his hands.
Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 275–339) was the first to write explicitly that Paul was beheaded in Rome during the reign of Nero. He states that Nero's persecution led to Peter and Paul's deaths, but that Nero did not give any specific orders. However, several other accounts going back to the 1st century have Paul surviving his two years in Rome and travelling to Hispania, before facing trial in Rome again prior to his death.
Peter is first said to have been crucified upside-down in Rome during Nero's reign (but not by Nero) in the apocryphal Acts of Peter (c. 200). The account ends with Paul still alive and Nero abiding by God's command not to persecute any more Christians.
By the 4th century, a number of writers were stating that Nero killed Peter and Paul.
The Sibylline Oracles, Book 5 and 8, written in the 2nd century, speak of Nero returning and bringing destruction. Within Christian communities, these writings, along with others, fueled the belief that Nero would return as the Antichrist. In 310, Lactantius wrote that Nero suddenly disappeared, and even the burial place of that noxious wild beast was nowhere to be seen. This has led some persons of extravagant imagination to suppose that, having been conveyed to a distant region, he is still reserved alive; and to him they apply the Sibylline verses.
In 422, Augustine of Hippo wrote about 2 Thessalonians 2:1–11, where he believed Paul mentioned the coming of the Antichrist. Though he rejects the theory, Augustine mentions that many Christians believed that Nero was the Antichrist or would return as the Antichrist. He wrote, so that in saying, "For the mystery of iniquity doth already work," he alluded to Nero, whose deeds already seemed to be as the deeds of Antichrist.
-- Nero, by Wikipedia
Interior of the Colosseum, Rome (1832) by Thomas Cole, showing the Stations of the Cross around the arena and the extensive vegetation
Later popes initiated various stabilization and restoration projects, removing the extensive vegetation which had overgrown the structure and threatened to damage it further. The façade was reinforced with triangular brick wedges in 1807 and 1827, and the interior was repaired in 1831, 1846 and in the 1930s. The arena substructure was partly excavated in 1810–1814 and 1874 and was fully exposed under Benito Mussolini in the 1930s.
The Colosseum is today one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions, receiving millions of visitors annually. The effects of pollution and general deterioration over time prompted a major restoration programme carried out between 1993 and 2000, at a cost of 40 billion Italian lire ($19.3m / €20.6m at 2000 prices).
In recent years the Colosseum has become a symbol of the international campaign against capital punishment, which was abolished in Italy in 1948. Several anti-death penalty demonstrations took place in front of the Colosseum in 2000. Since that time, as a gesture against the death penalty, the local authorities of Rome change the color of the Colosseum's night time illumination from white to gold whenever a person condemned to the death penalty anywhere in the world gets their sentence commuted or is released, or if a jurisdiction abolishes the death penalty. Most recently, the Colosseum was illuminated in gold when capital punishment was abolished in the American state of New Mexico in April 2009.
Because of the ruined state of the interior, it is impractical to use the Colosseum to host large events; only a few hundred spectators can be accommodated in temporary seating. However, much larger concerts have been held just outside, using the Colosseum as a backdrop. Performers who have played at the Colosseum in recent years have included Ray Charles (May 2002), Paul McCartney (May 2003), Elton John (September 2005), and Billy Joel (July 2006).
The Colosseum today as a background to the busy metropolis
Original façade of the Colosseum
Unlike earlier Greek theatres that were built into hillsides, the Colosseum is an entirely free-standing structure. It derives its basic exterior and interior architecture from that of two Roman theatres back to back. It is elliptical in plan and is 189 meters (615 ft / 640 Roman feet) long, and 156 meters (510 ft / 528 Roman feet) wide, with a base area of 24,000 square metres (6 acres). The height of the outer wall is 48 meters (157 ft / 165 Roman feet). The perimeter originally measured 545 meters (1,788 ft / 1,835 Roman feet). The central arena is an oval 87 m (287 ft) long and 55 m (180 ft) wide, surrounded by a wall 5 m (15 ft) high, above which rose tiers of seating.
The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic metres (3,531,467 cubic feet) of travertine stone which were set without mortar; they were held together by 300 tons of iron clamps. However, it has suffered extensive damage over the centuries, with large segments having collapsed following earthquakes. The north side of the perimeter wall is still standing; the distinctive triangular brick wedges at each end are modern additions, having been constructed in the early 19th century to shore up the wall. The remainder of the present-day exterior of the Colosseum is in fact the original interior wall.
The exterior of the Colosseum, showing the partially intact outer wall (left) and the mostly intact inner wall (center and right)
The surviving part of the outer wall's monumental façade comprises three stories of superimposed arcades surmounted by a podium on which stands a tall attic, both of which are pierced by windows interspersed at regular intervals. The arcades are framed by half-columns of the Tuscan, Ionic, and Corinthian orders, while the attic is decorated with Corinthian pilasters. Each of the arches in the second- and third-floor arcades framed statues, probably honoring divinities and other figures from Classical mythology.
Two hundred and forty mast corbels were positioned around the top of the attic. They originally supported a retractable awning, known as the velarium, that kept the sun and rain off spectators. This consisted of a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center. It covered two-thirds of the arena, and sloped down towards the center to catch the wind and provide a breeze for the audience. Sailors, specially enlisted from the Roman naval headquarters at Misenum and housed in the nearby Castra Misenatium, were used to work the velarium.
Entrance LII of the Colosseum, with Roman numerals still visible
The Colosseum's huge crowd capacity made it essential that the venue could be filled or evacuated quickly. Its architects adopted solutions very similar to those used in modern stadiums to deal with the same problem. The amphitheatre was ringed by eighty entrances at ground level, 76 of which were used by ordinary spectators. Each entrance and exit was numbered, as was each staircase. The northern main entrance was reserved for the Roman Emperor and his aides, whilst the other three axial entrances were most likely used by the elite. All four axial entrances were richly decorated with painted stucco reliefs, of which fragments survive. Many of the original outer entrances have disappeared with the collapse of the perimeter wall, but entrances XXIII (23) to LIV (54) still survive.
Spectators were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the appropriate section and row. They accessed their seats via vomitoria (singular vomitorium), passageways that opened into a tier of seats from below or behind. These quickly dispersed people into their seats and, upon conclusion of the event or in an emergency evacuation, could permit their exit within only a few minutes. The name vomitoria derived from the Latin word for a rapid discharge, from which English derives the word vomit.
The raked areas that once held seating
According to the Codex-Calendar of 354, the Colosseum could accommodate 87,000 people, although modern estimates put the figure at around 50,000. They were seated in a tiered arrangement that reflected the rigidly stratified nature of Roman society. Special boxes were provided at the north and south ends respectively for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins, providing the best views of the arena. Flanking them at the same level was a broad platform or podium for the senatorial class, who were allowed to bring their own chairs. The names of some 5th century senators can still be seen carved into the stonework, presumably reserving areas for their use.
Diagram of the levels of seating
The tier above the senators, known as the maenianum primum, was occupied by the non-senatorial noble class or knights (equites). The next level up, the maenianum secundum, was originally reserved for ordinary Roman citizens (plebeians) and was divided into two sections. The lower part (the immum) was for wealthy citizens, while the upper part (the summum) was for poor citizens. Specific sectors were provided for other social groups: for instance, boys with their tutors, soldiers on leave, foreign dignitaries, scribes, heralds, priests and so on. Stone (and later marble) seating was provided for the citizens and nobles, who presumably would have brought their own cushions with them. Inscriptions identified the areas reserved for specific groups.
Another level, the maenianum secundum in legneis, was added at the very top of the building during the reign of Domitian. This comprised a gallery for the common poor, slaves and women. It would have been either standing room only, or would have had very steep wooden benches. Some groups were banned altogether from the Colosseum, notably gravediggers, actors and former gladiators.
Each tier was divided into sections (maeniana) by curved passages and low walls (praecinctiones or baltei), and were subdivided into cunei, or wedges, by the steps and aisles from the vomitoria. Each row (gradus) of seats was numbered, permitting each individual seat to be exactly designated by its gradus, cuneus, and number.
Arena and hypogeum
The Colosseum arena, showing the hypogeum.
The arena itself was 83 meters by 48 meters (272 ft by 157 ft / 280 by 163 Roman feet). It comprised a wooden floor covered by sand (the Latin word for sand is harena or arena), covering an elaborate underground structure called the hypogeum (literally meaning "underground"). Little now remains of the original arena floor, but the hypogeum is still clearly visible. It consisted of a two-level subterranean network of tunnels and cages beneath the arena where gladiators and animals were held before contests began. Eighty vertical shafts provided instant access to the arena for caged animals and scenery pieces concealed underneath; larger hinged platforms, called hegmata, provided access for elephants and the like. It was restructured on numerous occasions; at least twelve different phases of construction can be seen.
Detail of the hypogeum
The hypogeum was connected by underground tunnels to a number of points outside the Colosseum. Animals and performers were brought through the tunnel from nearby stables, with the gladiators' barracks at the Ludus Magnus to the east also being connected by tunnels. Separate tunnels were provided for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins to permit them to enter and exit the Colosseum without needing to pass through the crowds.
Substantial quantities of machinery also existed in the hypogeum. Elevators and pulleys raised and lowered scenery and props, as well as lifting caged animals to the surface for release. There is evidence for the existence of major hydraulic mechanisms and according to ancient accounts, it was possible to flood the arena rapidly, presumably via a connection to a nearby aqueduct.
The Colosseum – a view from the Oppian Hill
The Colosseum and its activities supported a substantial industry in the area. In addition to the amphitheatre itself, many other buildings nearby were linked to the games. Immediately to the east is the remains of the Ludus Magnus, a training school for gladiators. This was connected to the Colosseum by an underground passage, to allow easy access for the gladiators. The Ludus Magnus had its own miniature training arena, which was itself a popular attraction for Roman spectators. Other training schools were in the same area, including the Ludus Matutinus (Morning School), where fighters of animals were trained, plus the Dacian and Gallic Schools.
Also nearby were the Armamentarium, comprising an armory to store weapons; the Summum Choragium, where machinery was stored; the Sanitarium, which had facilities to treat wounded gladiators; and the Spoliarium, where bodies of dead gladiators were stripped of their armor and disposed of.
Around the perimeter of the Colosseum, at a distance of 18 m (59 ft) from the perimeter, was a series of tall stone posts, with five remaining on the eastern side. Various explanations have been advanced for their presence; they may have been a religious boundary, or an outer boundary for ticket checks, or an anchor for the velarium or awning.
Right next to the Colosseum is also the Arch of Constantine.
Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down) by Jean-Léon Gérôme, 1872
The Colosseum was used to host gladiatorial shows as well as a variety of other events. The shows, called munera, were always given by private individuals rather than the state. They had a strong religious element but were also demonstrations of power and family prestige, and were immensely popular with the population. Another popular type of show was the animal hunt, or venatio. This utilized a great variety of wild beasts, mainly imported from Africa and the Middle East, and included creatures such as rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, elephants, giraffes, aurochs, wisents, Barbary lions, panthers, leopards, bears, Caspian tigers, crocodiles and ostriches. Battles and hunts were often staged amid elaborate sets with movable trees and buildings. Such events were occasionally on a huge scale; Trajan is said to have celebrated his victories in Dacia in 107 with contests involving 11,000 animals and 10,000 gladiators over the course of 123 days.
During the early days of the Colosseum, ancient writers recorded that the building was used for naumachiae (more properly known as navalia proelia) or simulated sea battles. Accounts of the inaugural games held by Titus in AD 80 describe it being filled with water for a display of specially trained swimming horses and bulls. There is also an account of a re-enactment of a famous sea battle between the Corcyrean (Corfiot) Greeks and the Corinthians. This has been the subject of some debate among historians; although providing the water would not have been a problem, it is unclear how the arena could have been waterproofed, nor would there have been enough space in the arena for the warships to move around. It has been suggested that the reports either have the location wrong, or that the Colosseum originally featured a wide floodable channel down its central axis (which would later have been replaced by the hypogeum).
Sylvae or recreations of natural scenes were also held in the arena. Painters, technicians and architects would construct a simulation of a forest with real trees and bushes planted in the arena's floor, and animals would then be introduced. Such scenes might be used simply to display a natural environment for the urban population, or could otherwise be used as the backdrop for hunts or dramas depicting episodes from mythology. They were also occasionally used for executions in which the hero of the story – played by a condemned person – was killed in one of various gruesome but mythologically authentic ways, such as being mauled by beasts or burned to death.
A panorama of the interior of the Colosseum in 2011
The Colosseum today is now a major tourist attraction in Rome with thousands of tourists each year paying to view the interior arena, though entrance for citizens of the European Union (EU) is partially subsidised, and entrance is free for EU citizens under eighteen or over sixty-five years of age. There is now a museum dedicated to Eros located in the upper floor of the outer wall of the building. Part of the arena floor has been re-floored. Beneath the Colosseum, a network of subterranean passageways once used to transport wild animals and gladiators to the arena opened to the public in summer 2010.
The Colosseum is also the site of Roman Catholic ceremonies in the 20th and 21st centuries. For instance, Pope Benedict XVI led the Stations of the Cross called the Scriptural Way of the Cross (which calls for more meditation) at the Colosseum on Good Fridays.
In 2011 Diego Della Valle, head of the shoe firm Tod's, entered into an agreement with local officials to sponsor a €25 million restoration of the Colosseum. Work was planned to begin at the end of 2011, taking up to two and a half years. Due to the controversial nature of using a public-private partnership to fund the restoration, work was delayed and began in 2013. As of 2014 the restoration is estimated to be complete by 2016.
Christians and the Colosseum
A fanciful reconstruction of the Colosseum by Giovanni Paolo Panini (Walters Art Museum)
Cross dedicated to the Christian martyrs, placed in 2000 by Pope John Paul II.
There are no historical records or physical evidence for the use of the Colosseum as a place of execution for Christians. The idea that many Christians were martyred in the Colosseum, under the persecution of Christians in the Roman Empire is one that is disputed, since ancient Christian records do not record this. However, it may be that "some Christians were executed as common criminals in the Colosseum -- their crime being refusal to reverence the Roman gods", although most Christian martyrs of the early Church were executed for their faith at the Circus Maximus. According to Irenaeus (died about 202), Ignatius of Antioch was fed to the lions in Rome around 107 A.D, but Irenaeus says nothing about this happening at the Colosseum, although tradition ascribes it to that place.
In the Middle Ages, the Colosseum was not regarded as a monument, and was used as a quarry, at a time when sites associated with martyrs were highly venerated. It was not included in the itineraries compiled for the use of pilgrims nor in works such as the 12th century Mirabilia Urbis Romae ("Marvels of the City of Rome"), which claims the Circus Flaminius – but not the Colosseum – as the site of martyrdoms. Part of the structure was inhabited by a Christian order, but apparently not for any particular religious reason.
Pope Pius V (1566–1572) is said to have recommended that pilgrims gather sand from the arena of the Colosseum to serve as a relic, on the grounds that it was impregnated with the blood of martyrs, although two popes after him did not share this conviction. A century later Fioravante Martinelli listed the Colosseum at the head of a list of places sacred to the martyrs in his 1653 book Roma ex ethnica sacra. It was only in the 16th and 17th centuries that the Colosseum came to be widely regarded as a Christian site.
The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer, by Jean-Léon Gérôme (1883)
Martinelli's book evidently had an effect on public opinion; in response to Cardinal Altieri's proposal some years later to turn the Colosseum into a bullring, Carlo Tomassi published a pamphlet in protest against what he regarded as an act of desecration. The ensuing controversy persuaded Pope Clement X to close the Colosseum's external arcades and declare it a sanctuary.
At the instance of St. Leonard of Port Maurice, Pope Benedict XIV (1740–1758) forbade the quarrying of the Colosseum and erected Stations of the Cross around the arena, which remained until February 1874. St. Benedict Joseph Labre spent the later years of his life within the walls of the Colosseum, living on alms, prior to his death in 1783. Several 19th century popes funded repair and restoration work on the Colosseum, and it still retains its Christian connection today. a cross stands in the Colosseum, with a plaque, stating:
The amphitheater, one consecrated to triumphs, entertainments, and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions.
Other Christian crosses stand in several points around the arena and every Good Friday the Pope leads a Via Crucis procession to the amphitheatre.
The Colosseum has a wide and well-documented history of flora ever since Domenico Panaroli made the first catalogue of its plants in 1643. Since then, 684 species have been identified there. The peak was in 1855 (420 species). Attempts were made in 1871 to eradicate the vegetation, because of concerns over the damage that was being caused to the masonry, but much of it has returned. 242 species have been counted today and of the species first identified by Panaroli, 200 remain.
The variation of plants can be explained by the change of climate in Rome through the centuries. Additionally, bird migration, flower blooming, and the growth of Rome that caused the Colosseum to become embedded within the modern city centre rather than on the outskirts of the ancient city, as well as deliberate transport of species, are also contributing causes. One other romantic reason often given is their seeds being unwittingly transported on the animals brought there from all corners of the empire.
Works modeled on, or inspired by, the Colosseum
• The Kongresshalle, or "Congress Hall", (1935, unfinished) at the Nazi Party Rally grounds, Nuremberg, Germany
• The Summer Olympic Games medal from 1928 to 2000, designed by Giuseppe Cassioli, features a depiction of the Colosseum. At the 2004 Summer Olympics in Athens the Colosseum was replaced by a depiction of the Panathinaiko Stadium
• The exterior of the Vancouver Public Library resembles the current state of the Colosseum. It was designed by Moshe Safdie.
• The Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum entrance was inspired by the Colosseum.
• The Palazzo della Civilta Italiana was very closely modelled on the Colosseum. It was built for Mussolini for the Universal Exhibition of 1942 but the exhibition never happened due to the outbreak of World War II. The architects were Giovanni Guerrini, Ernesto Bruno La Padula, and Mario Romano.
1. Building the Colosseum
2. The Colosseum: Largest Amphitheatre. Guinness World Records.com. 2013. Retrieved 6 March 2013.
3. Hopkins, Keith; Beard, Mary (2005). The Colosseum. Harvard University Press. p. 2. ISBN 0-674-01895-8. Retrieved 19 January 2011.
4. "BBC's History of the Colosseum p. 2". Bbc.co.uk. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
5. Roth, Leland M. (1993). Understanding Architecture: Its Elements, History and Meaning (First ed.). Boulder, CO: Westview Press. ISBN 0-06-430158-3.
6. William H. Byrnes IV (Spring 2005) "Ancient Roman Munificence: The Development of the Practice and Law of Charity". Rutgers Law Review vol. 57, issue 3, pp. 1043–1110.
7. "BBC's History of the Colosseum p. 1". Bbc.co.uk. 22 March 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
8. "Frommer's Events – Event Guide: Good Friday Procession in Rome (Palatine Hill, Italy)". Frommer's. Retrieved 8 April 2008.
9. Logan, Willy. "The Flavian Dynasty". Retrieved 25 September 2007.
10. J. C. Edmondson; Steve Mason; J. B. Rives (2005). Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome. Oxford University Press. p. 114. ISBN 0-19-926212-8.
11. "The Colosseum – History 1". Retrieved 26 January 2008.
12. Mairui, Amedeo. Studi e ricerche sull'Anfiteatro Flavio Puteolano. Napoli : G. Macchiaroli, 1955. (OCLC 2078742)
13. "The Coliseum". The Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved 2 August 2006.; the form quoted from the Pseudo-Bede is that printed in Migne, Pat. Lat 94 (Paris), 1862:543, noted in F. Schneider, Rom und Romgedanke im Mittelalter (Munich) 1926:66f, 251, and in Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity (Oxford:Blackwell) 1973:8 and note 5.
14. Claridge, Amanda (1998). Rome: An Oxford Archaeological Guide (First ed.). Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press, 1998. pp. 276–282. ISBN 0-19-288003-9.
15. ALFÖLDY, GÉZA (1995). "Eine Bauinschrift Aus Dem Colosseum.". Zeitschrift für Papyrologie und Epigraphik 109: 195–226.
16. Sear, David R. (2000). Roman Coins and Their Values - The Millennium Edition. Volume I: The Republic and The Twelve Caesars, 280BC-AD96 (pp. 468-469, coin # 2536). London: Spink. ISBN 1 902040 35 X
17. Cass. Dio lxxviii.25.
18. The repairs of the damages inflicted by the earthquake of 484 were paid for by the Consul Decius Marius Venantius Basilius, who put two inscriptions to celebrate his works (CIL VI, 1716).
19. "Rome." Encyclopædia Britannica. 2006.
20. Young, Gayle (24 February 2000). "On Italy's passionate opposition to death penalty". CNN. Retrieved 2 August 2006.
22. Colosseum stages peace concert, BBC News Online, 12 May 2002.
23. McCartney rocks the Colosseum, BBC News Online, 12 May 2003.
24. Sir Elton's free gig thrills Rome, BBC News Online, 4 September 2005.
25. Ian Archibald Richmond, Donald Emrys Strong, Janet DeLaine. "Colosseum", The Oxford Companion to Classical Civilization. Ed. Simon Hornblower and Antony Spawforth. Oxford University Press, 1998.
26. Downey, Charles T. (9 February 2005). "The Colosseum Was a Skydome?". Retrieved 2 August 2006.
27. Samuel Ball Platner (as completed and revised by Thomas Ashby), A Topographical Dictionary of Ancient Rome. Oxford University Press, 1929.
28. The Colosseum.net : The resourceful site on the Colosseum.
29. Nick Squires (23 June 2010). "Colosseum to open gladiator passageways for first time". The Daily Telegraph. UK. Retrieved 30 January 2011.
30. Joseph M Champlin, The Stations of the Cross With Pope John Paul II Liguori Publications, 1994, ISBN 0-89243-679-4.
31. Vatican Description of the Stations of the Cross at the Colosseum: Pcf.va
32. "Rome Colosseum repair to be funded by Tods shoe firm". BBC. 21 January 2011. Retrieved 16 April 2012.
33. Silvers, Eric (25 April 2014). "The Colosseum's Badly Needed Bath". Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 7 September 2014.
34. "View of the Colosseum". The Walters Art Museum.
35. Hopkins, Keith (2011). The Colosseum. Profile Books. p. 103. ISBN 978-1846684708.
36. Brockman, Norbert C. (13 September 2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 108. ISBN 9781598846553. Public executions were held there during the empire, and it is for these last events that the Colosseum became a Christian shrine. It is disputed whether many early Christian martyrs actually died in the Colosseum, since there is no mention of that in ancient Christian records.
37. Brockman, Norbert C. (13 September 2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 108. ISBN 9781598846553. There seems little doubt that some Christians were executed as common criminals in the Colosseum-their crime being refusal to reverence the Roman gods. Most martyrs, however, died for their faith at the Circus Maximus. Some were even executed as members of what the Romans considered a Jewish sect, since both Jews and Christians refused to reverence the gods.
38. Potter, David Stone (1999). Life, Death, and Entertainment in the Roman Empire. University of Michigan Press. p. 227. ISBN 9780472085682. Retrieved 30 April 2014. The public execution of condemned offenders, including Christians, is associated above all with the amphitheater, although there were executions at various other venues. Gladiatorial games, hunting displays, and executions also took place at the Circus Maximus, even after the construction of the Colosseum (Humphrey 1987, 121).
39. Litfin, Bryan M. (1 October 2007). Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction. Brazos Press. p. 44. ISBN 9781441200747. But according to Irenaeus (who spent time in Rome not long after these events took place) Ignatius did in fact meet his end by being torn apart by wild animals for the amusement of the Roman masses, probably in the infamous Colosseum. The crowd there that day would have viewed the spectacle as a crushing defeat of this meek man's Christian religion. But Ignatius understood his death to be a shout of victory. Today a Christian cross stands in the Colosseum of Rome with a plaque that reads, "The amphitheater, one consecrated to triumphs, entertainments, and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions."
40. Flinn, Frank K. (2006). Encyclopedia of Catholicism. Infobase Publishing. p. 359. ISBN 9780816075652. Retrieved 30 April 2014. He was caught up in the general persecution of the church under the emperor Trajan (r. 98-117), brought to Rome, and fed to the lions in the Coliseum around 107 C.E. His feast day is October 17. Before his execution, Ignatius wrote seven letters to the churches along his route, one each to Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, and Philadelphia, two to the church at Smyrna, and one to Smyrna's bishop, Polycarp. The letters are a rich source about early theology, liturgy, and church organization.
41. Hopkins, Keith (14 April 2011). The Colosseum. Profile Books. p. 103. ISBN 9781846684708. It is likely that Christians were put to death there and that those said to have been martyred 'in Rome' actually died in the Colosseum. But, despite what were are often told, that is only a guess. One of the possible candidates for martyrdom in the Colosseium is St Ignatius, a bishop of Antioch (in Syria) at the beginning of the second century AD, who was 'condemned to the beasts' at Rome.
42. Brockman, Norbert C. (13 September 2011). Encyclopedia of Sacred Places [2 volumes]. ABC-CLIO. p. 108. ISBN 9781598846553. The Christians who did die in the Colosseum often did so under dramatic circumstances, thus cementing the legend. The hero St. Ignatius of Antioch, a disciple of St. John the Beloved, was sent to the beasts by Trajan in 107. Shortly after, 115 Christians were killed by archers. When Christians refused to pray to the gods for the end of a plague in the latter part of the second century, Marcus Aurelius had thousands killed in the Colosseum for blasphemy.
43. "The Coliseum". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved 24 April 2014. In the Middle Ages, for example, when the sanctuaries of the martyrs were looked upon with so great veneration, the Coliseum was completely neglected; its name never occurs in the itineraries, or guide-books, compiler for the use of pilgrims to the Eternal City.
44. "The Coliseum". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved 24 April 2014. The "Mirabilia Romae", the first manuscripts of which date from the twelfth century, cites among the places mentioned in the "Passions" of the martyrs the Circus Flaminius ad pontem Judaeorum, but in this sense makes no allusion to the Coliseum.
45. "The Coliseum". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved 24 April 2014. Pope St. Pius (1566-72) is said to have recommended persons desirous of obtaining relics to procure some sand from the arena of the Coliseum, which, the pope declared, was impregnated with the blood of martyrs. The opinion of the saintly pontiff, however, does not seem to have been shared by his contemporaries.
46. "The Coliseum". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved 24 April 2014. Thus in the Middle Ages no tradition existed in Rome which associated the martyrs in any way with the Coliseum; it was only in the seventeenth century and in the manner indicated, that it came to be regarded with veneration as a scene of early Christian heroism.
47. "The Coliseum". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved 24 April 2014. The pamphlet was so completely successful that four years later, the jubilee year of 1675, the exterior arcades were closed by order of Clement X; from this time the Coliseum became a sanctuary.
48. "The Coliseum". Catholic Encyclopedia. New Advent. Retrieved 24 April 2014. At the instance of St. Leonard of Port Maurice, Benedict XIV (1740-58) erected Stations of the Cross in the Coliseum, which remained until February, 1874, when they were removed by order of Commendatore Rosa. St. Benedict Joseph Labre (d. 1783) passed a life of austere devotion, living on alms, within the walls of the Coliseum.
• Coarelli, Filippo (1989). Guida Archeologica di Roma. Milano: Arnoldo Mondadori Editore. ISBN 88-04-11896-2.
• Hopkins, Keith; Beard, Mary (2005). The Colosseum. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-674-01895-8.