Millions of people visit the Colosseum every year to get a “feel” of what life was like during ancient Roman times. Those were violent, frightening and cruel days, and I certainly wouldn’t have liked to live in that era! Built in 72 A.D, it was in the Colosseum that the Roman emperors staged fight-to-the-death games between man and beast.
The Colosseum was built for three reasons:-
i) as a gift to the Roman citizens to increase the Roman Emperor’s popularity,
ii) to stage various forms of entertainment, and
iii) to showcase Roman engineering mastery to the world.
As a gift to the Roman citizens to increase the Roman Emperor’s popularity
The Colosseum had over 80 entrances and could accommodate about 50,000 people. Spectators were given free entry and free food to entertain and distract them from the political problems facing Rome.
To stage various forms of entertainment
Besides the gladiatorial contests which became a big hit with the spectators, shows like wild animal hunts, mock naval wars, re-enactments of famous battles, executions and unique performances were staged. Roman audiences loved violent shows to the extent that the smell of blood and burnt flesh would fill the whole arena.
The very first games held in 80 A.D. by Emperor Titus lasted for a whopping 100 days, witnessing 3000 gladiator fights and the slaughter of 9,000 animals! The wild beasts came mainly from Africa and the Middle East. They included elephants, tigers, leopards, rhinoceroses, hippopotamuses, bears, giraffes, bisons, lions, panthers, ostriches and even crocodiles!
The Colosseum saw its last gladiatorial games in 435 A.D. Over the hundreds of years when these “live shows” took place, about 500,000 people and over a million wild animals were killed.
To showcase Roman engineering mastery to the world
The Colosseum is a product of advanced architecture and became a model for modern-day arenas and stadiums. It took 9 years to build using over 60,000 Jewish slaves. More than 100,000 cubic meters of marble were used for the outer wall of Colosseum, which was set without mortar and held together by 300 tons of iron clamps. Two hundred bullock carts were used to transport marble to the construction site.
Despite being used as a “quarry” for building other famous monuments at various points in history, the tiered seating, corridors and underground holding areas for gladiators and animals remained intact.
The Amphitheatre has been featured in numerous films like Bruce Lee’s and Chuck Norris’s Way of the Dragon (1972 film) and Ridley Scott’s Gladiator (2000 film).
Today, the Colosseum is no longer able to accommodate large events because of its badly damaged interior. However, large concerts have been held outside with the Colosseum as a backdrop. Music performers who have played at the Colosseum include Ray Charles (May 2002), Paul McCartney (May 2003), and Elton John (September 2005).
In addition to its listing under UNESCO’s World Heritage Site, the Colosseum was declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World in 2007.