Tour of Italy: The Colosseum

“As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome shall stand; when the Colosseum falls, Rome will fall; when Rome falls, the whole world will fall.” ― Venerable Bede (673 – 753 AD).  Bede was an English monk and one of the great scholars of the Anglo-Saxon period. 

Emperor Nero had taken over public lands to build his golden castle and lake. After Nero’s suicide in 68 AD, the new emperor, Vespasian, wanted to give those lands back to the people to gain their favor. 

Vespasian was the first emperor of the Flavian dynasty followed by his two sons Titus and Domitian.

Master builder Haterius oversaw Vespasian’s Colosseum project which took eight years to complete.  Of course, the physical work was done by slaves who made up 30 percent of Rome’s one million persons population.

The lake in front of Nero’s golden castle was filled with dirt for the Colosseum’s foundation. The primary materials used on the structure itself were Roman concrete and six ton blocks of travertine.

Haterius invented and supervised the use of treadmill cranes to raise the blocks into place.  That would be like a hamster wheel – only with slaves walking the wheel.

Emperor Vespasian died one year before the Colosseum opened so his oldest son, Emperor Titus, benefited from its completion in 80 AD.   

The colosseum had shade mechanisms for the comfort of the 80,000 people who attended events.The arched area in the middle on the lower level right side was for the emperor and his people. The Roman elite and sat closest to field level. Seating was available for 65,000. Women and freed slaves stood in the top levels.

There were latrine facilities for the crowds.

All could depart in 15 minutes because of the many entrances and exits.

The Colosseum was highly ornamented with marble, frescoes and statues.

A remaining marble column. The brick type walls are not original.

These are original marble covered steps.

Very few remnants of the original frescoes remain.

To gain favor, Emperor Titus opened the Colosseum with 100 days of games at the cost of $10 million dollars per day. Each day there were killings of beasts, executions and gladiator battles. (Gladiators were trained slaves who could sometimes earn their freedom.) These were cruel games for the enjoyment of the spectators.

Our local specialist made the point adamantly that Christian martyrdom did not happen in the Colosseum.

Emperor Titus died after two years, from a “fever” – perhaps poisoned by his brother. Where Titus and his father had some sense of responsibility to the people of the Roman empire, the second son, Emperor Domitian, was angry, insecure, narcissistic and cruel. (Domitian is considered one of the worst emperors ever and was assassinated after a 15 year reign.)

Domitian wanted to outdo his brother’s games so initiated a subterranean labyrinth with elevation systems as a means to have special effects. He wanted to make animals, people and props rise into the show games when needed.  He wanted to amaze the people.

Under severe pressure, master builder Haterius supervised the building of two miles of tunnels on two levels, with cages for beasts and rooms for the gladiators.  There were over 30 trap door openings in the colosseum ground to allow for special effects utilizing pulley systems operated by slaves.

Wild animals were brought in from all over their empire to do battle with “beast masters.”  (Beast masters were also slaves trained for this purpose.) It is believed that approximately one million animals were killed in the colosseum. The hunt for these animals devastated species in North Africa.

With changing tastes, the games at the Colosseum were discontinued in 404 AD under Emperor Honorius.  Executions, however, continued for another century.

The Colosseum went into a period of decay. Many materials were removed for other uses in the 13th  and 14th centuries.  

Especially desirable were the nails or clamps of iron poured into the holes between the blocks.  The removal of the iron is why we see holes.

A devastating earthquake in 1349 caused the collapse of the south side leaving it much as it looks today. A likely contributing factor was the removal of the nails holding the blocks together.

Only 35 percent of what remains is original and stabilization and conservation work is evident.  

In 2007, more than 100,000,000 voters worldwide chose Seven New Wonders of the World. The Colosseum was one of the seven. The others were:

Petra – In our travel queue for 2024

Chickén Itzá – We saw many years ago

Statue of Christ the Redeemer

Machu Picchu – Bucket list!

Taj Mahal – Randy has been there

I guess we have some travel ideas to pursue!

And for those of you who wondered, like I did… What were the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World?

  • Great Pyramid of Giza, Egypt – the only one remaining 
  • Hanging Gardens of Babylon.
  • Statue of Zeus at Olympia.
  • Temple of Artemis at Ephesus.
  • Mausoleum at Halicarnassus.
  • Colossus of Rhodes.
  • Lighthouse of Alexandria.

Next up:  We’ll finish our day in Rome,  One day = four blog posts!

About Serene

Former full time RVers, transitioned to homeowners and travelers. We've still got a map to finish! Home is the Phoenix area desert and a small cabin in the White Mountains of Arizona.
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3 Responses to Tour of Italy: The Colosseum

  1. Beverly Olson says:

    Excellent. Thank you. Readers, if you found Serene’s post interesting, I highly recommend Colosseum, a 5 episodes series on the History Channel.

  2. Mark McClelland says:

    What an amazing trip through history. It is interesting how much remains standing, given the removal of so many connectors and other bits and pieces.

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