What innovative ideas were used to build the Colosseum

Coliseum

“…He stood like an ancient God, illuminated by the rising sun, his posture expressing readiness for any outcome of the battle: the young man could not hesitate to pierce the enemy through or to fall from a mortal wound himself. The tense silence lasted a few seconds, and then the arena erupted with hooting and shouting. The spectators were out for blood – 50,000 onlookers had gathered this morning to watch gladiatorial fights – brutal, uncompromising battles. The Colosseum today will once again be an altar for barbaric sacrifice… And so it will always be…”.

The contemporary who wrote these lines could not foresee the future, but nevertheless, turned out to be right. The Colosseum is the largest amphitheater of the Roman Empire which still remains the symbol of Rome, being the “business card” of the Italian capital. The ancient theater is called the “Emblem of Rome”, and it is well deserved – despite the long destruction and vandalism, to which the historical monument was subjected, it still makes an indelible impression on those who have the happiness to see this Colossus for the first time. In a world of skyscrapers and innovative building technologies that have made it possible to erect buildings several hundred meters high, historical monuments like the Colosseum command well-deserved admiration and respect.

The beauty and grandeur of the external appearance of the Colosseum is in clear contradiction with the true purpose of this construction. It is not to be assumed that an architectural masterpiece of this scale was built expressly for the purpose of staging bloody performances which astonish with their cruelty. The Colosseum is undeniably one of the most striking reminders not only of the might of the Roman Empire but also of the brutality of its morals. Inside the stone walls, behind closed rows of arches and columns thousands of people were brought to justice – here the criminals sentenced to death, gladiators and even wild animals were brought to their knees for the enjoyment of the restless spectators.

Now historians have questioned the fact that the Colosseum was used as a stage for demonstrative torture of Christians. However, the Roman Catholic Church has actively mused about this “evidence”. Thus, Benedict XVI, who occupied the papal throne in the mid-18th century, even ordered the installation of a cross and altars in the arena of the dilapidated Colosseum in memory of the torture of Christ and his followers who had suffered at the hands of pagans. It may well be that the close attention of Catholic ministers saved the Colosseum from final looting and dismantling.

For years the Roman Amphitheater stoically resisted acts of vandalism – the stone blocks and marble were stolen to build temples and palaces for the nobility. For example, elements once belonging to the Colosseum have been found in the masonry of St Peter’s and St John Lateran Cathedrals, in the Palazzo Venezia (Venetian Palace), the Chancery Palace, and the Palazzo Farnese. At one time, under Clement IX, the amphitheater was even converted into a saltpetre factory. Now the building of the Colosseum has been put in order, partially reconstructed, but of course it is not possible to restore it to all its splendor. The average citizen, who by the will of fate finds himself in Rome, can only observe no more than two-thirds of the once enormous building.

The history of the construction and the peculiarities of the construction of the Colosseum are undoubtedly of interest to the reader, so we will dwell on these aspects in more detail.

The prerequisite for the construction of such a pompous and majestic structure, strange as it may seem, was the Emperor Nero. It is interesting that according to one of the versions even the name of the amphitheater may come from the statue erected once by Nero to himself. The sculpture was given the name Colossus of Nero – it was located near the walls of the theater. The Colosseum was also built on the site of an artificial lake which had previously been drained and leveled with the ground. Thus, Emperor Vespasian sought to consolidate the shaky regime and placate the people by providing the insatiable public with “spectacles”.

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And, of course, the new emperor needed to obliterate the memory of his predecessor, Nero, so Vespasian chose the site for the Colosseum not by chance – a luxurious body of water, inhabited by white swans, was located on the territory of the former residence of the “arsonist of Rome”.

Now we can only speculate what motives drove the new ruler of the Empire, it is likely that the construction of the giant arena was conceived by Augustus, but only his son, Titus, had to implement “Napoleonic” plans.

Construction of the Colosseum lasted about five years (75-80 AD), and, given the scale of the enterprise, the work was completed surprisingly quickly. The amount of money spent on the Flavius Amphitheatre was colossal; however, the Roman coffers were not much affected by this waste – the money for it was extracted during the war in Judea. It should be noted that the Colosseum was not the only amusement institution in the vast Roman Empire – in those days, there were more than 250 amphitheaters in different parts of the country. But the Colosseum was the largest of them all.

A careful planning and certain preparations were required before work began. The future construction site had to be drained and drainage channels had to be laid to drain the water flowing down from the hills surrounding the valley. As a result, the builders laid a system of channels at a depth of 8 meters, then laid the foundation – on the outer contour of the ellipse it was 12-13 meters, while on the inner contour (within the arena) it was only 4 meters thick. The Colosseum was a four-tier structure, with a total height of the walls of approximately 48-50 meters, the length of the outer walls was 524 meters, and the arena had a length of 85 meters.

In its structure and design the Colosseum differed from its “brothers” only in size, but this fact in no way diminishes the merits of architects, engineers and workers who worked on its creation. By the way, the name of the architect was lost for centuries, which is not surprising for those dashing times.

The main building material for the walls of the Colosseum were travertine blocks, bricks and tuff were also used. Some elements were connected with iron lintels, but it’s true, they didn’t survive until nowadays. The thing is that in the Middle Ages the Colosseum was stolen – first of all vandals were interested in marble and iron – valuable and expensive materials. Wood was used to decorate the building and to form some elements of the structure, the benches in the third and fourth tiers were also made of wood.

As we can see from the photo, the Colosseum is an elliptical structure, as if composed of three tiers formed by arches. The fourth floor, unlike the previous ones, was not formed by arches, but was a solid wall divided into compartments. There was one window in each compartment. Each “floor” was arranged in a particular style. For example, between the arches in the first tier there were semi-columns in the Tuscan style; on the second tier, in the Ionic; and on the third, in the Corinthian style. Of course, only professionals are able to determine these features, and for the average man the Colosseum is just a huge dilapidated building and a beautiful background for photographs.

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Nowadays the Colosseum is rather ascetic, but in its heyday it looked magnificent. For example, there was a statue for each arch between the middle and upper tiers, the ceilings were decorated with multicolored plaster, bronze ornaments were mounted on the outer walls. Lavishly decorated galleries in the second and third tiers, columns with bas-reliefs, marble benches and floors, a huge arena, which could accommodate up to 6,000 people or a small fleet of ships – impressed contemporaries.

By the way, the navomachies (naval battles) should be mentioned separately. Just imagine that the technology of those years allowed to flood the arena with water, and the depth was a few meters – on this improvised lake could walk small galleys. Water was delivered through a system of water channels, which were laid under the arena.

It is believed that in the Colosseum the seats for spectators were distributed strictly according to their position in society. The closest to the arena was the podium, where the “boxes” of the emperor and his entourage were located. The podium was situated on a certain elevation, and a special barrier blocked people from the furious beasts and possible attacks from the gladiators. The first tier proper, consisting of twenty rows of marble benches, was reserved for nobles, horsemen and other honorable citizens of the city. The subsequent block consisted of 16 (some reports say 20) rows of marble benches. This part of the amphitheater was intended for middle-class Roman citizens.

The remaining upper tiers were separated from the first two by a wall 5 meters high, where plebeians and women sat on wooden benches and watched the action. According to contemporaries, the upper floors were hectic and crowded; it is possible that not all spectators were seated, and although the Colosseum was designed for 50,000 visitors, under certain circumstances the amphitheatre was filled to capacity for up to 87,000 Romans and guests of the city. If you do a little math, you get that there was only 40 cm of ‘seating’ per person – just unbelievably crowded!

How was crushing pressure avoided? The layout of the Colosseum had been thoroughly thought out – 76 (according to some sources 80) numbered arches-entrances allowed to divide the crowd into small groups, so there would be not more than 600 spectators per “checkpoint”. Numerous staircases led upwards to the tier sectors. There were gates in addition to the usual entrances. There were 4 gates, 2 of which were used only for entering the emperor and his entourage. As you can see, almost 2000 years ago in Rome, serious security measures were taken in relation to the ruling elite.

Another innovation of the Colosseum was the awning called the velarium. It was stretched by a complex mechanism. This structure allowed the spectators seated in the stands to be shielded from the scorching rays of the sun. The velarium was operated by sailors assigned to the upper tier of the Colosseum.

It was not until the nineteenth century that it was possible to excavate, during which some of the rooms hidden beneath the arena were discovered. Surprisingly, but once in the dungeon there was life – except for the fancy catapults and other lifting mechanisms there were cages for animals, rooms, where gladiators and criminals were kept, storage rooms, and also compartments for keeping decorations.

The performances in the Colosseum were enormously popular One could say that the city lived in constant anticipation of bloody spectacles. On the occasion of major festivals the festivities in the Flavian amphitheater went on sometimes for up to a hundred days at a time. There were gladiatorial fights until 405. They were forbidden by the Christian emperor Gonorrhea who came to power, but the performances with the participation of animals continued till 526. After many centuries, in the 14th century, the Colosseum again briefly became an arena for religious performances – the Mysteries, but even these performances after 200 years had ceased.

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Nowadays the Colosseum is meticulously protected by the government of Italy, and on July 7, 2007 the Flavio Amphitheater, aka the Colosseum, was included in the new Seven Wonders of the World. The Colosseum is still a symbol of Rome and a place of pilgrimage for hundreds of thousands of tourists.

“…He raised his sword over the defeated warrior, the crowd raged, tens of thousands of voices merged into one: “Death, death, death….!” The gladiator waited for the emperor’s action. He was in no hurry, though he had made his decision long ago. The ruler wanted to prolong his pleasure and deliver great torment to both the defeated and the triumphant; then he lazily raised his hand and made an eloquent gesture. The next second the cannon pierced the body of the wounded man. The battle was over… Victory had a bitter taste to it, but he had gotten used to it a long time ago…”

The Roman Colosseum

coliseum

On the day when the Colosseum was officially opened in Rome (and this event took place in 80 AD) more than two thousand gladiators were killed in the arena, and about five thousand animals were slaughtered. And according to the most conservative calculations, during the entire history of this unique monument of architecture, more than half a million people and at least a million predators died here.

The grand amphitheater of antiquity

When you look at this landmark, it simply takes your breath away: it is so huge that its size is nothing short of astounding. That’s why you realize: the Flavius amphitheater really is the new wonder of the world.

This grandiose sight is situated in the capital of Italy, in Rome, between Palatine, Cilius and Esquiline hills (you can find out exactly where the Colosseum is situated if you check the city map). The Colosseum was built not far from the Golden Palace of Nero, instead of the lake in which swans had once swum.

Appearance

The history of the Colosseum in Rome, the true temple of death, begins in the sixty-eighth year, when one of the most cruel rulers of the ancient world, Nero, committed suicide, resulting in the Civil War, which lasted about two years, as a result of which Titus Flavius Vespasian became emperor.

Once in power, the new ruler immediately decided to rebuild the center of Rome, destroying everything that could remind people of his predecessor.

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It almost succeeded: only the palace of the former ruler remained, the area of which, together with the park near it, occupied about 120 hectares – and the question of it had to be solved somehow. It was done in a rather original way: Vespasian decided to place various institutions in the building itself, and ordered to fill up the pond near the palace, and in its place to build a unique attraction – an amphitheater of dimensions unprecedented in the world.

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Although the people accepted his idea with gusto, they failed to eradicate the memory of Nero: although officially the new arena was called Flavius Amphitheatre, the people named it Coliseum (from the Latin for ‘enormous, colossal’) – after the huge 35-meter bronze statue that in Nero’s lifetime was located in the Golden Palace lobby, and then was installed near the constructed Temple of Death.

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Construction

It didn’t take long to build the Colosseum – the construction work took about nine years. More than 100 thousand slaves were brought to Rome from Judea (on the map, this country is located on the east coast of the Mediterranean Sea). Professional builders, architects, engineers, sculptors – in a word, everyone who was needed for the building to look as pompous and majestic as possible were invited.

Despite the fact that the construction of the future temple of death progressed fairly quickly, it turned out that the Colosseum in Rome was built under three rulers: Vespasian did not live long enough to complete the construction, so it was completed by his son, Emperor Titus. When he died, Vespasian’s second son Domitian, who ascended the throne after his brother’s death, added another tier to the site, designed for poor people, slaves and women (mostly standing places).

Rome Coliseum

Despite the high rate of work, this wonder of the ancient world proved to be of such high quality and quality that it was not only actively used for its intended purpose for more than five hundred years, but also managed to survive well into the present day (if people had not stolen the stones to build other buildings, it would probably look much better now).

Appearance

Despite the fact that ancient historians claimed that the amphitheater could hold about 70 thousand spectators at a time, modern research showed that the Roman Colosseum held no more than 50 thousand people (which is also not bad, especially for those times). Originally the monument of architecture had three floors and the height of the walls was about 50 m, and the foundation of the building was 13 m.

The temple of death was built in the form of an ellipse, and in its center there was an arena of the same shape, surrounded by tribunes from all sides; the length of the outer ellipse exceeded 520 m, the length of the arena was 86 m and its width was 54 m.

Temple walls were built of stone or marble blocks of lime tuff, which were brought from Tivoli (the city on the map is located 24 km north-west from Rome). Bricks and tufa were also used to build the interior walls. The marble and stone blocks were connected by heavy steel cables.

The Colosseum was built in Italy for the first time using a solution that is still used today for sports arenas: eighty entrances/exits were provided, through which spectators could fill the entire building in a quarter of an hour and leave within five minutes. Four entrances were reserved for members of the higher aristocracy, and the remaining spectators entered the Roman Colosseum from under the arches of the lower tier, each of which was marked with Latin numerals (there were a total of 76 and each had stairs leading from them), after which they ascended the stairs.

Auditoriums with stone benches were located around the arena. The lowest row was for the emperor, members of his family and vestal virgins – their seats were on the north and south sides of the arena (these were the best seats). The senators also had the right to stay here. The elite row was separated from the arena by a high parapet, thus guaranteeing spectators complete safety.

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Above the imperial row there were three tiers, each of which was intended for spectators of a certain category:

  1. The first tier had 20 rows and was intended for the city authorities as well as those of the rider class;
  2. The second tier consisted of 16 rows, where only those with Roman citizenship had the right to enter. It was separated from the third tier by a high wall;
  3. The last tier was built for the lower class and was on a steeper surface for them to have a better view of the arena;
  4. Above the third floor was a portico, on the roof of which were the sailors: during bad weather they stretched a huge tent over the building, which was supposed to protect the audience from the elements.
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Life at the amphitheater

In addition to gladiatorial fights and animal harassment, naval battles were also held here. For this purpose, the servants removed the wooden planking from the arena, under which there were rooms for gladiators with a total area of about six acres. During naval battles, these rooms were filled with water using a special system (interestingly, even galleys took part in these battles).

Rome Coliseum

For four hundred years this temple of death was a sort of entertainment center for Romans and guests of the city where they could watch bloody gladiatorial fights, animal trampling and water fights from early morning till dark. This went on until 405, when the Emperor Honorius ordered to ban gladiatorial fights as inconsistent with Christian doctrine.

The cruel shows continued for about a century (until the death of Teodoric the Great in 526, king of the Ostrogoths, who had succeeded in conquering the whole Apennine peninsula). After that, hard times came for the Colosseum.

Collapse

The collapse of the Roman Empire and the numerous barbarian invasions gradually led the Colosseum to its ruin which was compounded by the great earthquake that shook Italy in the mid 14th century (the southern side of the site was especially hard hit).

After that one of the most significant monuments of architecture of the ancient world was treated barbarously as they began to use its stones for construction of other constructions – firstly they took already fallen off stones, and then they started to break them out on purpose. It was not only common people who destroyed the site, but also priests: Pope Paul II, Cardinal Riario and others took the stones from here to build their palaces. Not only that, Clement IX even turned the former amphitheater into a saltpetre factory.

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The Second Life of the Amphitheater

It was not until the middle of the 18th century that this wonder of the ancient world was given a chance for a revival: Pope Benedict XIV, in memory of the tortured Christians who found their deaths here, decided to install a huge cross in the arena and around it a series of altars that would recall the torture and death of Jesus Christ, so the former death scene was transformed into a veritable temple. Contemporary scholars claim that according to recent research, the opinion that Christians were executed here is untrue and a myth.

Rome Coliseum

A century later the cross and the altars were removed, but no one stopped caring about the preservation of one of the greatest monuments of Italian architecture: the walls, which threatened to fall down, were reinforced and several inner staircases were repaired.

In our time, the restoration work continues and every year the unique architectural monument more and more tells people about its former greatness. That’s why people from all over the world come to this landmark of the ancient world to find it on the map to see the wonder of the world, which has become a symbol of Italy, about which the locals say that as long as the Colosseum stands, Rome will stand.

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