Contemporary films, especially Hollywood productions often depicted ancient Romans as big hedonists. Not without reason – this was partly true. In addition, the Romans often enjoy the luxurious, cruel pastimes gladiator fights, chariot races and hunting of animals – in the arena. The so-called “Games” sometimes went on for 100 days without stopping. Unlike the ancient Greeks that built theaters on the existing natural slopes of the hill and thus getting the necessary effect of the acoustics, the Romans invented concrete and arch supports to be able to build wherever they want – usually in the center of cities.
Their amphitheatres were usually elliptical in shape, with the audience sitting in a cascade circuit. Arenas were used for gladiator fights, hunting of animals, public executions, and even – naval battles. In the III century BC, the Romans decided to revive the ancient Etruscan duel between slaves, who fought to the death, and with time this kind of fighting became very popular. Over time, “Games” have become part of the mass entertainment of ancient Rome, and in the first century AD, during the reign of Emperor Vespasian for that purpose was built Flavian Amphitheater, later called short – Colosseum.
It was built in new material for that time- concrete, which could create very stable structure. The exterior of the Colosseum was decorated with four levels of colonnades, arches (another Roman, ie. Etruscan invention) and marble statues. Although its real name was Flavian Amphitheater, it was named the Colosseum for the colossal statue of the emperor Nero that once stood nearby.
In addition to being a colossal building, the Colosseum is known for a very good system of organization of entry and exit of spectators. For the first time, individual tickets were introduced, on which was marked one of the 74 entrances to the amphitheater, and the designated seats.
Thus, 50, 000 spectators, for only 15 minutes could enter, but also leave the amphitheater. From a total of 80 entrances, 74 were reserved for ordinary viewers, while six had a special purpose.
Two were reserved for important people (such as senators), two were intended for the entrance of the winning gladiator, while the last two, were used to take out the bodies of the killed gladiators. Rich and important people were sitting on the seats of the arena next to the stage, while the poorest (along with slaves and foreigners) sat on the highest, and thus from the stage farthest places. The highest levels of the Colosseum were reserved for the female audience, who watched the fight behind the “windows” (under the arches).
At the top of the arena once stood the iron hooks with which the enormous canvas could be spread out over the Colosseum, to protect viewers from the sun and heat, while the elliptical scene itself was always in the sun. Below the wooden base of the stage, the Colosseum had underground part – the tunnels, where cages for animals and slaves were placed. There were also special mechanical device like a winch, counter-tag and the catapult, which were used to eject through secret doors animals and people – all for the sake of greater dramatization and visual effects of blood-hungry audience!
Sometimes, on special occasions, floor of the arena was covered with sand and taut waterproof canvas and it would be filled with huge amounts of water. All this was used for honoring the memory of the victory of Rome in the most important naval battles. Initially, the gladiators were prisoners of war which the Romans brought from the occupied Mediterranean countries. Later, the fighting became so popular, that ordinary people – physically ready and willing to kill, began to study for the Gladiators. Every better Gladiator had its sponsors, which previously had to take an oath to unconditional loyalty.
Those who managed to survive more fights, eventually became national heroes and quite rich. Hundreds of gladiators and an incredible number of animals have been killed during the “Festival” which usually lasted about a week. Rare, and for Roman conditions, exotic animals (lions, leopards, elephants, crocodiles and hippos), were transported by ship from North Africa to satisfy the hunger of viewers. This, among other things, contributed to the extinction of lions from North Africa during the period of antiquity.
In 217 AD, the Colosseum was struck by lightning that ignited the fire which spread and destroyed a large part of the arena. In V and VI century, a series of earthquakes damaged much of the arena. After that, the Coliseum has for years served as a cemetery. However if you visit Colosseum you can still get an impression of its former size, and hear about its glory.