OK, first off, yes, I see why people find this stack of bricks impressive, but let’s pretend that you’re not a tourist in modern day, but rather a gladiator, in Medieval times, entering the arena, wearing armour, holding a sword and shield, knowing that you’re going to die, sooner or later. Might not be as cool to be in the Colosseum back then. And, if knowing you’re about to die doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable enough, you get to fight in front of thousands of people who are happy to see you die. Now, that’s bound to scare you out of your wits, knowing that it’s up to the crowd to decide your fate. See, back then, with the twist of a thumb you could live or die. If the majority of the crowd pointed their thumbs toward their neck you had to kneel and show no emotion while your opponent stuck a sword through your throat. Pleasant, huh? However, if the crowds thought you had put up a good fight, you could live to die some other day.
Now let’s move on to the topic of what happened here. Alongside staging epic gladiator battles, the Colosseum also staged executions, re-enactments of myths and plays, man vs beast battles, and sea battles. Now when I realized what happened here, the thing that stood out the most, in the re-enactments of myths, was the use of criminals. For example, you know the myth of Icarus flying too close to the sun and then falling into the water? To create this scene, workers would attach fake wings onto a criminal, catapult him across the arena, and he would fall onto the ground and die. To make things more interesting, if the criminal didn’t die when he hit the ground a gladiator would come and finish him off.
Another magic trick the workers knew was how to make animals randomly appear, as if from out of nowhere. In reality, under the stage, in the basement (or the Hypogeum, as it was called) workers would lift animals in cages, using a pulley system. A trap door would drop down from the arena and the animal would have no choice but to run up the ramp onto the stage. The animals would be starving so that they would chase the gladiators around the arena, hunting down their next meal, making for an intense battle.
Out of all of these gory events, the water battles were surely the most spectacular, and at the same time had the highest death count. To stage these sea battles, they would actually flood the Colosseum and send out small ships with criminals and gladiators on them. Sometimes the boat would be full of criminals and the gladiators would sink it, drowning thousands. This was the grizzliest show out of all. Some believe the water battles were only featured during the inaugural games of the Colosseum, as it was very time consuming and logistically taxing to fill and empty the arena with water in such a short period.
As for the history of the Colosseum, it was built in the Flavian dynasty by Emperor Vespasian. The Colosseum was actually not originally called the Colosseum; it was called the Flavian Amphitheater, so named because it was constructed in the Flavian dynasty (who would have guessed!). The Colosseum got its name because of the statue of Emperor Nero that stood nearby. The statue was originally located in Nero’s palace. Nero was the emperor preceding Vespasian and he ordered the construction of a massive palace so he would be remembered. He also ordered the building of an enormous gold statue of himself, in front of the palace. And that is how the colosseum got its name – because of the “colossal” statue nearby. Unfortunately for Nero, his legacy was not what he hoped for. People raged about how Nero was taking the land from the people of Rome and using it for himself. He was considered a tyrant emperor. So, after Nero’s death, Emperor Vespasian built the Colosseum on top of the palace, hoping it would earn him favour with the people. Vespasian said this was his way of giving the land back to the people, and it certainly was. It was fee for any citizen to see the spectacles that were staged in the arena and they were fed throughout the show.
Just like most arenas, the colosseum is round – except this one is in more of an oval shape instead of a circle. It was said this was because if a fight was in motion, the fighters could not get stuck in a corner. Although if you’re pressed up against a wall with a guy with a sword trying to kill you, you might not be so thrilled with the oval shape!
The Colosseum is an amazing, massive, mesmerizing stage but its blood stained past is something equally as interesting and something you shouldn’t miss out on. If you do travel to Italy (Rome), this is something you should visit and, if you take some time to learn about the Colosseum beforehand, I’m certain you will be just as fascinated as I was.