The Colosseum

The Colosseum, that stage on which men and beasts bled and died for the entertainment of the crowds and on which Commodus, son of Emperor Marcus Aurelius, is said to have fought more than 700 contests, was dedicated by the emperor Vespasian in AD79, and opened in AD80 with a ceremonial procession generally reserved for triumphant generals. The festivities continued for a 100 days.

The building derives its name from the ‘Colossus’, a gargantuan statue which had once stood nearby on the site of Nero's domus aurea or Golden House. Before construction of the Colosseum could begin, the lake in the grounds of Nero's opulent mansion had to be drained. Martial describes the scene thus:“Where the starry colossus sees the constellations at close range and left scaffolding rises in the middle of the road, once gleamed the odious halls of a cruel monarch, and in all Rome there stood a single house. Where rises before our eyes the August pile of the Amphitheater, was once Nero’s lake. (Martial, ‘On the Spectacles’, 2).

The Colosseum was built to impress: the huge arena was towered over by banks of seating that rose to a height of some 50 metres; its niches were adorned with statues of the gods and its stairwells were adorned with gold and marble. One of the wonders of Rome, its fame and splendour were such that it drew travellers and traders to the city and became a substantial earner and symbol of imperial power.

During the 4th century gladiatorial combat fell from favour, the Colosseum fell out of use and, as the Empire collapsed, the huge hulk became a quarry for builders, and a vacant building plot. It had also been a site of Christian martyrdom. Later the Catholic Church sanctified the site and had a church built within its ruins. (Next)

The images

Top: Colosseum. A select collection of views and ruins in Rome and its vicinity.London, 1819.

Bottom:Colseeum. View of the Remains of Ancient Buildings in Rome, and its vicinity. London, 1820.