In the first century AD, the Roman Emperor Vespasian decided that Rome needed a stadium that would not only satisfy the crowds, but also convince the magnitude that Rome had become a power to be reckoned with. He wanted them to know that Rome now again had strong and unquestionable power in the world after the strong and bitter civil war it had recently gone through. His idea was to create an amphitheater. This theater, named the Flavian Amphitheater, earned a reputation as the greatest and deadliest structure ever built during the Roman Empire.
The Roman people found their greatest entertainment at public gladiatorial combats. Up until the late first century BC, these combats were held in the forum, the Circus Maxima, and other small arenas. At each of these sights there were great drawbacks. When the games were held in the forum, the only seats were a limited amount of temporary wooden seating. The Circus Maxima could hold a much greater amount of people then the forum, but the large spina, which stood in the middle of the fighting floor, created a great visual obstacle for all the spectators. The small arenas had such limited seating that going to the expense of hosting the games was often not worth it, due to the limited viewing audiences. All of these venues also harvested great safety and sanitary concerns. None of them had public toilets, or wash rooms. They were also nearly impossible to be efficiently evacuated in case of an emergency.
In 53 BC the politician Curio created the idea to build two semicircular stands built on a pivot. These stands could then be moved so each section could be turned away from each other and view separate events, or they could be turned inward, forming an oval, for joint viewing. This was the first recorded amphitheater in history.
In around 72 BC Vespasian, the current emperor of Rome, took this knowledge of Curio, along with that of the problems created with the other theaters, and set out to build the greatest amphitheater ever. The architect who created his design is unknown, but construction began in 75 BC. He selected a marshy area between the Caelian and Esqualine hills as the sight for his structure. This area was also the previous sight of Nero?s Golden House. During Nero?s rule he had created such a lasting illusion of terror throughout Rome that Vespasian wanted to prove to Romans that this too could be overcome. His goal was to transform the old residence of notorious horror into one of joy and entertainment. The construction is said to have progressed at a very rapid pace. Vespasian passed away in the year 79 AD, and the overseeing of the construction was continued by his sons Titus and Domitian, until 80 AD when it was completed. It is said that some 30,000 Jews were pressed into building this miraculous amphitheater, and that they can be credited for the fast completion in a time when modern building tools such as cranes were unavailable. The finished structure was named the Flavian Amphitheater, after the ruling dynasty who created it.
The Flavian Amphitheater was built in the shape of ellipse in the honor of the amphitheater of Curio, but this one was much larger. There were three principle arcades. The intervals were filled with arched corridors, staircases, supporting substructures, and finally tiers of seating. Much of the stones used in the construction were mined from Albulae near Tivoli, a town that was some fifty miles away. Much thought and planning was put into deciding what stones or materials would work best with each section of the Flavian Amphitheater. The final decisions proved so strong that parts of the structure still exist 2,000 years later. The foundation was built using concrete, a building material that was created by the Romans. Travertine, a form of limestone, was used for the tiers and arcades. Tufa-infill, a very porous substance, was used in between the piers and walls of the lower two levels. The top level, which was added after the initial construction, was originally made of wood. After a few years, the wood was taken out and replaced with brick faced concrete. This was also used for other parts of the lower levels, and the vaults. Combined these building materials created an amphitheater that covered six acres. The dimensions have changed slightly over the years, as wars and disasters have taken their tolls, but the basic foundation remains intact in all places. The elliptically shaped walls were 620 feet by 507 feet on their long and short axes.
Each level of the Flavian Amphitheater was designed differently with varied architectural styles. To maintain a standard of consistency each level had 80 arches that circled the exterior of the building, but opened into the interior seating levels. The first level was 34?5? high and 14? wide. Doric arches circled the outside. They were used on level one because they were the heaviest. The next level was 38?8? high, and had ionic arches that were 21?4 high and 14?wide. The third level is 37?10? high and has Corinthian arches 21? high and 14? wide. The Ionic and Corinthian levels, were used in upper levels, because they were much less heavy than their Doric counterpart. The fourth level, which was added at a later time, had a much more basic construction. It is decorated with Corinthian pilasters, which rose 45?6?, and small rectangular windows. This top level also had brackets that anchored over 240 timber poles that were used to support a removable awning to protect spectators from the sun. When these three tiers were combined they rose over 150 feet into the air.
The floor of this amphitheater started out as a simple oval, but as the years progressed so did the complication of the ?battle ground?. The floor of the arena had a base made of wooden planks. These planks were usually then covered in sand. Sand was used because it was the best material for absorption of the blood that was lost in the battles. It is also rumored that the floor had a complicated set of drains installed after completion under the reign of Domitian. These could be opened to allow for draining. Often not only the seas of blood had to be washed away, but also hundreds of gallons of water if the amphitheater was used for a mock naval battle. The floor covered an area of 290 feet by 180 feet. It was surrounded by a 15-foot wall used to protect the spectators from the wild animals. The wall was made of a wire mesh that was carried on poles and spiked with elephant tusks. The top of the mesh was then covered with ivory rollers that curved outward so that the animals could not get a foothold and then jump into the spectators. To be on the safe side, there were also always archers posted in the bottom tiers to shoot animals or men if needed.
Underneath of the arena floor was a complicated set of mazes, rooms and passageways. On this ?basement? level were cages that stored the animals, gladiators, and prisoners. Fake scenery objects and other obstacles that may be needed in a battle were also kept here. A complex system of man-operated elevators was created to get the men and animals to the arena floor above. Underneath the main arena several emperors also had secret entrances created so that they could flee the amphitheater if any unexpected disasters occurred.
The Flavian Amphitheater was famed for it?s great organization. It had eighty entrances, and had a seating capacity that held 45,000 people. This, added to standing room, created an amphitheater that could accommodate up to 60,000 people. The Flavian Amphitheater was a microcosm to Roman society. The seating arrangements represented the social classes of the people. The emperor not only had a special box seat for himself, but he also had separate entrances that could only be used by his associates. Senators and other public figures also had their own separate sections. The first level also held seats for the members of the general Equestrian order (the rich). The second and third levels were for the general citizens, and whichever seats the general public did not fill the poor used. The upper level, which usually was standing room only, was where women and the lowest class of citizens sat. Soldiers were separated from the civilians, married men were separated from bachelors, and boys were required to sit with their tutors.
In the mind of a Roman the amphitheater in general was a place of great symbolic meaning. It was a place where the victory of human civilization prevailed over lawlessness, chaos, barbarism, and savagery. It was also a place of justice. Criminals, Christians and prisoners of war, were often forced to battle it out in front of the crowds with each other or other wild beasts. In the times of the Romans there were also professional gladiators who used the amphitheater as a way of proving their supremacy and gain money.
The inauguration of the Flavian Amphitheater occurred in 81AD. Admission to the Flavian Amphitheater was free. The ruling classes felt that by giving free entertainment to the masses, the people would remain happy and have little reason for rebellion. The first games lasted over 100 consecutive days, and it is said that over that time it saw the deaths of 9,000 wild animals, and 2,000 gladiators. For the next 500 years the senate and other high public officials hosted games for the public which would endure the cruel torture of over a million prisoners.
The Flavian Amphitheater hosted many kinds of events. In the beginning it was used for duels between animals vs. animals or men vs. men. As time went on and the public became more accustomed to the gruesome nature of these battles, they began to crave more violence. It has been said that the violent behavior became addicting. Eventually battles began to involve one on one combat between men and animals. These fights would often include caves, or mountains, that were placed on the arena floor to turn the battle into an elusive game of cat and mouse. Usually during the middle of a day of games an intermission of sorts would occur. During this time hundreds of men would be marched out onto the floor, and a mass execution would occur in front of the public. This became increasingly popular in the time of the persecution of Christians. The tradition of these types of executions was carried on until 438 AD when gladiatorial fighting was abolished. At that point fights still occurred, but they would only involve animals. Another popular event was the naval battles. Often the floor would be flooded, and real naval ships would be released into the arena floor/lake. Here the ships equipped with soldiers would engage in a realistic naval battle. Citizens could come to the Flavian Amphitheater and see a battle that was impossible to see anywhere else.
The Flavian Amphitheater differed from that of other public amphitheaters because of its special features. In the middle of the day incense would be lit and a special system of sprinklers, that held scented water, would be turned on. These devices masked the great stench of death, and the public odor of the crowds in tight spaces in the great heat. An awning was also constructed to protect the citizens from heat stroke. This awning was operated by a special set of sailors who were sent up from a naval base and were trained in the efficient operation of it?s opening and closing depending on the conditions outside. Oversized doors, known as vomitoria, could also be found at convenient spots for use by those who wished to relieve themselves of heavy foods consumed during the day. These special features all helped make the Flavian Amphitheater to be remembered not only as the first permanent amphitheater but a one of a kind venue of the times.
The Flavian Amphitheater saw it?s last battle in 523 under Theodoric, King of Ostrogoths. They had to close it due to several reasons. One, when they outlawed human fighting there was a great decline of interest of the general public. Also after such strenuous demands of the last few centuries the number of wild animals available had dwindled greatly. Throughout time, the government had also begun to regulate the amount of money that the public was allowed to spend on hosting the games. With the increasing expenses of the needed resources to hold a successful showing it became almost impossible to be able to afford hosting the games. As time went on the building was largely abandoned. In the middle ages, much of the stone resources were taken from it and used to construct other nearby buildings. During the Middle Ages it also earned the name which it is largely known by today. It was named the Colosseum after a colossal statue of Nero that stood over 27 feet tall that was located near the theater in the public forum.
Today the Colosseum still stands largely intact, due to its quality construction. It has become one of Rome?s most powerful landmarks, as its walls tower over much of its historic surroundings. The Colosseum was solid, thick and sturdy, the same as how Romans wanted people to perceive their empire. Through one building the civilization created a giant substructure of how their whole world worked. The structure was Vespasian?s gift to the people. Even though it saw the death of so many innocent people, the followers of the Flavian Dynasty continued to be thankful long after their leave of power. To this day a reputation of greatness stays with the Colosseum, as many people remember Vespasian?s famous quote, ?When the Colosseum falls, so falls Rome and all the world.?