|Cost of Construction
Built in the middle of the broad valley between the Palatine, Caelian and Esquiline hills, where Nero had sited the lake in the gardens of his Domus Aurea, The Colosseum, which in its day was known as the Flavian Amphitheatre, was the most imposing of all the monuments of ancient Rome: its gigantic size fully justifies the name that was first given it in early medieval times and has stuck ever since.
But let the figures speak for themselves: the major axis of its elliptical plan is 188 m (616.80 feet) long, the minor axis attains 156 m (511.81 feet), and the walls in the outer ring rise to almost 50 m (164.04 feet) above the ground; more than 100,000 cubic metres (130,795.06 cubic yards) of travertine were used to build it and even the metal cramps that held the blocks together must have weighed more than 300 tons.
Begun by Vespasian shortly after 70 A.D., the amphitheatre was inaugurated by Titus ten years later. The ceremonies and games on that occasion went on for a hundred days and some 5,000 wild animals were put to death during that time. The building, which called for the organization of four construction sites working simultaneously, consisted of three super-posed orders of eighty arches spanning between engaged semi-columns and a tall attic, the latter divided into panels by strips in line with the columns; some of the panels were originally decorated with bronze shields, while others admitted light through rectangular windows. The arcades on the groundfloor were numbered (the number corresponding to that on the spectator's tessera or admission card) and led into a douible ambulacrum and thence, either directly or via internal corridors, to the stairs and their 160 outlets (vomitoria) that took the visitor to his place on the gradins of the cavea, which was supported on an elaborate system of arches and vaults.
Beside the amphitheatre stood the Colossus of Nero, a giant statue of gilt bronze, 30 m (98.43 feet) high, work of the Greek sculptor Zenodoros. It originally represented the emperor, but after his death was modified to depict the Sun.
The interior of the Colosseum consisted of the arena, a wooden floor sustaining a bed of sand and covering an area of about 76 m (249.34 feet) by 46 m (150.92 feet), and the stands or cavea, subdivided into three superposed gradin sectors crowned on high by a "loggia" that housed a fourth order of gradins, made of wood and providing the standing room. Each sector of gradins was rigorously reserved for a particular class of citizen, the places on top being assigned to the least important, though all enjoyed free entry.
Counting the standing spectators, the amphitheatre could accomodate about 70,000 people, who came there to watch gladiatorial combats and wild beast hunts. There were also other shows, either as curtain raisers or to fill in during intervals, but not by any means less cruel. An enormous awning protected the spectators from the heat of the sun; it was anchored to 240 timber poles that rose above the outer screen wall and was manoeuvered by a special detachement of sailors sent up from the naval base at Misenum, on the Gulf of Naples.
Pollice Verso, 1872 - Artist: Jean-Leon Gerome
During shows the arena would be surrounded by a metal mesh attached to poles and spiked with elephant tusks; the top of the mesh was furbished with ivory rollers, so that the animals could not get a foothold there and escape from the arena. Just in case, the niches in the podium of the bottom tier of gradins were always full of archers, ever ready to intervene.
The last show of which we have certain news was held in 523 A.D. under Theodoric, King of the Ostrogoths. It consisted only of animal hunts, for gladiator fighting had been abolished in 438 A.D., about forty years before the fall of the Empire. Almost certainly, this was also the last show ever to have been held there, thus bringing to an end more than four centuries of uninterrupted use.
A complex system of passages and rooms extended below the arena: it was probably constructed under Domitian, after it had been decided that no further "naval battles" would be staged there. These underground rooms were used for services and to store the stage equipment for the shows: the scenery was often very elaborate, especially for the hunts, when the stage managers were creating hills, wood, and even small lakes.
The designers had paid particular attention to creating environments and mechanisms capable of bringing sets, equipment, men and animals up to the arena at the right momemt, often all together, and many ingenious solutions were employed to this end. Large inclined planes were used for sets and equipment, as well as machines that rotated on hinges and were operated by appropriate counterweights. For men and animals, on the other hand, there were proper "elevators", again operated by counterweights. The animals, in particular, were first driven along the corridors by "beaters" and made to enter cages arranged at the bottom of special shafts; each cage had a mechanism of its own capable of raising it to a higher level, where the cage would open. The animals could thus step out onto an elevated wooden gangway that led them to a ramp, also made of wood, with a trap door at its upper end. When this door opened, the animal stepped out into the arena and was ready for the show.
We are told that on one accasion this system was used to bring a hundred lions into the arena at one time: their combined roar was so loud that the noisy crowd was frightened into instant silence.
As to the gladiators, they could reach the arena directly from their main "barracks", which was situated by the side of the Colosseum, using an underground passage. This led straight into the main tunnel that crossed the underground warren along the major axis of the ellipse and below the center of the arena intersected another tunnel along the minor axis, which likewise led out of the amphitheatre on both sides.
Source: Ancient Rome - Monuments Past and Present
This image is a screenshot from the 2000 film Gladiator.
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