The Roman Colosseum
Main | The Torture Tools | History | Information | Ink and Blood | The Guestbook

The Demographics

Rome, Italy, c. 70 to 82 AD (Roma, Italia, ca. dal 70 al 82 a.C.).
Builders: Vespasian, Titus, Domitian (Costruttori: Vespasiano, Tito, Domiziano).
Address: Piazza del Colosseo
Long: 600 feet (Asse maggiore: 187 metri).
High: 161 feet (Altezza: 50 metri).
Wide: 500 feet (Asse minore: 155 metri).
Spectators: 50,000 - 80,000 (Spettatori: 50'000 - 80'000).

Very Short History and Description

In the ancient world, the elliptical-shaped Colosseum, taking ten years to build, was the largest structure of its type. It stood 160 feet high with four stories of windows, arches, and columns. Each of the three exterior floors consisted of 80 arches. As many as 50,000 spectators with numbered tickets entered through 76 of the entrances on the ground level. Two of the remaining entrances were used by Emperor Titus and two for the gladiators.

Upon entering the Colosseum, visitors climbed sloping ramps to their seats, according to gender and social class. Women and the poor stood or sat on wooden benches in the fourth tier. Depending on the weather, an enormous, colored awning (velarium) could be stretched overhead to prevent the hot sun from coming in on the spectators.

A wooden flooring was used to cover the subterranean chambers where the gladiators as well as the animals were kept prior to performance. During the first ten years of its existence, the stadium was filled with water and used for mock naval battles. However, over time the Romans found it was damaging to the foundation as well as to the flooring.

Most shows in the Colosseum lasted all day beginning with comedic contests and exotic animal shows in the morning and moving on to professional gladiator events in the afternoon. In most tournaments and games, death played a prominent role. Professional gladiators, primarily condemned criminals, prisoners or war, and slaves, fought either animals or each other, generally until death. Their weapons might include nets, swords, tridents, spears, or firebrands. Occasionally, free Romans and women would enter the fight for a few brief moments of glory.

Basically these bloody forms of entertainment served political purposes. They were to teach the local Romans how to fight in preparation for visits outside their empire and to display the strength and courage of the Roman citizen to unemployed visitors to the city of Rome.

During the Colosseum's opening ceremonies in A.D. 80, spectacles were held for 100 days in which hundreds of animals and 2,000 gladiators were killed. Eventually, gladiator fights were outlawed by Emperor Honorius in A.D. 404; however, animal combats continued for another century.


The word gladiator comes from the Latin word for swordsman, from gladius we get the word, sword. The gladiators were made up of prisoners of war, slaves, criminals, and volunteer free men. The crimes that could lead one to the arena included treason, robbery, and murder, among others. Some free men became gladiators of their own free will in hopes of gaining notoriety and patronage among the wealthy citizens. By the end of 50 BC almost half of the gladiators were made up of free men.

The gladiators competed against one another for the sake of public entertainment at festival games. Although some gladiators fought wild animals the combats usually featured a pair of male human contenders. They fought in diverse styles depending on their background and how much training they had endured. Originally as captured soldiers they were made to fight with their own weapons. The odds of a professional gladiator surviving a match were one in 10.

There were three special gladiatorial schools where slaves were trained to fight combat. The Ludus Magnus was the largest, connected to the Colosseum by an underground tunnel. Many gladiators were paid well for their presentation. Tiberius paid 1000 gold pieces to each ex-gladiator for one performance. The free man, Publius Ostorius, a famous gladiator at Pompeii, survived 51 fights. Some women even volunteered in hopes of winning fame but they were banned from fighting by Severus in 200 AD.

The Games

The games continued from dawn to dusk and lasted over a period of many days. The imperial games would sometimes exhibit thousands of pairs of gladiators in a sequence that could last for several months. The gladiatorial sports continued until the early 5th century AD.

The Gladiatorial games could last from ten to twelve days each year and accommodate Saturnalia, a festival celebrating the god Saturn. This was held at the time of the winter solstice with a huge celebration of great feasting and merrymaking. Signs were made up to announce the great event and Heralds proclaimed it in the streets.

In the morning, spectators could see battles fought between wild beast. One might see bears, buffaloes, lion's elephants and rhinoceros, all fighting against each other. After wounding each other for awhile the spectators would become bored so archers would shoot the exhausted animals with arrows from the stands. By using these animals in such a way the Romans managed to wipe out thousands of animals and either captured or drove away entire species. Now, the hippopotamuses were no longer seen in Egypt, lions disappeared from Assyria and elephants no longer lived in northern Africa.

Today the Colosseum stands in ruins and is still visited by thousands each year. No longer are the fearless gladiators performing and the wild animals are safe from the once famous games. But, even after all this time some animals still remain at the Colosseum. It has become a habitation for a large community of stray cats.

Topics and Links

3D Model Download of The Colosseum
Tour of The Colosseum