Many don’t know, or at least really know, the story behind the terrible Colosseum; but the massive, 157-foot structure has a history filled with blood and violence.
The Colosseum was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in 70 AD, near 1,950 years ago. It was a gift to the Roman people, and it served an important purpose for the great Emperors of Rome and the Roman Empire itself.
But first, on a not so gruesome note, did you know that the Colosseum was actually not called the “Colosseum” by the Romans? Emperor Vespasian was a part of the Flavian dynasty, so naturally the arena was called the Amphithreatum Flavium or Flavian Amphitheater. It was only later called the Colosseum in the Middle Ages. The name grew into popularity because of the massive statue of Emperor Nero, which stood outside. This statue was called the Colossus of Nero, hence the name Colosseum.
But the real story behind the arena lies in it’s purpose.
The Colosseum was meant for it’s games; but it’s real purpose was to sedate the Roman people.
Without these games, the Emperors were afraid that the people would rebel or become restless, and rightly so. The Romans loved their games. Fortunes were won and lost over gambling on contestants. Slaves, Jews, Christians, Gauls, rebels, and prisoners of war from all over the Roman Empire were brought to the arena and sold as gladiators for the games or fed to the animals for show. Even the sand that covered the ground floor was imported from Egypt to soak up the blood that soaked the arena every day. The people of Rome had a saying, “Pax Romana”. This means Roman Peace and thousands of men and women died to keep this peace.
All sorts of different games happened in the Colosseum.
The main event was the Gladiatorial Battles. Gladiators trained to fight in these arenas and were typically prisoners of war, criminals, and slaves. Sometimes men even volunteered for the fame and excitement of the arena. A “lunista” was the head trainer of a gladiator group. Gladiators were the prizes of the people, popular and loved by all. But, the losers……not so much.
Gladiators could win their freedom back, but this took a long time. Often times, it was too long for these men.
Other games besides gladiator combat were performed, such as hunts, wild animal fights, and sometimes even larger combat. This could consist of a mock battle of the Emperor defeating a Gallian horde.
Archaeologists even suspect that at one point the Colosseum was flooded so that a full on naval battle, with life-size ships, could commence.
Many people also came to the games to see the exotic animals used. This could be many Romans only time to see a hippo, or a lion or an even more amazing animal.
Thousands of people died in these horrible games, but they were put on display for the amusement of all the Romans who looked on in delight.
The Colosseum is a phenomenal sight and looks very cool from the outside. But on the inside, you can almost sense the terrible things that happened there. You can imagine the jeering Romans looking on, as countless men and woman died for their entertainment. After you look out over the ruins for a moment, you find pause and it almost feels like a graveyard. After we talked about it for a while, considering those who lost their lives – prisoners of war, those with racial and religious differences, political exiles – in many ways it was as horrible as Auschwitz and on a greater scale. – Walden