The Roman Colosseum: What You Need to Know


The Roman Colosseum is one of the most recognizable buildings in the city of Rome, besides the Pantheon, of course. With its massive, circular structure, many arches, and impressive history of holding immense battles within its walls nearly two thousands years ago, who wouldn’t be enthralled by this Roman marvel? Though much of this structure has decayed due to the test of time, much of it still remains as it was when it was first built, remaining an important part of Italy’s culture and allowing us to have a special glimpse into a small part of ancient Roman life.

The Colosseum in the peak of its life was able to boast of being the largest amphitheater in the time of the Romans, measuring 620 by 513 feet (190 by 155 meters), approximately ( Editors, 2009). What made this amphitheater special is that it was not built into a hill like amphitheaters usually are. Instead, it stood freely on its own, constructed mostly out of concrete and stone. The structure had a complete number of 80 arched entrances and three stories, each story containing columns designed in a different style. The first story had columns in the rather uneventful-looking Doric style, the second had columns in the slightly more ornate Ionic style, and the third had Corinthian-style columns, revered for their intricateness and elegant craftsmanship.

roman colosseum
Photo by Mark Neal from Pexels.

This arena, in the prime of its life, was able to hold more than 50,000 people, which is only somewhat less than the average football stadium capacity. Awnings from the very top of the Colosseum were unraveled to protect the audience whenever the sun was scorching and perhaps when it rained. Beyond gladiatorial combat and wild animal fights, the Colosseum could also be purposely flooded as to hold ship battles much in the style of the Roman navy. While gladiators were most often men, female gladiators were not unheard of. Gladiators, however, were almost always slaves, criminals to be condemned, or prisoners of war ( Editors, 2009).

The Roman Colosseum

The Colosseum was built around A.D. 70 thanks to Emperor Vespasian, with its impressive size and grand architecture an eloquent gift to the Roman populous ( Editors, 2009). In A.D. 80, it was Vespasian’s son, Titus, who turned this amphitheater in to what it is historically known for: a place for gladiators to clash and for wild beasts to wrangle each other. There would be a period of 100 days of fighting in the Colosseum, bringing massive crowds to delight in violent showmanship, much as we do today watching action movies in dark theaters, only the experience for the Romans was much more real.

After being enjoyed for about 400 years, the Colosseum fell out of fashion and soon into decay. Painfully, much of this grand structure was disassembled for building materials until the 18th century when people started to realize that this building should be conserved rather than slowly taken apart. Only about one-third of the amphitheater remains as it was originally, the rest of it either incorporated into other buildings or weathered down by time ( Editors, 2009).

Photo by Riccardo Bertolo from Pexels.

The reason this impressive building fell out of favor was partially because of the slow but sure decline of the Western Roman Empire as well as the new generation of Romans having different tastes for entertainment. By A.D 500, virtually no shows were put on at the Colosseum anymore and therefore, no one came. Also by that time, the Colosseum was starting to show some wear and tear from being struck by lightening and being fractured by earth tremors.

Later on, parts of the Colosseum would be used to build other architectural marvels such as such as the St. Peter Cathedral, the St. John Lateran Cathedral, and the Palazzo Venezia ( Editors, 2009). It was only when several popes throughout the 18th century decided that the Colosseum should be conserved as a Christian site, as it is believed some Christian martyrs may have been killed there. This is not known for certain, but at least this belief brought about the first efforts to conserve the arena. A few hundred years later, the Colosseum fell into further disrepair due to nature’s fury, but also due to vandalism. At last, by the 1990s, restoration efforts began, keeping the Colosseum as it is today.

References: Editors. (2009). “Colosseum.” History. Retrieved from

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