RomanColiseumArchitecture of the ancient Roman Empire is considered one of the mostimpressive of all time. The city of Rome once was home to more than one millionresidents in the early centuries AD1. The Romans had a fine selection ofbuilding monuments in the city of Rome including the forums for civic services,temples of worship, and amphitheaters for recreation and play. The Romans madegreat use and pioneered great architecture mechanisms including arches, columns,and even mechanical elements in pulleys and early elevators.
However, when onetends to think of great buildings, one building stands out in Rome. Thisbuilding is the Flavian Amphitheatre, or better known as the Colosseum. Whendiscussing such a great monument such as the Colosseum, it is very important torealize the time, place, and culture in wish it stood to fully understand bothits form and function. In the beginnings, Rome was both influenced by theEtruscans of the North and Greeks of Italy and South but had its basic rootsfrom a long time of Samnite domination2.Order now
The Etruscans were that of aninteresting type as described by Peter Quennell: The Etruscans. . . combined apassionate devotion to the ordinary pleasures of life with a haunting fear ofdeath. They were cruel, too, and deeply superstitious.
. . their victims wereordered to fight among themselves until the last had fallen. The Etruscans wouldhave a strong impression in Roman lifestyles and philosophies.
For example, thepurple robe worn by leaders would be later adopted by the Romans. They also werethe influence which brought gladiatorial battles of sacrifice into the Romanculture. This was a time of blood thirsty humans who loved the site of battle. Even an early christian named Alypius proclaimed that he “took away withhim a mad passion which prodded him not only to return (to gladatior events)with those by whom he had first been forced in, but even ahead of them anddragging in others. “3 This was a time of paganism, which meant sacrificeand death.
Early christians were persecuted for their beliefs in the first fewcenturies. Clearly in Rome, the focus was not only on religion or the emporer,but we have a focus on leisure and activities. It is said that of athree-hundred and sixty-five day year that one-hundred and fifty days werecelebrated as regular holidays, with over ninety days given up to games4. Thistype of lifestyle would dominate the cities and architecture of the Romans forsome time to come. The people of Rome enjoyed theatres, battles, races, baths,comical events, and of course the game of death. There were many forums,temples, and many amphitheaters in the history of Rome, however only a few standout even today.
The Colosseum is the greatest standing building of Rome, and oneof the most recognized worldwide architectural achievements to this day. Theamphitheater is a type of architecture that was without Greek precedents. Thismakes sense since its primary purpose was to hold gladitiator fights and brutalshows which were banned in Athens at the time. Such events held in Romanamphitheaters were horseracing, gymnastics, mock cavalry battles, footraces,prizefighting, wrestling, fights between animals, between men, animals and men,and even naumachiae, or mock sea battles5. One of the first amphitheaters wasthe Pompeian amphitheater of Pompeii of 30 BC. Like the Colosseum, it was ovalin plan.
It was supported on great masses of solid earth pierced by a broadcorridor at each end. Stone seats were added at one time but most spectators saton the earth or wooden chairs. Although this amphitheater was a greatinnovation, it would be eclipsed by the Flavian Amphitheater, better known asthe Colosseum. The great building although fitting and plain in design to itssurroundings of Rome still stood out due to its sheer monstrosity and ovalshape. Although the site viewed today is still a marvel, back in the days of itsprime it was a spectacular site that would be difficult to apprehend with onlywords. The city which held the great structure was full of greatexamples of the use of arches, columns from every order, and of course sheersize.
When traveling the city to the Colosseum the whole area had been paved andrailed off. The approach was taken by cobbled slabs of lava, and then oneentered an area paved with travertine more than five thousand feet wide andsurrounded by huge boundary stones6. To a spectator at the time the Colosseumfrom the outside is described by the romantic poet Johann Wolggang von Goethe:When one looks at it all else seems little; the edifice is so vast, that onecannot hold the image of it in one’s soul- in memory we think it smaller, andthen return to it again to find it every time greater than before. As one lookedat it from the city, there were many sights to behold, but the Colosseum stoodout 19 centuries ago, and still does to this date. At the end of the EmperorNero and the triumph of the Flavians every effort was made to forget the timesof the Julio-Claudians (of which Julius Caesar’s family) and move to newertimes. The focus of arhictecture and buildings shifted from the emperor’screations to the public’s buildings.
The next prominent emperor was Vespasian. His first contribution to the public was an enormous forum with a temple ofPeace in it. 7 His greatest feat was the beginning of the construction of theColosseum for “games” purposes around 72 AD. Titus succeeded theever-joking Vespasian and completed his fathers dream around 79-80 AD. Thededication of the Colesseum was a lavish gladiator show that lasted for exactlyone-hundred days in which over nine thousand animals were killed.
8 A typical dayat the Colesseum show usually started with a bloodless comic relief battle,often times with dwarfs, women, or cripples battling with wooden objects. A tubawould sound and the main events would begin. The gladiator fights were the mostpopular and prominent fights. These featured two highly trained men battling forcourage, strength, and dignity.
They would often rather take a blow and standstrong than wimper and run in defense. The people were in love with gladiatorsmuch like today’s sport heroes. It is written that famous women would even leavetheir husbands for famous gladiators which were known to be very scarred andugly by Roman standards. 9 The gladiator fight was a ruthless blood-riddenspectacle which usually ended in death by the loser who begged for mercy and waschosen to die by the present emperor or crowd cheers of 45,000 hysterical fans.
Even more appalling than the gladiator fights may have been the famous wildbeast hunts. Some beast slayers fought lions, tigers, bears, and bulls whichbrought many animals to near extinction in the surrounding areas. However, evenworse than the wild beast hunts was the killings of rather harmless animals suchas ostriches, giraffes, deer, elephants, and even hippopotami all for thedelight of the crowd. The Colosseum utilized machinery to even raise animals tothe battle floor from beneath where the catacombs and passages lay.
TheColosseum would be decorated with trees, hillocks, and other elements tosimulate natural surroundings. 10 One such fighter was the deranged emperorCommodus who had such a passion for unequal combat he visited the Colesseum morethan a thousand times slaughtering at one time one hundred bears, killedostriches, and even innocent fans if they laughed. It was clear to many that hewas insane, and he was assinated by a famous athlete. Perhaps the mostinteresting of all events held was the mock sea battles. The Romans were famousfor running water in their architecture, and this allowed them to flood thebattle field and hold mock sea battles. Of course with all of this bloodshed, itwas very controversal starting in the third to fourth centuries.
The paganism ofRome had rooted from the Etruscans and was evident at the Colosseum. Christianity was also spreading around, but most Roman emperors would not acceptChristians. As Peter Quennell puts it in his writings: The Christians, like theJews with whom they were sometimes confused, were reported to worship anass-headed god and were also said to practice incest, cannabalism, and otherequally atrocious crimes. The Christians were inflamed, said their paganadversaries, by an odium generis humani, a downright loathing of the human race,and as public enemies they at once received the blame for any calamity thatmight befall the empire.
As one can tell from the above descriptions, manyChristians were persecuted by the Roman emperors. If one did not choose topledge their loyalty to the emperor by a sacrificial ceremony and to deny theirown religion, they were executed. Some executions were in the Colosseum wherethe Christians were defenseless and killed by wild lions. Others were burnedalive at the stake, shot with arrows, or stoned.
The major changes of attitudetowards Christians came with the Constantine the Great. He last exchanged thepurple pagan robes for the white robes of Christian faith. However paganismcontinued until 392, when Theodosius I and Valentinian II prohibited any form ofpagan sacrifice. However it was Honorius who abolished the games of theColosseum, but criminals were still persecuted there for more than one-hundredyears. 11 After that it was generally used up until the end of the sixth centuryfor concerts, sermons, and bullfights. The structure itself of the Colloseum canbe summarized as the symbol of Rome and it’s respect across the world: mammouth.
The overall plan is a huge elliptical structure measuring about 617 by 512 feet:the measure of the actual arena are 280 by 180. 12 Estimates of capacity rangefrom 45,000 to 50,000 spectators. It is believed to be made of two half circlesin order for the accoustics to be amplified. The building incorporates manyRoman influences with some Greek past, and some of its own technologies that aresome of the most wonderous creations of man. The most important of aspects ofthis monument are in its arches, columns, vaulting, technological advances, andin its mere magnitude.
The arches and barrel-vaulting are typical of Romanbuildings and architecture, but should be given more thought. The Colosseum isbuilt as four stories which was unprecedented in its day. The arch was a greatRoman architecture innovation which allowed for great amounts of weight to becarried over long spans. The arches allowed for the great load bearing requiredto support a monument such as the Colosseum. Arches are built by a series ofstones or bricks placed side by side in such a manner that they can support oneanother and weight while bridging a wide space. A barrel-vault is a halfcylinder created from the continuation of the arches.
The outermost walls of thestructure sat on eighty piers connected by stone barrel-vaults. The four storiessymbolized the basic Roman orders: Tuscan (variation of Doric), Ionic,Corinthian, and tall Corinthian pilasters on the fourth story. The outer wallson the bottom were faced in Doric columns faced with travertine with an Ionicentablature which ran all around the building. Inside the building the columnson the bottom were Doric and contained two parallel corridors barrel-vaulted inconcrete which surrounded the building. The second level and third level weresimilar to the first, except the outer walls were separated by lined up columnsof the Ionic order, and the third level outer wall was Corinthian.
The fourthlevel is different than the first three and this had much to do with thecovering of the Colosseum which will be discussed later. It consisted of aflatter surface with Corinthian pilistars and in alternating sections containedwindows. The roof of the upper corridor seems to have formed a flat woodenplatform below the top of the outer wall. The sailors who operated the roof usedthis platform.
The seating was sat at a 37 degree angle13, and had a stairwaysystem to enter the three levels as shown by the cutouts of the four levelsbelow. The building was not made all of travistine, but was made of lighter andporous pumice stone and also of brick and concrete. The seating on the bottomwas covered in marble and brass, and higher levels were made of wood. Some ofthe technology employed at the time of this building is very similar to today’sbuildings of similar uses for games.
For instance there were 76 entrance gatesof the 80 piers. The latter four were used for emperors and gladiators (one ofwhich was used to drag the bodies to an unmarked grave). The entrance gates werenumbered and corresponded to numbers stamped on the fan’s tickets much liketodays sporting events. With 80 gates one could easily maneuver to their correctgate. In the ground floor contained an intricate labyrinth of cells which housedthe gladiators, animals, and workers.
There were splendid uses of machinery inwhich to lift the gladiator or animal to the surface of the battle arena. Butthe most amazing construction at the Colosseum had nothing to do with the show. It was designed purely for the benefit of the audience, to keep them calm andcontent as the violent spectacle unfolded below. It was a roof. The roof of theColleseum was one that was retractable and much like a sailor. So much in fact,sailors who lived in a nearby town managed the velarium, or colored awning.
Thiswas a remarkable feat considering that most stadiums now days are still notfully enclosed (such as the Cowboy’s stadium). The use of the corbels on theuppermost deck and the use of a pulley system brought about this feat ofingenious. Some archeologists thought that the roof was non-existent or was aweb of ropes, but it is now believed to be made from masts and pulleys. Themasts would hold horizontal masts on which to pull the awning over. It isbelieved that it did not cover the whole structure, but at least the mostimportant seatings of the emperor for the whole day. 14 Hebrew prisoners andslaves of the time employed the building of the Colesseum.
All the details ofthe actual construction are unknown, but it is based upon a barrel-vaultedscheme that circles around. The builders used tavertine blocks to construct aframework of piers, arches, and linked walls and vaults. The cement posts godeep into the ground to support the great weight. The lower level vaults wereconstructed of tufa or pumice. On the upper floors the walls were built withbrick and concrete (utilizing volcanic sand to dry).
Travertine was used tosurround the outside and was held in place by iron clamps. 15 The experience ofbeing outside the Colosseum was plain except for the added statues. The outsideof the building was paved with boundaries and roads. One could make out thehundreds of semicircles and arches.
The arches increased upwards from Truscan,Doric, and Corinthian columns to the Corinthian Pillars and wall of the fourthdeck. The outside was a brilliant travertine that must have been a spectacularsight. Next to the building one would feel he is nothing but a little gnatcompared to the great building. To get inside one must enter their gate, andproceed up the stairway to the designated level much like a modern stadium. Since there were 80 entrances, many people could occupy the great Amphitheater.
Inside the Coloseum the arena floor was wooden and covered with sand to soak theblood. There was a great podium made of marble on the sidelines housed thedignitaries. Above that were marble seats for distinguished private citizens. The second held the middle class, the third held slaves and foreigners, and thefourth levels were for women and the poor who sat on wooden seats. 16 The greatvelarium was multicolored and must have been a specticle on the inside of theColosseum when raised. This would also shadow and protect the fans from nature.
The arches allowed for great ventilation, stability, and passageways to keep thecrowd comfortable all day. On a whole the Colosseum is symbolized by its sizewhich represents the greatness of Rome. The name may be attributed to its size,or some believe to the colossal statue of Nero nicknamed the “crownedcolossus” that was nearby. With all of the circular motifs used by thearches, and of the building itself, some believe it symbolizes the sun.
Thisalso makes sense considering part of the Colosseum was built from the GoldenHouse of Nero, also known as the solar statue, or sun statue. Many symbols usedin the Colosseum were of Pagan descendent. This included the sacrifices, purplerobes, battle-axes, and hammers of the Etruscan Pagans. The cross was erected tocommemorate the early Christians who are believed to have died here (althoughthere is no evidence to support this belief). The great arch beside the Coliseumwas erected in the third century in honor of Constantine, although much of itsdecoration was pilfered from monuments to other emperors. Since one of thesymbols was of the sun, the arches created natural and splendid light andshadows as shown in the picture.
Much poetry has been written of the light,shadows, and even smoke from the arches of the Colosseum. When it was not noonthe light would create long shadows and yet have bright instances whichaccentuate the arches and columns in the bright light. It shows an alternatingnatural pattern of shadows. One of the first natural changes of the Colosseumcame in 320 when lightning struck and damaged the building. In 422 it wasdamaged by an earthquake.
However Theodosius II and Valentitian III repaired itonly to be again damaged by an earthquake in 508. After the sixth century thecity of Rome and the Coleseum went downhill because of some devastatingdisasters. Towards the end of the sixth century grass was starting to growrampant at the Colosseum,.Bibliography1 Thecolleseum, pg 52 2 history arch p 191 3 the colle p 60 4 the colleseum pf 52 5history theatre p 61 6 colo pg 41 7 rome p 64 8 history theatre p61 9000! 9 P48, colesseum 10 drama 11 cole p72 12 arc rom greece 13 hist arch p 208 14 nova15 the colop 40 16 col the, p 39