Around 70-72 A.D., Vespasian, emperor of the Roman Empire, wanted to give a gift to the people of Rome. He took a large piece of land where the palace of the emperor Nero had stood and began work on a large amphitheater, called the Colosseum because of its size. It was also called the Flavian Amphitheater because Vespasian was a member of the Flavian family of emperors. Vespasian wanted the public to enjoy gladiator fights and other types of combat or theatrical entertainment.
The building was dedicated by the emperor Titus in 80 A.D. He added to the dedication 100 days of games. To the Romans, games meant gladiatorial contests and perhaps animal or other types of battles. His brother Domitian finished the remaining construction after his death. The Colosseum was the largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire. It measured 620 x 513 feet.
Earlier amphitheaters had usually been built into the side of a hill to give support to the building. The Colosseum was freestanding. It stood just outside the Roman Forum in Rome. The Forum was the business, religious and government center of the city.
Each of the three stories contained arched entrances. There were about 80 arches in the total structure. Each story had different a different style, or order, of column. They differed in the decoration at the top. The columns of the lowest story were in a Doric style. The top, or the capital, was very plain. Ionic (eye-on-ic) columns on the second story were a little more decorative. At the top, there were what look like scrolls going in opposite directions. Corinthian columns were very 'flowery' looking at the top. This type was used on the third story of the Colosseum.
50,000 people could be squeezed into the Colosseum to view performances or games. For protection from the heat of the sun, an awning could be unfurled from the top to come down and cover the members of the audience.
Audiences liked to see different types of gladiators fight each other in the Colosseum. Some gladiators might use swords. Some might use a sharp 3-pronged trident along with a net to throw over an opponent. Some shows might have an animal fight against a gladiator. Sometimes the arena was flooded with water, and make-believe naval battles were held.
Gladiators were usually slaves, but might be prisoners of war or criminals. They lived and trained in a gladiator school. Most gladiators did not live very long because the audience wanted to see someone killed. A gladiator who kept on winning became to the Roman people like a rock star. The women would cheer and loved to see him in the streets of Rome.
The Colosseum was used for over four centuries. Then, that type of entertainment was no longer attractive. Also, the building suffered damage from lightning and earthquakes. Later, it was abandoned and used as a quarry. Its marble and stone were taken to build large cathedrals and other buildings.
In the late 1700's, some popes wanted to preserve the Colosseum as a sacred site because it is thought that many Christians died as martyrs there. Christians were persecuted in Rome by several emperors, including Nero. By the 20th century, almost 2/3 of the structure had been destroyed from vandalism, weather and theft of the pieces for other buildings. In the 1990's, however, efforts to restore the Colosseum began and still continue.
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