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Roman Colosseum in Ancient European History Research Paper

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Updated: Jul 6th, 2021

Introduction

Numerous architectural objects with centuries-old histories are valued in modern society as the heritage of a past epoch or as ancestors’ masterpieces. One such outstanding and the world-famous building is the Roman Colosseum. This amphitheater has a rich history and is one of the most famous European monuments of antiquity. Every day, countless tourists come to this monument to see the massiveness and grandeur of this structure personally and to touch the ancient era of the Roman Empire when emperors decided people’s fates. A description of the Colosseum and its architectural features can help to assess the amount of work performed by its creators and consider some properties that are specific to this historical masterpiece. Its structure was and still is a source of inspiration for many artists and creative people, and the image of a dilapidated and massive amphitheater is recognizable all over the world.

Description of the Piece of Art

The monument received the name Colosseum in the Middle Ages from the distorted Latin word “colosseum” (colossal), while in Imperial Rome, it was called the Flavian amphitheater in honor of the imperial dynasty. The amphitheater was constructed in eight years. By order of the emperor Vespasian, work began in 72 BC and was completed in 80 BC under his son Titus.1 The opening of the Colosseum was marked by one hundred days of entertainment. During this time, several thousand warriors and five thousand predatory animals brought from Africa were killed at the gladiatorial tournaments. The theater arena had a sliding floor that was raised and lowered, and with the help of a water pipe directed to the Colosseum, the stage could be filled with water, and sea battles were organized. According to Mote, in the arena, up to 3,000 gladiators could fight simultaneously, and 50,000 spectators, who demanded “bread and circuses,” watched the bloody battles, chariot races, and theatrical performances.2 As Yawn remarks, the span of the celebrations dedicated to the opening of the Colosseum could be compared with the bloody celebration of the 1000th anniversary of Rome in 248 AD when dozens of lions, tigers, leopards, elephants, giraffes, horses, donkeys, and hyenas were killed in three days.3

The Colosseum’s Construction

Like other Roman amphitheaters, the Colosseum has the shape of an ellipse, and there is an arena in its center. Around it, the four tiers of gradually rising areas for spectators were located. The seats of the amphitheater were distributed according to the social status of visitors. On the first level, there were lodges for the highest nobility. On the second one, there were marble chairs for honorary guests and persons belonging to the equestrian class or having the rights of Roman citizenship. Commoners sat on wooden benches on the third level. It is possible to see on the following image what the preserved part of the monument looks like.4

The Colosseum’s Construction

On the fourth level, a huge linen canvas was attached with the help of ropes, creating a shadow over the arena on hot days. Due to the aisles arranged around the perimeter of the amphitheater, the audience could quickly, in just 15 minutes, take their numbered places. Under the arena of the Colosseum, there were underground corridors, cages with deer, bears, and lions, as well as sophisticated lifting mechanisms that helped to deliver gladiators and animals upstairs and erect lush scenery in a few minutes.

The Colosseum’s Appearance

From the outside, the Colosseum is a four-tiered structure. The first three floors were formed by the arcades of eighty arches, and the last is built in the form of a high solid wall with small rectangular windows. Arched openings were richly decorated with attached semi-columns with entablature made in Tuscan, Ionic, and Corinthian artistic processing. The appearance of the monument can be seen in the following image.5

The Colosseum’s Appearance

The walls of the Colosseum were erected from large blocks of travertine fastened together by steel staples with a total weight of approximately three hundred tons. The arena of the monument was covered with boards. The floor level could be adjusted with the help of engineering structures. There were columns on each level made in different styles. Also, on the second and third tiers, statues were installed, which were made by the best Roman masters. Only the load-carrying structures of the Colosseum have survived to the present day, while the statues and stucco that adorned the arches were either ruined by barbarian tribes or destroyed over time.

Purpose of Construction

The Colosseum was designed for various performances, both theatrical and athletic. Nevertheless, the most famous events were bloody gladiatorial battles. In Rome, there were also other facilities intended for entertainment. In the context of the dramatic arts, the Romans preferred comedies, and they could not always see them through to the end. There were documented cases when during a theatrical performance, there was a rumor in the crowd that fights had begun in the Colosseum, and everyone ran away, ignoring the actors. According to Klahr, the inhabitants of Rome at the beginning of the 1st century AD enjoyed watching bloody battles where gladiators had to exercise all their agility to avoid death from the claws and teeth of predatory animals.6 The lucky survivors might earn many rewards after their battles, but the defeated either died on the spot or were killed in their cells at the crowd’s will. A defeated gladiator rarely had a second chance. As for the animals, they were often brought from other countries.

Despite the bloody purpose of the structure, the Colosseum is a tremendous creation of human handiwork. However, when the Roman Empire fell, it ceased to be necessary and began to collapse gradually. In the Middle Ages, Christians held divine services in the amphitheater. In the 13th century, a quarry was made of it. The stones from which the Colosseum was built were used for building the houses of aristocrats, churches, and later the papal chancery and bridges. Nevertheless, this architectural masterpiece has been partially preserved to the present day and is justly considered to be one of the most outstanding objects of ancient art, despite its ambiguous history.

Inspiration for Artists

The Colosseum is a landmark that is known all over the world for its history and significance for the Roman Empire. Its appearance is familiar to everyone, and pictures and postcards are adorned with the image of this monument not only in the capital of Italy but also in other parts of the world. Due to its picturesque architecture, the Colosseum is an object of inspiration for many artists. The ancient amphitheater often appears in various films and is mentioned in books. Countless tourists visiting Rome consider it their duty to see this wonder of the world and to touch history, which they believe can be felt in the walls of the building. Perhaps that is why this object has been reliably protected by the authorities and is included in the list of the greatest architectural monuments of humanity.

The use of the Colosseum as an object of inspiration is quite understandable. This architectural masterpiece is one of the most ancient buildings that has preserved its form to the present day. In addition, as Mote remarks, it is the largest amphitheater that was ever built.7 Its dimensions are significant even for modern observers. The monument has become a symbol of not only Rome but of ancient European civilization as a whole, which was considered a powerful and mighty empire. Therefore, most people see in the Colosseum not just an architectural object but the real heritage of the past.

Colosseum as a Model

The amphitheater is one of the main features of a typical Roman city, along with the temple of the patrons, fountains, and thermae. This model was repeatedly reproduced both in Italy and outside it wherever the power of the Roman Empire spread. The time of the Colosseum’s construction was the greatest flowering of the Roman Empire and its era of conquest. Under Flavius, the monument could be characterized as a model of the Roman society of the imperial era when spectator seats were determined according to social status. Yawn argues that the Colosseum can also be considered a testament to the ancient world’s high level of organization of spectacle, which was provided by the ingenuity of the special effects.8 In the Middle Ages, the amphitheater, like Rome, was in decline. Nevertheless, pilgrims who came to worship at the early Christian shrines of the Eternal City celebrated the greatness of the building.

The Colosseum is often compared to the imperial regime or referred to as a visual manifestation of that era. According to Hastings and Burnett, the division of society into estates was firmly maintained in the arena, where a clear hierarchical system could be observed.9 Therefore, the amphitheater can be regarded as a model of ancient Roman culture and the interests of local residents. Despite significant changes that have occurred since the collapse of the empire, the building still carries the spirit of that time and reminds everyone of the features of ancient social life.

Impact on Society

Due to the fact that the Colosseum has been guarded for so long by the authorities and is a part of historical heritage, its influence on public life and attitudes towards culture as a whole is significant. Surviving evidence has helped to restore the periods of development of ancient Roman civilization and draw conclusions about it. Here, the first Christians were killed. People who wished to accept the new teaching were taken to the arena and given to the predators to be ravaged. The architect of the Colosseum, Gavendius, who wished to accept Christianity, was killed in the same way. As Hastings and Burnett remark, more than two hundred years passed before it was possible to stop the bloody spectacles.10 Some people were indignant at them, but most liked the performances.

Christian martyrs that were killed in the walls of this amphitheater are now revered throughout the world, and annual processions pass along the walls of the Colosseum in memory of those who defended their religion. In addition to the fact that the monument is a tourist object and is a goal for most visitors to the Italian capital, the building has cultural value as evidence for people’s development many centuries ago, their life, and their interests. According to Mote, the building is among the Seven Wonders of the World,11 Which testifies to the Colosseum’s recognition, its greatness, and its historical significance.

This example of the life of people in antiquity has become a model of the social structure of that era. Numerous bloody battles greatly influenced the development of civilization. Due to known facts, society can draw conclusions about how valuable human life is and how much grief unjustified brutality can bring. The desire to preserve human life is a typical feature of modern society, and the example of the Colosseum is a reminder to the Roman Empire’s descendants of a social hierarchy’s dangerous consequences.

Role in History

Gladiator battles and animal combat continued to occur in the arena of the Colosseum until the 4th century.12 Once, in the midst of one of the battles, the monk Telemachus rushed to the scene of the Colosseum and began to break up fighters. The outraged audience stoned the innocent old man to death, and this murder shocked Emperor Honorius so much that he forbade bloody amusements as contrary to the spirit of Christianity. Moreover, as Mote notes, the gladiatorial games fell into decay because of the difficult times for Rome when the city was being constantly raided by the Vandals.13 All these peculiarities of the famous arena have made it a unique and monumental place.

For many centuries, the amphitheater was not used, which did not stop it from becoming one of the most recognizable monuments of architecture, however. The possibility of studying the remains of people and animals preserved during excavations in the Colosseum has opened many new topics for research. Despite the fact that the monument is no longer used for its intended purpose and is a museum where theatrical performances take place periodically, it has not lost its interest to the public. On the contrary, the chance to touch history and personally see the structure of the ancient building attracts a great number of people. In terms of significance for ancient citizens, the Colosseum was certainly of great value. The amphitheater was evidence of the Roman Empire’s power and the wealth of its resources. There was no building equal to it in the world, and this fact was important from the point of view of authority. Today, the monument represents an exclusively cultural value to which few other relics of the past can be compared.

During the entire period of its existence, the amphitheater survived many events. It suffered from a fire and was repeatedly restored. Also, according to Hastings and Burnett, the Romans experienced the invasion of barbarians whose goals included the destruction of one of the Empire’s main symbols.14 The Colosseum was a fortress for the noble Roman clans that fought for influence and power and later was handed over to the Roman Senate and people. In the Middle Ages, it became a source of building material, and not only fallen stones but also deliberately broken parts began to be used for new constructions. As Klahr remarks, there was an attempt to build a cloth factory on the grounds of the building, and ultimately a plant for the production of saltpeter was founded.15 However, after surviving all these challenges, it is today a protected building and a masterpiece of world architecture.

Relevance at Present

Currently, the Colosseum is protected and studied by the world scientific community. There are new historical artifacts that shed light on the history of the construction of the amphitheater. Each stone of this grandiose monument is subject to UNESCO guidelines and is carefully guarded twenty-four hours a day. Measures are being taken to restore the building, which inevitably suffers from pollution and heavy traffic. Vibrations created by numerous cars on the road in the Italian capital have a devastating effect on the state of the building. The government of Rome is well aware of the symbolic and significant role of the Colosseum in the collective consciousness of humanity. Although associated with cruelty and death for centuries, the monument is gradually changing its image through the actions of the local authorities. Thus since 2000, it is customary to change the color of the amphitheater’s night-time illumination whenever a death penalty is suspended anywhere in the world. The Colosseum is still considered a monument of Christian history, and every Holy Friday, there is a religious procession that unites hundreds of thousands of believers.

Conclusion

The Colosseum is a unique work of art, and the architecture of the amphitheater has been an object of inspiration for many generations of people. The type of construction and its appearance are special not only for the era of its creation but also for modern construction standards. The Colosseum can be considered a model of Roman society with its strictly defined hierarchy and division into classes. The monument is of historical significance, and today, it is included in the list of the most important preserved ancient architectural objects.

Bibliography

Digital image. Travelsignposts. Web.

Digital image. Realm of History. Web.

Hastings, Tyler, and Michael J. Burnett. “Popular Entertainment in Rome and its Modern Day Counterparts.” CRIUS 3, no. 1 (2016): 122-126.

Klahr, Douglas. “Traveling via Rome Through the Stereoscope: Reality, Memory, and Virtual Travel.” Architectural Histories 4, no. 1 (2016): 8-21.

Mote, Miranda. “Exquisite Odor: The Colosseum, a Garden of Serendipitous Procreation.” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 35, no. 2 (2015): 124-143.

Yawn, Lila Elizabeth. “Culiseo: The Roman Colosseum in Early Modern Jest.” California Italian Studies 6, no. 1 (2016): 1-19.

Footnotes

  1. Tyler Hastings and Michael J. Burnett, “Popular Entertainment in Rome and its Modern Day Counterparts,” CRIUS 3, no. 1 (2016): 123.
  2. Miranda Mote, “Exquisite Odor: The Colosseum, a Garden of Serendipitous Procreation,” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 35, no. 2 (2015): 129.
  3. Lila Elizabeth Yawn, “Culiseo: The Roman Colosseum in Early Modern Jest,” California Italian Studies 6, no. 1 (2016): 8.
  4. Gorgeous Animation Presents the Grandiose Scope of the Colosseum Inside Ancient Rome, digital image, Realm of History, Web.
  5. The Colosseum – A Rome Icon of Colossal Proportion, digital image, Travelsignposts, Web.
  6. Douglas Klahr, “Traveling via Rome Through the Stereoscope: Reality, Memory, and Virtual Travel,” Architectural Histories 4, no. 1 (2016): 17.
  7. Miranda Mote, “Exquisite Odor: The Colosseum, a Garden of Serendipitous Procreation,” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 35, no. 2 (2015): 129.
  8. Lila Elizabeth Yawn, “Culiseo: The Roman Colosseum in Early Modern Jest,” California Italian Studies 6, no. 1 (2016): 14.
  9. Tyler Hastings and Michael J. Burnett, “Popular Entertainment in Rome and its Modern Day Counterparts,” CRIUS 3, no. 1 (2016): 123.
  10. Tyler Hastings and Michael J. Burnett, “Popular Entertainment in Rome and its Modern Day Counterparts,” CRIUS 3, no. 1 (2016): 124.
  11. Miranda Mote, “Exquisite Odor: The Colosseum, a Garden of Serendipitous Procreation,” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 35, no. 2 (2015): 126.
  12. Lila Elizabeth Yawn, “Culiseo: The Roman Colosseum in Early Modern Jest,” California Italian Studies 6, no. 1 (2016): 6.
  13. Miranda Mote, “Exquisite Odor: The Colosseum, a Garden of Serendipitous Procreation,” Studies in the History of Gardens & Designed Landscapes 35, no. 2 (2015): 130.
  14. Tyler Hastings and Michael J. Burnett, “Popular Entertainment in Rome and its Modern Day Counterparts,” CRIUS 3, no. 1 (2016): 122.
  15. Douglas Klahr, “Traveling via Rome Through the Stereoscope: Reality, Memory, and Virtual Travel,” Architectural Histories 4, no. 1 (2016): 11.
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IvyPanda. "Roman Colosseum in Ancient European History." July 6, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/roman-colosseum-in-ancient-european-history/.

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IvyPanda. 2021. "Roman Colosseum in Ancient European History." July 6, 2021. https://ivypanda.com/essays/roman-colosseum-in-ancient-european-history/.

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IvyPanda. (2021) 'Roman Colosseum in Ancient European History'. 6 July.

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