The Roman Colosseum

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The Roman Colosseum

The Roman Colosseum Architecture of the ancient Roman Empire is considered some of the most impressive of all time. The city of Rome once was home to more than one million residents in the early centuries AD. The Romans had a fine selection of building monuments in the city of Rome including forums for civic services, temples of worship, and amphitheaters for recreation and play. The Romans pioneered and made great use of architectural mechanisms including arches, columns, and even early elevators. However, when one tends to think of great buildings, one building in Rome comes to mind. This building is the Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum. When discussing such a great monument such as the Colosseum, it is very important to realize the time, place, and culture in wish it stood to fully understand both its form and function. In the beginnings, Rome was both influenced by the Etruscans of the North and Greeks of Italy and South but had its basic roots from a long time of Samnite domination. The Etruscans were that of an interesting type .The Etruscans combined a passionate devotion to the ordinary pleasures of life with a haunting fear of death. They were cruel, too, and deeply superstitious, their victims would often be ordered to fight among themselves until the last had fallen. The Etruscans would have a strong impression in Roman lifestyles and philosophies. For example, the purple robe worn by Etruscan leaders would later be adopted by the Romans. They also were the influence which brought gladiatorial battles of sacrifice into the Roman culture. 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 with him 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 and dragging in others.? This was also time of paganism, which meant sacrifice and death.

Early Christians were persecuted for their beliefs in the first few centuries. Clearly in Rome, the focus was not only on religion or the emperor, but also on leisure and activities. It is said that of a three hundred and sixty-five day year that one-hundred and fifty days were celebrated as regular holidays, with over ninety days given up to games. This type of lifestyle would also dominate the cities and architecture of the Romans for some 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 stand out even today.  The Colosseum is the greatest standing building of Rome, and one of the most recognized worldwide architectural achievements to this day. The amphitheater is a type of architecture that was without Greek precedents. This makes sense since its primary purpose was to hold gladitiator fights and brutal shows which were banned in Athens at the time. Such events held in Roman amphitheaters were horseracing, gymnastics, mock cavalry battles, footraces, prizefighting, wrestling, fights between animals, between men, animals and men, and even naumachiae, or mock sea battles. One of the first amphitheaters was the Pompeian amphitheater of Pompeii of 30 BC. Like the Colosseum, it was oval in plan. It was supported on great masses of solid earth pierced by a broad corridor at each end.

Stone seats were added at one time but most spectators sat on the earth or wooden chairs. Although this amphitheater was a great innovation, it would be eclipsed by the Flavian Amphitheater, better known as the Colosseum. The great building although fitting and plain in design to its surroundings of Rome still stood out due to its sheer monstrosity and oval shape. Although the site viewed today is still a marvel, in the days of its prime it was a spectacular site that would be difficult to apprehend with mere words .The city that held the great structure was full of great examples of the use of arches, columns from every order, and of course sheer size. When traveling in the city to the Colosseum the whole area had been paved and railed off. The approach was taken by cobbled slabs of lava, and then one entered an area paved with travertine more than five thousand feet wide and surrounded by huge boundary stones. To a spectator at the time the Colosseum from 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 one cannot hold the image of it in one’s soul- in memory we think it smaller, and then return to it again to find it every time greater than before?. As one looked at it from the city, there were many sights to behold, but the Colosseum stood out nineteen centuries ago, and still does to this date. Near the end of the Emperor Nero?s rule and the triumph of the Flavians every effort was made to forget the times of the Julio-Claudians (Julius Caesar’s family) and move to newer times.

The focus of architecture and buildings shifted from the emperor’s creations to the public’s buildings. The next prominent emperor was Vespasian. His first contribution to the public was an enormous forum with a temple of Peace in it. His greatest feat was the beginning of the construction of the Colosseum for ?games” purposes around 72 AD. Titus succeeded the ever-joking Vespasian and completed his fathers dream around 79-80 AD. The dedication of the Colesseum was a lavish gladiator show that lasted for exactly one-hundred days in which over nine thousand animals were killed. A typical day at the Colesseum show usually started with a bloodless comic relief battle, often times with dwarfs, women, or cripples battling with wooden objects. A tuba would sound and the main events would begin. The gladiator fights were the most popular and prominent fights. These featured two highly trained men battling for courage, strength, and dignity. They would often rather take a blow and stand strong than wimper and run in defense. The people were in love with gladiators much like today’s sport heroes. It is written that famous women would even leave their husbands for famous gladiators which were known to be very scarred and ugly, even by Roman standards. The gladiator fight was a ruthless blood-ridden spectacle which usually ended in death by the loser who begged for mercy and was chosen to die by the present emperor or the cheers of 45,000 hysterical fans. Even more appalling than the gladiator fights may have been the famous wild beast hunts. Some beast slayers fought lions, tigers, bears, and bulls. This in turn brought many animals to near extinction in the surrounding areas.

However, even worse than the wild beast hunts was the killings of rather harmless animals such as ostriches, giraffes, deer, elephants, and even hippopotami all for the delight of the crowd. The Colosseum even utilized machinery to raise animals to the battle floor from beneath where the catacombs and passages lay. One such fighter was the deranged emperor Commodus who had such a passion for unequal combat he visited the Colesseum more than a thousand times slaughtering at one time one hundred bears, killed ostriches, and even innocent fans if they laughed. It was clear to many that he was insane, and he was assinated by a famous athlete. Perhaps the most interesting of all events held was the mock sea battles. The Romans were famous for running water in their architecture, and this allowed them to flood the battlefield and hold mock sea battles. Of course with all of this bloodshed, it was very controversial starting in the third to fourth centuries. The paganism of Rome with it?s roots in the Etruscans was very evident at the Colosseum. Christianity was also spreading, but most Roman emperors of the time would not accept Christians. To the Romans, the Christians, like the Jews with whom they were sometimes confused, were reported to worship an ass-headed god and were also said to practice incest, cannibalism, and other equally atrocious crimes. The Christians were inflamed, said their pagan adversaries, by an odium generis humani, a downright loathing .............


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