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ἀμφιθέατρον). A circular or elliptical building, arranged for the exhibition of combats of gladiators, wild beasts, and for sham sea-fights, all of which constituted the ludi amphitheatrales. See Ludi.

The first amphitheatre was probably that of C. Scribonius Curio, which was literally a double theatre, being composed of two wooden theatres placed on pivots, so that they could be turned around, spectators and all, and placed back to back, forming two separate theatres for dramatic exhibits; or face to face, forming an amphitheatre in the ordinary sense of the word. This structure was erected in B.C. 50, and is described by Pliny (Pliny H. N. xxxvi. 116). The next was built by Iulius Caesar in B.C. 46, and was also of wood. These edifices were exposed to the danger of destruction by fire, and sometimes, too, proved inadequate to support the weight of the enormous crowds of spectators—often as many as 30,000 to 50,000. It was not until the fourth consulate of Augustus (B.C. 30) that an amphitheatre of stone was erected by Statilius Taurus in the Campus Martius (Octav. 29). This building was the only one of its kind until the erection of the great Flavian amphitheatre. This was carried out in the reigns of Vespasian and Titus, when the Amphitheatrum Flavium, which, since the time of Bede, has been known as the Colosseum or Coliseum, arose. An ecclesiastical tradition makes the architect to have been a Christian, one Gaudentius, afterwards a martyr. See Burn, Rome and the Campagna, p. 235; Middleton, Ancient Rome in 1885, pp. 303 foll.

This marvellous building was commenced by Vespasian (Suet. Vesp. 9) early in his reign, and completed by Titus, who dedicated it in the year A.D. 80, on which occasion 5000 animals of various kinds were slaughtered (Suet. Tit. 7). He seems not to have added the last story, however, which was done by Domitian, who also caused the ornamental work to be executed. As built by the Flavian emperors, the highest tiers of seats inside, and probably the fourth story, were of wood. Further additions date from a period not earlier than the time of Alexander Severus. (See Burn, p. 235). The name Colosseum was probably given it from the colossus of Nero. No subsequent public amphitheatre was erected in the city of Rome, the little amphitheatrum castrense, near the church of S. Croce, being probably intended only for the soldiers of the Guard. See Colossus.

The Colosseum became the spot where prince and people met together to witness those sanguinary exhibitions, the degrading effects of which on the Roman character can hardly be overestimated. It was partially repaired by Antoninus Pius (Capit. Ant. Pi. 8). In the reign of Macrinus, on the day of the Vulcanalia, it was struck by lightning, by which the upper rows of benches were consumed, and so much damage was done to other parts of the structure that the games were for some years celebrated in the Stadium (Dio Cass. lxxviii. 25). Its restoration was commenced by Elagabalus, and completed by Alexander Severus. A medal of Gordian III. represents the Colosseum with the legend Munificentia Gordiani Aug., showing that fresh works were undertaken within a few years. It was again struck by lightning in the reign of Decius (Hieron. p. 475), but was soon restored, and the games continued to be celebrated in it down to the sixth century. It is usually stated that, in consequence of the self-devotion of Telemachus, an Asiatic monk, who rushed into the arena to separate the gladiators, and was overwhelmed under a shower of stones, Honorius abolished forever the sacrifices of the gladiators (Theodoret. v. 26); but there is evidence that they were continued even at a later period (Augustin. Confess. vi. 8). In later times the amphitheatre has been used sometimes in war as a fortress, and in peace as a quarry; whole palaces, such as the Cancelleria and the Palazzo Farnese, having been built out of its spoils. At length the popes made efforts to preserve it: Sixtus V. attempted to use it as a woollen factory, and to convert the arcades into shops; Clement XI. enclosed the lower arcades; and in 1750 Benedict XIV. consecrated it to the Christians who had been martyred in it. Notwithstanding the damages of time, war, and spoliation, the Flavian Amphitheatre still remains complete enough to give us a fair idea, excepting in some minor details, of the structure and arrangements of this description of building.

The very site of the Flavian Amphitheatre, as of most others, furnishes an example of the prodigal contempt of labour and expense which the Roman emperors displayed in their great works of architecture. The Greeks, in choosing the sites of their theatres, almost always availed themselves of some natural hollow on the side of a hill; but the Roman amphitheatres, with few exceptions, stand upon a plain. The site of the Colosseum was in the

Ground Plan of the Flavian Amphitheatre.

middle of the city, in the valley between the Caelian, the Esquiline, and the Velia, on the marshy ground which was previously the lake of Nero's palace, stagnum Neronis.
“Hic ubi conspicui venerabilis amphitheatri
Erigitur moles, stagna Neronis erant.”
de Spect. ii. 5.)

No mere measures can give an adequate conception of this vast structure, the dimensions and arrangements of which were such as to furnish seats for 87,000 spectators, around an arena large enough to afford space for the combats of several hundred animals at once, for the evolutions of mimic seafights, and for the exhibition of artificial forests; with passages and staircases to give ingress and egress, without confusion, to the immense mass of spectators, and others for the attendants on the arena; dens for the thousands of victims devoted to destruction; channels for the rapid influx and outlet of water when the arena was used for a naumachia; and the means for the removal of the carcases, and the other abominations of the arena. Admirable pictures of the magnitude and magnificence of the amphitheatre and its spectacles are drawn in the Essays of Montaigne (iii. 6), and in the latter part of Gibbon's twelfth chapter.

As a general description of the building, the following passage of Gibbon is perfect: “It was a building of an elliptic figure, founded on fourscore arches, and rising, with four successive orders of architecture, to the height of 140 [157] feet. The outside of the edifice was incrusted with marble, and decorated with statues. The slopes of the vast concave which formed the inside were filled and surrounded with sixty or eighty rows of seats, of marble likewise, covered with cushions, and capable of receiving with ease about 80,000 spectators. Sixty-four vomitories (for by that name the doors were very aptly distinguished) poured forth the immense multitude; and the entrances, passages, and staircases were contrived with such exquisite skill that each person, whether of the senatorial, the equestrian, or the plebeian order, arrived at his destined place without trouble or confusion. Nothing was omitted which, in any respect, could be subservient to the convenience and pleasure of the spectators. They were protected from the sun and rain by an ample canopy, occasionally drawn over their heads. The air was continually refreshed by the playing of fountains, and profusely impregnated by the grateful scent of aromatics. In the centre of the edifice, the arena, or stage, was strewed with the finest sand, and successively assumed the most different forms. At one moment it seemed to rise out of the earth, like the garden of the Hesperides, and was afterward broken into the rocks and caverns of Thrace. The subterraneous pipes conveyed an inexhaustible supply of water; and what had just before appeared a level plain might be suddenly converted into a wide lake, covered with armed vessels, and replenished with the monsters of the deep. In the decoration of these scenes, the Roman emperors displayed their wealth and liberality; and we read on various occasions that the whole furniture of the amphitheatre consisted either of silver, or of gold, or of amber. The poet who describes the games of Carinus, in the character of a shepherd attracted to the capital by the fame of their magnificence, affirms that the nets designed as a defence against the wild beasts were of gold wire; that the porticos were gilded; and that the belt or circle which divided the several ranks of spectators from each other was studded with a precious mosaic of beautiful stones” (really, of glass tesserae in imitation of jewels; cf. Abaculus).

The annexed woodcut, representing a section, not of an entire amphitheatre, but merely of the exterior wall, and the seats included between that and the arena, will serve to convey an idea of the arrangement of such structures in general. It is that of the Colosseum, and is given upon the authority of Hirt; but it is in some respects conjectural, particularly in the upper part, since no traces of the upper gallery are now remaining. The extreme minuteness of the scale renders it impossible to point out more than the leading form and general disposition of the interior; therefore, as regards the profile of the exterior, merely the heights of the cornices of the different orders are shown, with the figures 1, 2, 3, 4 placed against them respectively.

EXPLANATIONS. A, The arena. p, The wall or podium enclosing it. P, The podium itself, on which were chairs or seats for the senators, etc. m', The first maenianum, or slope of benches, for the equestrian order. m'', The second maenianum. m''', The third maenianum, elevated considerably above the preceding one, and appropriated to the pullati. W, The colonnade, or gallery, which contained seats for women. Z, The narrow gallery round the summit of the interior, for the attendants who worked the velarium. pr, pr, The praecinctiones, or landings, at the top of the first and second maenianum, in the pavement of which were grated apertures, at intervals, to admit light into the vomitoria beneath them. V V V V V, Vomitoria. G G G, The three external galleries through the circumference of the building, open to the arcades of the first three orders of the exterior. g g, Inner galleries.

Owing to the smallness of the cut, the situation and arrangement of staircases, etc., are not expressed, as such parts could hardly be rendered intelligible except upon a greatly increased scale, and then not in a single section, nor without plans at various levels of the building.

The Colosseum covers altogether about five acres of ground; the transverse, or longer diameter of the external ellipse, is 615 feet, and the conjugate, or shorter one, 510; while those of the interior ellipse, or arena, are 281 and 176 feet respectively. Where it is perfect, the exterior is 157 feet high, and consists of four orders—viz., Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian—in attached three-quarter columns (that is, columns one fourth of whose circumference appears to be buried in the wall behind them), and an upper order of Corinthian pilasters. With the exception of the last, each of these tiers consists of eighty columns, and as many arches between them, forming open galleries throughout the whole circumference of the building; but the fourth has windows instead of large arches, and those are placed only in the alternate inter-columns—consequently, are only forty in number; and this upper portion of the elevation has, both on that account and owing to the comparative smallness of the apertures themselves, an expression of greater solidity than that below. The arches formed open external galleries, with others behind them; besides which there were several other galleries and passages, extending beneath the seats for the spectators, and, together with staircases, affording access to the latter. At present, the seats do not rise higher than the level of the third order of the exterior, or about half its entire height; therefore, the upper part of the edifice appears to have contributed very little, if at all, to its actual capacity for accommodating spectators. Still, though it has never been explained, except by conjecturing that there were upper tiers of seats and galleries (although no remains of them now exist), we must suppose that there existed some very sufficient reason for incurring such enormous expense, and such prodigal waste of material and labour beyond what utility seems to have demanded. This excess of height, so much greater than was necessary, was perhaps, in some measure, with the view that, when the building was covered in with a temporary roofing or awning (velarium), as a defence against the sun or rain, it should seem well proportioned as to height; and also, perhaps, in order to allow those who worked the ropes and other mechanism by which the velarium was unrolled or drawn back again, to perform those operations without incommoding the spectators on the highest seats.

With regard to the velarium (q.v.) itself, nothing at all conclusive and satisfactory can now be gathered; and it has occasioned considerable dispute among archæologists how any temporary covering could be extended over the whole of the building. Some have imagined that the velarium extended only over part of the building; but, independent of other objections, it is difficult to conceive how such an extensive surface could have been supported along the extent of its inner edge or circumference. The only thing which affords any evidence as to the mode in which the velarium was fixed is a series of projecting brackets, or corbels, in the uppermost story of the exterior, containing holes or sockets to receive the ends of poles passing through holes in the projection of the cornice, and to which ropes from the velarium were fixed; but the whole of the upper part of the interior is now so dismantled as to render it impossible to decide with certainty in what manner the velarium was fastened. The velarium appears usually to have been made of wool, but more costly materials were sometimes employed. When the weather did not permit the velarium to be spread, the Romans used broad-brimmed hats or caps (petasi), or a sort of parasol, which was called umbraculum, from umbra, shade.

The interior of the amphitheatre was divided into three parts —the arena, podium, and gradus. The clear open space in the centre of the amphitheatre was called the arena, because it was covered with sand or sawdust, to prevent the gladiators from slipping and to absorb the blood. The size of the arena was not always the same in proportion to the size of the amphitheatre, but its average proportion was one third of the shorter diameter of the building.

It is now quite clear, since the excavations of 1874-75, that the arena had an actual flooring of boards, covered with sand, and movable. There must have been a souterrain, or vaults, at inter

Method of Raising Wild Beasts in the Amphitheatre.

Section of the Auditorium of the Flavian Amphitheatre.

vals at least, if not throughout, beneath the arena, as sometimes the animals suddenly issued apparently from beneath the ground (see the annexed illustration), and machinery of different kinds was raised up from below, and afterwards disappeared in the same manner. That there was also some substruction beneath the arena, in some amphitheatres at least, is evident, because the whole arena was, upon particular occasions, filled with water, and converted into a naumachia, where vessels engaged in mimic sea-fights, or else crocodiles and other amphibious animals, were made to attack each other. Nero is said to have frequently entertained the Romans with spectacles and diversions of this kind, which took place immediately after the customary games, and were again succeeded by them; consequently, there must have been not only an abundant supply of water, but mechanical apparatus capable of pouring it in and draining it off again very expeditiously. See Naumachia.

The arena was surrounded by a wall, distinguished by the name of podium, although such appellation, perhaps, rather belongs to merely the upper part of it, forming the parapet or balcony before the first or lowermost seats, nearest to the arena. The latter, therefore, was no more than an open oval court, surrounded by a wall about eighteen feet high, measuring from the ground to the top of the parapet; a height considered necessary in order to render the spectators perfectly secure from the attacks of the wild beasts. There were four principal entrances leading into the arena, two at the ends of each axis or diameter of it, to which as many passages led directly from the exterior of the building; besides secondary ones intervening between them, and communicating with the corridors beneath the seats on the podium.

The wall or enclosure of the arena is supposed to have been faced with marble of more or less costliness; besides which there appears to have been, in some instances at least, a sort of network affixed to the top of the podium, consisting of railing, or, rather, open trellis-work of metal. From the mention made of this network by ancient writers, little more can now be gathered respecting it than that, in the time of Nero, such netting, or

The Colosseum. (Drawn by Boudier, after Photographs.)

whatever it might have been, was adorned with gilding and amber—a circumstance that favours the idea of its having been gilt metal-work, with bosses and ornaments of the other material. As a further defence, ditches, called euripi, sometimes surrounded the arena.

Elevation of the Flavian Amphitheatre restored. (Daremberg and Saglio.)

The term podium was also applied to the terrace, or gallery itself, immediately above the lower enclosure, and which was only wide enough to contain two, or at the most three, ranges of movable seats or chairs. This, as being by far the best situation for distinctly viewing the sports in the arena, and also more commodiously accessible than the seats higher up, was the place set apart for senators and other persons of distinction, such as the ambassadors of foreign parts; and it was here, also, that the emperor himself used to sit, in an elevated place called suggestus or cubiculum; and likewise the person who exhibited the games, on a place elevated like a pulpit or tribunal (editoris tribunal). The Vestal Virgins also appear to have had a place allotted to them in the podium, as has been assumed from a passage in Suetonius ( Aug. 44), though this is only inferential, as the passage relates to an earlier regulation respecting the theatre. Some of these marble seats were carried away in the Middle Ages to be used as episcopal thrones.

Above the podium were the gradus, or seats of the other spectators, which were divided into maeniana, or stories. The first maenianum, consisting of fourteen rows of stone or marble seats, was appropriated to the equestrian order. The seats appropriated to the senators and equites were covered with cushions (pulvilli), which were first used in the time of Caligula. Then, after an interval or space, termed a praecinctio, and forming a continued landing-place from the several staircases in it, succeeded the second maenianum, where were the seats called popularia, for the third class of spectators, or the populus. Behind this was the second praecinctio, bounded by a rather high wall, above which was the third maenianum, where there were only wooden benches for the pullati, or common people. The next and last division—namely, that in the highest part of the building—consisted of a colonnade or gallery, where women were allowed to witness the spectacles of the amphitheatre. Some parts of this were also occupied by the pullati. At the very summit was the narrow platform for the men who had to attend to the velarium, and to expand or withdraw the awnings, as there might be

Interior of the Colosseum.

occasion. Each maenianum was not only divided from the other by the praecinctio, but was intersected at intervals by spaces for passages left between the seats, called scalae or scalaria; and the portion between two such passages was called a cuneus, because this space gradually widened, like a wedge, from the podium to the top of the building. The entrances to the seats from the outer porticos were called vomitoria, because, says Macrobius, Homines glomeratim ingredientes in sedilia se fundunt.

There were in the amphitheatre concealed tubes, from which scented liquids were scattered over the audience, and which sometimes issued from statues placed in different parts of the building. (Lucan, ix. 808; Spect. 3.)

The provincial amphitheatres were probably, as a rule, built of wood; but in several of the large cities of the Empire there are important ruins of large amphitheatres of stone, of which the best known are at Verona, Paestum, Pompeii, and Capua, in Italy; at Nîmes, Arles, and Fréjus, in France; at Pola, in Istria; and at Syracuse and Catania, in Sicily.

For an account of the games, combats, etc., held in the amphitheatre, see the articles Gladiatores; Naumachia; Venationes.

On the general subject of amphitheatres, the reader is referred to the following standard works: Lipsius, De Amphitheatro; Nibby, Dell' Anfiteatro Flavio, a supplement to Nardini, vol. i. p. 233; Fea, Notizie degli Scavi nell' Anfiteatro Flavio; Bunsen, Beschreibung der Stadt Rom, vol. iii.; Cressy and Taylor, Architectural Antiquities of Rome; Stieglitz, Archäologie der Baukunst; Hirt, Geschichte d. Baukunst bei den Alten; Burn, Rome and the Campagna; H. Parker, Archaeology of Rome, part vii.; Middleton, Ancient Rome in 1885; id., Remains of Ancient Rome (1892).

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  • Cross-references from this page (3):
    • Suetonius, Divus Augustus, 44
    • Suetonius, Divus Titus, 7
    • Suetonius, Divus Vespasianus, 9
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