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Part XIII – ‘To the death’  

Gladiatorial combat was a popular passtime in ancient Rome. Watch Dr Matthew Nicholls explain more about this entertaiment and its venue,the Colosseum

Originally the gladiatorial combats were held in temporary wooden buildings, before emperors built permanent structures such as the Colosseum as part of their commitment to providing their population with ‘bread and circuses’.

Even the emperor who build the Colosseum, Vespasian, who was reported to have a rather stern and gloomy disposition, knew the importance of building a home for Rome’s lavish entertainments. And these were very extravagant entertainments indeed! Vespasian’s Colosseum was home to beast hunts, public executions, and gladiatorial combat, staged before an audience of up to 50,000 people.

I explain how the site of the Colosseum was ‘given back to the people’ following Nero’s monopolisation of the area for his personal use. Under Vespasian and his successors, the Colosseum was part of a range of linked facilities to support games which often went on for several days. For example, we know that Trajan held games which included 11,000 animals and 10,000 fighters. How did the Colosseum and its neighbours support these and the thousands of Romans which would have arrived to watch?

As you view the video, you may like to think about:

  • What extra support facilities did the games need?

  • What aspects of the Colosseum’s design are familiar in entertainment architecture today?

Share your thoughts in the discussion below.

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Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City

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