Figure 1: The arena and caves of the Colosseum from the digital model. © Dr Matthew Nicholls, University of Reading, 2017
[Gaius Scribonius Curio] built two very large wooden theatres next to each other, each balanced on a pivot. In the morning a show was put on in each of them as they sat back to back, so that the performances should not drown each other out. Then suddenly – and, it is generally agreed, after the first few days with people actually sitting in them – they were rotated so that their corners came together, allowing Curio to present an amphitheatre and gladiatorial games … Here is [the Roman people], that conqueror of the earth and dominator of the whole world, which commands races and kingdoms, which sends out laws to the provincials, which is as it were the representative of the immortal gods for the human race, loafing about in a contraption and applauding at its own danger!Pliny Natural History 36.117-9
He announced a gladiatorial show and a feast to the people in memory of his daughter, a thing which no one had done before. To make sure that this was as keenly anticipated as possible, he had the material for the banquet prepared in part by his own household…Suetonius, Life of Julius Caesar, 26
The old republican magistrates only held office for a year, which limited their ambition and ability to create expensive permanent venues (that their rivals might then use later). When the emperors were in power, permanent arenas became possible. With huge resources of money, manpower, land, and the ambition to give many sets of games over a long reign (count the number of games in Augustus’ boastful list, for example!) the emperors could think bigger. Rome’s first permanent stone built amphitheatre was built under Augustus by Titus Statilius Taurus in 29 BC, somewhere in the southern Campus Martius. After it was destroyed in the great fire of AD 64, the Flavian dynasty built the Colosseum, which immediately became a symbol of the city of Rome.You can view the Colosseum in our 360° panorama picture It’s a bit dark because we had to get there at 6.00 a.m. to avoid the crowds!Please note: this link takes you to the external site ‘Panellum’.I gave a show of gladiators three times in my own name, and five times in the name of my sons or grandsons; in these shows around ten thousand men fought. Twice in my own name I gave to the people an exhibition of athletes gathered from all over the world, and a third time in the name of my grandson. I gave games four times in my own name, but in the place of other magistrates twenty-three times.Res Gestae Divi Augusti, 22
Rome: A Virtual Tour of the Ancient City
Our purpose is to transform access to education.
We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.
We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.