Interesting stories, articles and tips for the Roman Colosseum, Rome and Italy

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How Closing the Roman Colosseum Destroyed Rome: The Economic Impact of Rome's Colosseum ...

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The Roman Colosseum, or Flavian Amphitheater, plays on all of our feelings and ideas of Rome itself - so much so, that we have essentially abandoned the actual name of it in favor of something more pleasing to the ear. No word speaks of majesty, power, and cruelty all wound into a single entity like "Colosseum". It elicits ideas of roaring crowds in a giant man made structure, and men fighting for their lives in mortal combat for a jeering crowd. Movies have been made out of the history of the Colosseum, poems have been written about it, and all styles of books have been published about aspects that have gone into it.

But perhaps the most overlooked thing about the Roman Colosseum is just how pivotal this single structure was to the Roman economy.

Games existed in Rome hundreds of years before the building of the Flavian Amphitheater. They started as a form based on ancient Etruscan Rituals in honor of a pair of nobles' dead father. The games, a big hit, became a common theme at funerals, where two slaves would be forced to fight, sometimes to the death, in tombs, graveyards and even the Roman forum. To put an entire volume of history into a basic nutshell, the popularity of these games increased to such a point that politicians realised an easy way to get into public office would be to fund and advertise themselves via these games.

Once they became public spectacles instead of simply obscure funeral games, the combat was then transferred to local amphitheaters and then the Circus Maximus, where between the chariot races and plays the crowds would be treated to the delights of combat. Rules varied in these battles, ranging anywhere from first blood to a gorefest where wild animals were unleashed on the winners as a form of cruel and seemingly humorous irony.

When Emperor Vespasian later commissioned the construction of the behemoth structure, the Roman Colosseum, it served a variety of purposes. Built next to the statue of Nero's Colossus to himself, it served as a symbolic end to Nero's reign of terror - and furthermore the wonder was intended to immortalize the Emperor and his name, providing a cultural center of the city of Rome that he would be remembered for. Although Vespasian did not live to see it completed, the Roman people were sure enough bedazzled by its creation - and a fundamental change in the Roman economy began as the last brick was laid.

Contrary to the original gladiatorial games, the State did not run the games of the ancient Roman Colosseum, rather they contracted to independent contractors who put on their own games, or munera, for the population of Rome. It was in many ways like modern day sporting events. Senators running for office would fund independent slave owners, or Masters of the Games, to make sure that their name was spread over the imminent munera - often times a surefire way to insure one's election.

As the Roman empire grew, and the Roman Colosseum generated more and more attention, the Roman people began to expect more and more from their beloved Flavian Amphitheater - and so too came the economic dependence on this structure. There aren't many accurate estimates, but the immediate employees of the Roman Colosseum can be assumed to have numbered in the thousands. This is without considering temporary employees meant to fulfill specific jobs i.e. the private slave owners who contracted with the state or the Game Masters who put on the shows, and other necessary functions.

Even before the shows themselves began, tickets were being sold by hundreds of speculators, or even being handed out free by the wardheelers, whose task it was to prop up enthusiasm for the games. For those who could not get tickets beforehand, the gates into the Roman Colosseum acted as box offices. Once the tickets were bought the spectators would then enter the Colosseum, ushers known as locarii would direct the spectators to their appropriate seats. Soldiers were staffed at the various entrances and causeways - and where they weren't filled by legionary soldiers, private mercenaries and guards were also hired by the specific Game Masters to keep order and further supplement the infantry who were assigned to guard duty.

A number of slaves - whose owners were paid handsomely for their use - managed the enormous curtains that were pulled to cover the entire Colosseum and to keep the Roman citizens comfortable under shade, food sellers contracting with the Game Masters would weave between the rows and offer to sell their goods. Betting booths were open throughout the Colosseum, official boxes where spectators could place bets on slaves and gladiators, and not surprisingly, fortunes were both won and lost here. The perfume tenders made sure that the smell of death and split kidneys were drowned out by the smell of exotic and expensive perfumes and odors.

Engineers were constantly on hand to make sure of the structural integrity of the Roman Colosseum and manage the complex aquatic and fountain structures to make sure that, on cue, the Master of the Games could have fountains turn on, drinking water available, or even that parts of the stage would drop or transform on a whim. Many slaves of merchants patrolled the aisles selling fans to the hot Romans, who would appreciably buy them up. These hawkers also sold cool drinks and other refreshments, as well as programs that detailed the sordid and fascinating histories of some of the gladiators, along with a detailed list of information about upcoming events.

Without considering the immediately important staff, such as the Master of the Games and his entourage who were responsible for jeering the crowd into a frenzy of enthusiasm, or the very slave owners themselves who brought the prey to the Colosseum's games. This is not considering the trumpeteers and the drum players, or the men charged with raking the sand of the Colosseum down so that it would be clean and ready for the next game,without considering the beastiarii whose job it was to make sure the animals down below in the hypogeum were both tame enough to not tear their owners apart and also well fed enough that they would have the strength to fight.

And that's not to consider the painters and artists commissioned to draw the signs, the guilds commissioned to make enough bread for the games or distill enough wine for all the Roman spectatorss, the janitorial staff and their owners whose job was to clean up after the mess left by the mob, the Imperial contractors who purchased the sand from Egypt which covered the Colosseum floor, the huntmasters whose job it was to acquire animals for the games, the ship and merchant captains who made the round trips specifically for materials and slaves for the Colosseum, and so on and so on.

The entire economy of the city of Rome, and certainly a large chunk of the Roman Empire itself, was based around supporting this single building. Thousands upon thousands of jobs pivoted on the Gladiatorial combat within - from the actors to the gladiators, to the trainers to the huntmasters and even the sign painters - who all had a vested interest in maintaining the popularity of the Roman games and the Colosseum.

When Gladiatorial combat was outlawed in 399 A.D. as a response to Christian pressure being put on the games - which resulted in incredible financial burdens to put them on in the first place - it dealt a crushing blow to the already ailing Roman economy. With the jobs from the Colosseum lost, the taxable income removed, and all the industries which relied on the Roman Colosseum for business, and many other, smaller factors, the removal of the Flavian Amphitheater's importance with no alternative replacement economic center, this directly resulted in one of the main economic factors that helped bring down the Roman Empire.

By Chad de las Casas

-- Traveling Italy: Travel tips for Italy --

Architecture of the Roman Colosseum: A close look at the Colosseum....

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Of all Roman amphitheatres, the Roman Colosseum is the largest. To the original Romans it was known as the Amphiteatrum Flavium (Flavian Amphitheatre), but has come to be known as the 'Colosseum' because of it's sheer size and its proximity to Nero's Colossus, a huge statue of the Roman Emperor Nero. In fact, the Roman Colosseum in its entirety was constructed atop a demolished villa that Nero had constructed during his reign. Nero's reigh was a time when Rome somewhat stagnated, he cared not for the well being of the Empire and its colonies, but rather after his own leisure and pleasure. Nero confiscated a large chunk of land right in the centre of Rome and then built upon it his Domus Aurea (Golden House). The exact sight of the Colosseum covered what was originally an artificial lake that had beautified Nero's utopian style villa.

Following the great fire of Rome that destroyed much of the city and lead to the eventual demise of Nero, the new Emperor, Vespasian, was quick to differentiate himself from Nero for the sake of his reign, not to mention his survival. It was a turbulent time for the Roman Empire. Vespasian realised a way to gain popularity was by taking the land that Nero had privatised for his own leisure, and giving it back to the people for theirs. Thus, the Roman Colosseum was commissioned by Vespasian in AD 75. Vespasian was the first in the Flavian Dynasty of Emperors, so the amphitheatre became known as that of the Flavians.

Because the Roman Colosseum structure was so huge, and construction lasted 10 years, Vespasian did not get to see the finished product of his plans. He died in AD 79. In his place Emperor Domitian, who came to the throne in AD 81, completed the wonder that his father had begun. The Roman Colosseum itself is entirely free standing, contrary to the other amphitheatres of the time. Elliptical in shape, its longer axis is 188m long and its shorter axis 156m wide. Its height is 48.5m, and easily towered over any other amphitheatre of the time. Its capacity was for 55,000 people to attend events such as gladiatorial games or chariot races.

A structure of this complexity required the input of Rome's most skilled architects and engineers who had to overcome problems such as selecting appropriate materials that could cope with the size and weight of the structure. They had to ensure that this Roman amphitheatre was aesthetically pleasing, while also capable of housing the masses of spectators. Vespasian also made provisions in his plans for a number of mechanisms that would function to change sets or elaborately transfer both animals and humans into the Colosseum arena. The result was an inspiring success.

There are many Greek influences in the aesthetics of the Roman Colosseum. The main example of this are the columns that support the outer circumference of the structure. At ground level the columns are set into the perimeter wall, and are of the Doric order; having very plain, round capitals. The second and third storeys fashion the more elaborate Ionic and Corinthian columns. Ionic columns have scrolls in their capitals, while Corinthian columns are decorated with acanthus leaves. On the fourth storey's attic wall, the engineers used Corinthian pilasters again set into the wall (engaged square pillars) instead of the engaged columns.

The uses of columns was not only structural but served to magnify the height of the Flavian Amphitheatre, while juxtaposing the curves of the surrounding arches in an aesthetically pleasing way. The extremity of the colosseum and its supporting piers, as well as the interior stairwell are made of Travertine, a limestone found in and around Rome. Peperino stonework and brick-covered concrete walls connect most of the internal piers and also support the radial barrel-vaults which hold up the tiered seating above. The seating itself was of marble up to the third storey, then, because of the need to reduce weight on the load-bearing structure, the fourth tier was constructed from wooden planking.

76 arches spanned the bottom circumference of the Roman colosseum. These served as alternating entrances and exits, and led onto two internal annular corridors that circumnavigated the inside of the theatre. These corridors were bisected at various intervals by radial corridors that either accessed the first rows of seating or internal stairways to the upper floors. The points where the passageways fed into the open arena was coined the Vomitorium, coming from the Latin word Vomitorio, and where the similar english word has its origins.
Gender and social standing denominated at which level spectators could sit inside the Roman Colosseum. Slaves and women were sent to the wooden seats at the highest points of the fourth floor. The Roman Emperor, on the other hand, enjoyed an arena side box which he entered through a triple archway located on the northern side accessed by a privated tunnel. The consuls sat at the same level opposite him, and in much the same level of luxury. Other arena side seats were occupied by senators and knights. Above them sat the common men, in descending order of importance. Vestal virgins were the only women allowed to sit ringside.

A huge valerium, or cover, could be rolled over the open top of the Roman Colosseum to ensure maximum shelter form rain wind or the hot Roman sunshine. A group of 100 sailors from the port of Misenum were charged with the responsibility of extending and retracting the Valerium.

by Abe Ropitini

Sex Shows at the Roman Colosseum?!: A Lesser-told Historical Tale....

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The first thing that might come to mind when imagining the Roman Colosseum are the spectacles of gladiatorial combat, men fighting each other to the death with the jeers and howls of the crowd, when finally one capitulates, then the sadistic emperor let's loose the lions. These are the images most think of when imagining one of the New Seven Wonders of the World. But what most people don't know of about the Roman Colosseum are the live sex shows that occurred there!

No doubt you are intrigued, but don't think this a simple exaggeration - these were not just stripteases to keep older men happy between bouts of blood and gore, but actual full blown spectacles of skin and lust, the Spice Channel of the ancient world, as it were.

The Roman Colosseum was a site of spectacles and debauchery that the entire Roman Empire were clambouring to see. For those citizens of Roma it was an escape from reality and bad politics, and a reminder to lowly plebians who couldn't afford his debt to the various cartels (called collegium at the time) that there was still someone who had it worse than you. A lot worse - getting torn apart by lions.

While the Roman Colosseum acted as the Spice Network for ancient Rome, it also served as the Discovery Channel, History Channel, ESPN, and HBO late night drama and comedy channels too. Comedians would tell stories for guffaws (and some would even have lions unleashed on them, to even more guffaws), plays would be put on while the next spectacle was quickly assembled, and slaves and animals would be displayed from all over the conquered world.

This was everyone's single chance outside of a Triumph (which were running remarkably dry after the death of Augustus) to see spectacles from the far reaches of the Roman empire. There was a great demand to see beasts from afar, especially elephants and giraffes which looked more like uncontrollable monsters than the animals Romans were used to.

The main events, the gladiator bouts, were often interspersed with other shows to beguile the audience. Trained lions and tigers would perform tricks alongside bears, while the beastarii, the animal trainers, would show off their talents, especially in the ancient bull fights. Equestrians, who we refer to now as knights, would often draw lances and joust with one another on horseback.

But perhaps the most alluring of all the shows were actually what could be referred to as advertisements. Rome was no stranger to sexual profligacy, it was a part of their every day Roman life. In most Roman homes there was easy access to any number of sexual devices by means of slaves and catamites. When that wasn't enough, and when a real professional delicacy was needed, Romans could turn to the brothels, which would often publicize their shows in the Roman Colosseum. These worked both as "commercial advertisements" as well as raw, raunchy spectacles of the earthly kind.

At times, the brothel owners would urge the lights be dimmed around the Roman Colosseum's main display, and then aided by visual enhancers, such as smoke and mist, the prostitutes would showcase their skills.

Acquisition of these "performance slots" were usually at the leisure of the Master of the Games - the absolute final authority on the games, and were an easy way to distract audiences while preparing for a particularly complex series of bouts.

A sure way for brothel owners to market themselves - and perhaps as valuable to them as the Superbowl commercials are now!

Travel and Tourist Tips for Rome, Italy: Tourist tips on making the most out of your trip to Rome, Italy. The best of Rome in 4 days.....

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Traveling back in time is what makes Rome an enchanting tourist destination. It's a place densely peppered with ancient scenic backdrops and colored in beautiful culture. The warmth and hospitality exceeds Paris, making it an eccezionale (exceptional), destination in Europe.

Travel and Tourist Tips for Rome, Italy
A 24-hour animated museum, Rome has a plethora of art, exciting culture, history and palatable foods and wine.

Just as Rome was not built in a day, a tourist to Rome should not expect to see every tourist site in one visit. When in Rome, there is so much to do in a very limited time. Even for the traveler who winces at engaging in the typical tourist adventure, Rome is filled with a trove of treasures. The art and museums of Rome are way too vast and awe-inspiring to mention each individually, but a few highlights can help prioritize your tourist attraction checklist.

The Coliseum (Roman Colosseum)

Although, this famous landmark, the Roman Colosseum is inundated with a hive of tourists, it's a must-see. One of the most recognizable symbols of Rome, and the world, the Roman Colosseum is regarded as a perfect example of ancient Roman architecture. Engineered in 72 AD, the Roman Colosseum was originally called the Flavian Amphitheatre. Shortly after the Coliseum was opened to the public, lurid games of bloody gladiator combat and wild beast shows took place.

For those with crowd-phobia, the best time to visit the Roman Colosseum is in the morning when the lighting is still luminous. Around the massive structure, tourists snap photos and Gladiator impersonators answer tourist questions and pose for photos (for an exhuberant fee). The Colosseum is open from 9 AM to 4 PM and until 6 PM during the summer months. (It costs 8,00 euros but the price for admission and the hours of business could change). Tours of the Roman Colosseum are either guided or self-guided with rented handheld radio sets.

Colosseum Tips: Tours of the Roman Coliseum occur every hour on the hour - so plan wisely. Remember to ask for tour information when you purchase your tickets. There is also a great deal of confusion when entering the Coliseum so make sure that you are in the correct entrance. Headsets are rented at another information desk in the Coliseum.

The Roman Forum (Foro Romano)

After you have visited the Roman Colosseum, you can head over to the Forum (virtually across the street). It's the perfect place to see some Roman ruins. Although many of the ruins may look the same, the most notable ruins are the Basilica of Constantine and Maxentius, the arch of Titus and the Arch of Septimius Severus, but it depends on personal taste. A pleasing feature about Rome is that many sights are engulfed by beautiful trees and flowers.

Tip: To take advantage of the scenic views, pack your own lunch and munch on something while overlooking some of Rome's splendours under a shaded tree. If you're traveling in the summer the heat at the Roman Forum can be intense - plan accordingly.

The Downside of Rome: Avoiding the crowds.

There aren't many downsides when visiting Rome, it simply depends on your personal taste. The only considerations for visiting Italy are the numbers of tourists and the dangerous scooters. Because Italy is famous for its culture and history, it is rampant with tourists. If you would like to avoid some of the travel insanity, visit Rome during the off peak season (the end of October to March). (Winters can be chilly though). Additionally, if you have a severe aversion to scooters, you might be a little overwhelmed in Rome, although nothing that their delicious food can't cure.

The Roman Pantheon

Architecturally exquisite, the Pantheon is world famous for its dome. It possesses the largest concrete dome ever created. The diameter is even greater than Michelangelo's dome of St. Peter's Basilica. The structure's sole light source is from an opening in the dome's apex.

Free entrance, the Roman Pantheon is generally open during daylight hours. It may be hard to find or identify in Rome, because on the exterior of the façade, the dome is concealed by a slanted rooftop. Photographing the exterior poses a few challenges as it is surrounded by other buildings. It resides like a large goal post at the one end of the Piazza Della Rotunda.

Tips: The fountain with an obelisk in the middle of Piazza della Rotunda is a good landmark to use in locating the Pantheon. After visiting the Pantheon enjoy a beverage at one of several cafés congregated around the Piazza Della Rotunda, and of course enjoy some people watching. (If for any reason, you have an American food craving a McDonalds is located adjacent to the Pantheon).

Vatican City

St. Peter's Basilica (Basilica di San Pietro)

Even if the Pope is unavailable the St. Peter's Basilica is well worth the wait in the queue. Going back to 319 AD, the artwork is mesmerizing. Michaelango's gems, the Pieta and the Cupola (Dome of St Peters) are gorgeous exhibits to see. Throughout the Catholic sanctuary, papal tombs are housed. For a picturesque journey to the Vatican, start at the Castel Sant'Angelo and then head west to Borgo Pio toward St. Peter's Square (Piazza San Pietro).

Tips: If you plan to go to St. Peters, make sure to not wear shorts or sleeveless blouses and be prepared for your bags to be searched before entering. Call in advance to determine if there are any special ceremonies at St. Peters to confirm that the Piazza and the museums are open to the public. Free tours are usually available Monday through Sunday, but it's best to confirm the touring times.

The Vatican Museum (Musei Vaticani)

After visiting St. Peter's Basilica, the Vatican Museums are a short stroll away. There is a lot more to the Vatican Museums then the Sistine Chapel. Allow a minimum of 3 hours to visit the Vatican museums because there are unfathomable treasures of antiquity to see. From the artworks that adorns the courtyard, to the Egyptian mummies and sculptures dating back to BC, the exhibits are astounding. (Admission is approximately 10 euros.)

Other Tourist Spotlights (The Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, and Piazza Navona)

Three other famous Rome tourist destinations are The Trevi Fountain, The Spanish Steps, and Piazza Navona.

The Spanish Steps is a good place to snap some photos and grab a bag of roasted chestnuts. Although space around the Trevi Fountain is limited due to crowds, the sculptured backdrops of the fountain are spellbinding. The fountain on the Piazza Navona is perfect for a late afternoon cappuccino at one of the outdoor cafes and an evening stroll.

Dining in Rome

The backdrop of an ancient city is what makes dining alfresco in Rome so romantic. Eating in Rome is an event within itself and dining service is rarely rushed. (Although some restaurants open early to serve tourists dinner, eight o'clock is the dining norm). Throughout Rome, the food is fresh and succulent. Carafe of vino (wine) are served for a reasonable price.

At piazza di Campo dei Fiori, terrace restaurants are abound for dining alfresco. It is located close to the Jewish ghetto and conveniently near to major attractions. Another good area for experiencing the Italian dining experience of Rome is in the Trastevere (The narrow streets and alleys of the area spill into the Piazza San Cosimato). For a local dining experience, try the Baccala. (The locals frequent the restaurant).

Rome Travel Tips

Learn a little Italian. Although most Italians speak English, it's good to learn a few words.

You can also check with the hotel concierge about any tourist packages and restaurant recommendations. (Remember to request places that the Romans frequent).

Tourist traps. Avoid restaurants with large American signage, most likely these are tourist traps (over-priced and lacking Italian authenticity).

Plan a touring budget. Admissions to museums and tours in Rome can add up rapidly. Remember to prioritize your tours if you are considering visiting many sites.

Dodge buses. Avoid tour sites that buses and tour groups converge upon. Plan shopping excursions before 1:00 PM or after 3:30 PM because many shops close daily for siestas.

Save on taxi/cab fare. The Tram system in Rome is an excellent way to see other neighborhoods and get around for less.

Keep it comfy. Many of the streets and sidewalks in Rome are cobblestone. Walking between tourist sites requires comfortable shoes.

Regardless of how much time you have in Rome, it will not be enough, unless you emigrate. If you are an explorer, the lesser known piazzas, parks and bridges offer great touring alternatives. New excavations are often unearthed in Rome, it is an ever-evolving city of immeasurable ancient treasures. The art history married to the amore of the Italian culture and natives make it a mecca for anyone to return, repeatedly.

by Holly Benz

-- Traveling Italy: Travel tips for Italy --


Related pages

Helpful Rome hotel tips: what you should check before making your Hotel Reservation in Rome.

What you need to know about apartments for your vacation in Rome Italy.

Find a Rome hotel near the Colosseum.

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