RAMBLES IN ROME
A noble wreck in ruinous perfection."—BYRON".
The vast amphitheatre erected in the centre of ancient Home by
Vespasian was known to the ancient Romans as the Flavian Amphitheatre. It was begun by the Flavian emperors A.D. 72, and dedicated
A.D. 80. It is 157 feet high, and is 1900 feet in circumference, and was
built by the captive Jews after the fall of Jerusalem. Originally the
upper story was of wood, but this was burned down, and it was
rebuilt with travertine stone like the rest of the edifice.
Martial tells us that its site was formerly occupied by the artificial lakes of
Nero; and Marcellinus (xvi. x. 14) says,
"The vast masses of the
amphitheatre so solidly erected of Tiburtine stone, to the top of
which human vision can scarcely reach." All the brickwork we now
see are repairs at various dates after the dedication; but there is
enough travertine left at different points to show that it was originally
built of this stone, as recorded by the historian. For nearly five
hundred years it was the popular resort of the Roman populace and
their betters. There were eighty arches of entrance, and it held one
hundred thousand people, and could be emptied in ten minutes; such
were the order kept and regulations observed that there was no confusion.
It was devoted to the exhibition of wild beasts, their fighting
together, gladiators fighting together, or with beasts, and naval
fights. On these latter displays the stage or arena was moved, water
let in, and naval fights represented in real earnest.
Suetonius ("Vespasian," vii.), says, " He began an amphitheatre in
the middle of the city, upon finding that Augustus had projected
such a work." Ibid. ("Titus," vi.): " He entertained the people with
most magnificent spectacles, and in one day brought into the amphitheatre
five thousand wild beasts of all kinds."
The last display was given by Theodoric in 523; and in 555
the lower part was destroyed by a flood from the Tiber, when
the whole of Rome was under water for seven days. From then
we must date the ruin of the Flavian Amphitheatre—the Romans
themselves hastening on the work, using the material for building
Which on its public shows unpeopbd Rome,
And held uncrowded nations in its womb."—JUVENAL.
It is held by the Roman Church, on the authority of an inscription
found in the Catacombs, that the architect of the Colosseum was
one Gaudentius; but that inscription only says that he was employed
there. We believe the architect to have been Aterius, whose
monument is now in the Lateran, and upon which several buildings
are represented of which he was no doubt the architect, also the
machine used to raise the stones into their places. He flourished
at the end of the first century, and, no doubt, these buildings shown
in relief upon his tomb were erected by him, the dates agreeing; for
if not, why should they be there represented?
First, we have an arch which says on it, " Arcus ad Isis. Now if we compare this with the Arch of Constantine, we find it is the same
without the attic. Then we have the amphitheatre without the
upper story; then an arch (query, Arch of Domitian?). Then
another arch with the words, "Arcus in Sacra Via Summa:" compare
this with the Arch of Titus, and, minus the restorations, it will
be found to be the same. Then there is a temple agreeing with the
descriptions of that of Jupiter Stator upon the Palatine. All these
buildings were erected or rebuilt about this time, and from being
recorded on this monument of the Aterii, tend to show that Aterius
was the architect of them.
When perfect, the Colosseum consisted of four stories—the
lowest, of the Doric order, 30 feet high; the second, Ionic, 38 feet
high; the third, Corinthian, about the same height; and the fourth,
also Corinthian, 44 feet high. The holes in the cornice with the
corbels below them were to receive the masts that supported the
velaria, on the outside.
The numerous holes in the stone were made in the middle ages for
the purpose of extracting the iron cramps that kept the stones from
shifting. The long diameter is 658 feet, the shorter 558 feet; the
arena is 298 feet by 177 in its widest part.
The last performance was a bull-fight, held at the expense of the
Koman nobles, in the year 1332. Many martyrs are said to have
perished in the Colosseum during the persecutions of the early
Christians, and among others S. Ignatius, who was brought from
Antioch to be devoured by wild beasts. Benedict XIV. consecrated
the building to the Christian martyrs, A.D. 1570.
In excavating the Basilica of S. Clement, the Eev. Father Mullooly found (1870) the remains of S. Ignatius, and had them carried
with great ceremony over the scene on the anniversary of his
At the present day there remains sufficient to indicate the construction
of the building, though but a small portion of the immense
outer shell, which originally both adorned and formed an impenetrable
girdle round the whole, has been preserved. In the interior,
a great deal of rebuilding has been necessary for its preservation.
Vast as the building is, its construction is easily understood; a
simple segment of the whole serving to show how all the others succeed
one another like the cells of a bee-hive.
The upper part was originally of wood only, and was burned, having
been set on fire by lightning. The three lower stories only are of
the time of the Flavian emperors; the upper story was rebuilt
and added in the third century, and only finished in the time of the Gordiani, as is shown by the coins representing it. The imperial
entrance was from the Esquiline side, between the arches No. 38, 39,
which is without number. Commodus constructed an underground
passage from the arena to the Palatine, which has not yet been discovered,
his so-called passage (on the right in entering') being that by
which the dead bodies were carried from the arena. Dion Cassius
says: " Upon the last day of the sports his helmet was taken off
and fell through the door where the dead used to be carried
The area, basement, or ground-floor, was flooded for the naval
fights. Surrounding this were the dens, in front of which was a
channel for fresh water for supplying the animals with drink—a
spring still supplies it; about ten feet above was the movable stage
sprinkled with sand for the combats, and hence called the arena. A
few feet above the arena was the podium, or seat of the emperor,
vestal virgins, &c., protected from the arena by iron bars. Behind
the podium was a double portico, which ran round the whole building.
Fragments of the marble chimeras, with long wings, that
ornamented the seats of the podium have been found.
The three successive tiers were called cavea. Above these was a
tier for the people ; above this one for the " gods;" thus making six
in all. The amphitheatre seated eighty-seven thousand people, and
there was standing room for thirteen thousand more.
The walls standing upon the area, composed of tufa, travertine,
and brick, old material re-used, were built at a period long after
the building was dedicated, when the naval fights being abandoned
there was no longer any occasion for a movable stage or arena as
before. They contained the machinery for the stage above, and for
the lifts or pegmata to send men or beasts from the area to the arena.
Probably these are the walls thus alluded to by Dion Cassius: " [He
Commodus] divided the theatre into four parts by two partitions
that cut through diametrically, and by right angles, to the end that
from the galleries that were round about he might with greater ease
single out the beasts he aimed at." "
The emperor having employed himself in shooting from above
descended afterwards to the bottom of the theatre, and there
slew some other private beasts, whereof some made toward him,
others were brought to him, and others were shut up in dens.
Returning after dinner, he used the exercises of a gladiator, with a
shield in his right hand, and in his left a wooden sword. After him
fought those whom he had chosen in the morning at the bottom of the theatre." Also, in his life of Septimius Severus, he says: " There
was a kind of cloister made in the amphitheatre, in the form of a
whip, to receive them [the wild beasts]. On a sudden there issued
out bears, lions, ostriches, wild asses, and foreign bulls."
The walls before us are of very bad construction, evidently repairs
of a late date: they are the work of either Lampridius, prefect of
Rome under Valentinian III., 425-455, who repaired the steps and
renewed the arena; or of Basilius, who restored the podium and
arena after their destruction by an earthquake in 486—this we learn
from two inscriptions standing at the entrance. Half way, on each
side, two large passages have been discovered choked up with mud :
they were the aqueducts to bring the water for the naumachice from
the reservoirs upon the Esquiline and Cseliau Hills respectively; from
the small openings in the blind arches the water also poured out over
the top of the dens, thus forming cascades all round. At the end
opposite the present entrance a long passage has been opened, above
the level of the area floor; below this passage is the great drain, with
the remains of the iron grating to prevent large objects going down:
this and the passage were closed by flood-gates on naval representations,
which can be clearly seen in the construction. On the right
and left of this passage, connected with it, but at a lower level, two
dens have been cleared out, 27 yards long by 5 wide, containing six
holes in the floor, in the centre of square blocks of stone, and these
holes are faced with bronze, evidently the sockets into which metal
posts were fixed to which the beasts were chained. On the fragments
depicting scenes from the arena, the animals are shown with
a long piece of rope or chain dangling from their necks, which seems
to bear out our idea that they were attached to posts fixed in these
sockets, and that as they were wanted the chain or rope was cut, and
they were free to rush upon the arena.
The corbels round the front of the line of arches under the podium
are in pairs, and between them the masts were inserted to support
the awning on the inside, as the holes and corbels supported the
masts on the outside; for we find on examination that those inside
are exactly in a line with those outside at the top of the building.
These corbels are 29 inches deep, and from them to the level of the
area is 10 feet, and to the present surface 11 feet; between each
pair of corbels are chases 19 inches wide, ending on a block of travertine
for the masts to rest on, the chases coming down the yard
below the corbels, which are 15 feet apart. They probably helped to "
Recently removed to clean out the drain.support the arena, and show what the height of this wooden arena
must have been, and that from its vast size it must have had a framework
and supports: the numerous holes on the area, in travertine,
were for the heels of the supports; one of these, a square one, has
remains of the decayed timber in it.
In the central passage, resting on the area and extending as far as
the excavations, is an ancient wooden framework in a decomposed
state. Various suggestions have been made as to its vise,—we suppose
it to be the framework and joists of the flooring covering the central
passage; others, a sort of tramway for running the cages along,—but
till the whole space has been cleared out it is impossible to arrive at
a correct estimate of its use.
Honorius, A.D. 395, having abolished the gladiatorial combats,
probably the last display of wild beasts was that given by King
Theodoric at the beginning of the sixth century.
The soil cleared out in the passage, dens, galleries, and area was
found to be composed of mud deposited during a flood or floods
by the Tiber, the composition of which may still be seen in parts
of the long passage not yet cleared. The most remarkable of
these floods, which lasted some days and did immense damage to
the city, were those of A.D. 555, 590, 725, 778, 1476, 1530, 1557,
We may presume, from the nature of the soil, that at some early
date, probably A.D. 555, one of those terrible floods reached the
Colosseum, and on the waters retiring a great deposit of mud was
left, covering the old area floor and filling up the various passages
and galleries, and that the authorities, instead of clearing out this
deposit, added to it to make a solid floor, and used the arena above;
for after that date we have no record of its being used, with the
exception of the bull-fight.
By applying to the custodian, the visitor can ascend to the top, where
a most magnificent view is enjoyed, the only way to get a good idea
of its size and oval shape, and where the construction of the upper
galleries can be studied. It will be seen that the arches forming the
tiers of seats have at some date been filled in with brickwork, of the
time of Alexander Severus and the Gordiani. The water-courses for
keeping the building cool in hot weather can also be traced. The
highest wall of all, the inside brick casing of which is partly gone,
is built of fragments evidently not originally intended for the purpose
for which they are used, corresponding to a great extent with
the construction of the walls upon the area. The Colosseum was for a long time used as a quarry, from which
several of the palaces in Rome were built.
Should the visitor be fortunate enough to see the ruin under
moonlight, or when it is illuminated with Bengal lights, he will
see it in its grandeur, for " it will not bear the brightness of the
ABOUT THE COLOSSEUM
HISTORY OF THE TIME
The Siege of Jerusalem Brief History of Rome 1885
1. Description of Roman Armies, &c - Josephus
2. How Titus Marched to Jerusalem - Josephus
3. The Destruction of the City - Collier
4. The Triumphant Return of Titus - Josephus