Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian Dynasty presented the majestic Colosseum as a gift to the Roman people. It was commissioned around 70-72 A.D. and is located east of the Roman Forum.
Vespasian’s son Titus officially opened the Colosseum (which was known as the Flavian Amphitheater) with 100 Days of Games. The games included intense gladiator combat and wild animal fights. There would be battles between dwarves who clubbed each other with meat cleavers. There would be shows where naked emperors would fight animals. Mythical deaths would be played out on stage, and even a free-for-all animal slaughter.
After four centuries of use, the arena fell into neglect in desperate need of repair. Up until the 18th century, it was used as a source of building materials. Even though two-thirds of the original structure has been destroyed, the amphitheater is still a very popular tourist destination. It will always be an iconic symbol of Rome and the city’s unbridled history.
How the Colosseum Came to Be
Rome endured a long series of civil wars even after the infamous Roman Emperor Nero took his own life in 68 A.D. The savage years after Nero’s death due to his misrule and excesses raged on throughout four emperor rulings. Finally, when the fourth emperor, Vespasian took over, he and his sons managed to tone down the excesses of the Roman court and restore Senate authority in the land.
Around 70-72 A.D. Emperor Vespasian returned to the Roman people and the lush land near the city where Nero had built his extravagant palace after the great fire of 64 A.D. On that site is where Vespasian decreed that he would build a new amphitheater which would be a place where the people of Rome could enjoy all types of entertainment.
It took nearly a decade to construct the building, which was a relatively quick time frame for a project of such a grand-scale. Titus officially dedicated the Colosseum in 80 A.D. with a festival that included 100 Days of Games. Titus was a beloved ruler and had earned the devotion of the people with his handling of recovery efforts after the infamous eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D. That event destroyed the towns of Herculaneum and Pompeii. The final stages of construction of the Colosseum were completed under the reign of Titus’ brother and his successor, Domitian.
The Horrendous Games and Events Performed at the Colosseum
What was seen as quality entertainment back in Roman times would be a horrific experience for many of us today. The Roman Colosseum was used for staging various events where people would fight to their deaths or slaughter animals for sport in front of hundreds of spectators. And it wasn’t always just men who participated in events at the area. Women would be sent in as well to murder each other.
There was one show in particular where a woman was dressed as the goddess Venus and stood before Emperor Titus. She declared “It is not enough that warrior Mars serves you in unconquered arms, Caesar. Venus herself serves you too.”
This was more than just a mere ceremony, it was a signal to the audience. They were not going to just see male gladiators beating each other to their deaths. They would also see women murdering each other also.
Titus’ brother Domitian, was in favor of this idea. When he took over the events at the Colosseum he had more women fight than any other emperor. Unlike the men, the women were usually untrained, beating each other or being pitted against the dwarfs in savage battles of desperation.
The male spectators loved the idea. “What sense of shame can be found in a woman wearing a helmet,” one Roman wrote, “who shuns femininity and loves brute force!”
Forcing Prisoners to End Their Lives Onstage
In one of the most brutal fates imaginable, the crowd at the Colosseum would also watch groups of prisoners be forced into the area to kill each other. There was even one prisoner who shoved his head between the spokes of a spinning cart wheel in an effort to snap his own neck.
One of the most extreme cases was when a desperate German prisoner, who had no other option, grabbed the lavatory sponge from the communal toilet and thrust it down his throat, choking himself to death.
The Romans simply saw this act of desperation as another part of the gamers, but upon finding out about the suicide, the philosopher Seneca wrote, “What a brave fellow! He surely deserved to be allowed to choose his fate! How bravely he would have wielded a sword!”