A symbol of Rome and one of the most famous landmarks in the world, the Colosseum remains as impressive today as it was in the time of the gladiators. While it was once a place of festivity and entertainment for some, and suffering for others, it is now a portal of sorts into the ancient world. Visitors come from all corners of the globe to peek inside the monumental structure and get a taste of what life was like 2000 years ago.
Keep reading to find out 10 fascinating facts that you might not have known about the famous Colosseum.
10 Some Historians Believe It Was Once Used For Naval Battles
There is some evidence to suggest that the Colosseum was also used for naval battles (mock battles, of course). According to Walks Inside Rome, there are underground canals beneath the monuments that brought in water from aqueducts around the city. After all, Ancient Rome was famous for its advanced plumbing!
Whether or not the Colosseum was actually filled so that there could be mock naval battles for entertainment is debated among historians. If it did happen, it didn’t last long, as Romans much preferred to watch fights between gladiators.
9 The Romans Didn’t Call It The Colosseum
All around the world, the enormous amphitheater is known as the Colosseum, but that’s not how the Ancient Romans referred to it. Instead, the building was originally known as the Flavian Amphitheater. This is because it was constructed under the order of the Emperors Vespasian and Titus, who were of the Flavian Dynasty.
Urben explains that the name Colosseum didn’t originate until the Middle Ages. Some believe that it came from the phrase “Colis Eum?” which translates to “Do you love him?” This was said to be asked at the nearby statue of Nero, which was later associated with devil worship.
8 One Emperor Actually Fought With The Gladiators
The Romans loved watching games in the Colosseum, and everybody knew the rules. Fighting was for gladiators, not the Emperor. But there was one Roman Emperor who did once appear on the arena floor. Commodus, who doesn’t have the best reputation as far as Roman Emperors go, is said to have fought in the arena while making his opponents use wooden swords. Get Your Guide explains that much of it had to do with ego-boosting.
Commodus is portrayed in the film Gladiator by Joaquin Phoenix. He is believed to have slain many animals in the arena during his rule.
7 There Must Be A Lot Of Ghosts Hovering Around The Colosseum
There are debates among historians regarding many facts about the Colosseum, but there is one fact that most seem to agree with: it was the site of hundreds of thousands of deaths. Experts believe that there were around 500,000 people who lost their lives while fighting in the Colosseum, and more than one million animals, all slain for the purposes of entertainment.
Though modern people tend to romanticize the idea of being a gladiator, the reality is that many gladiators were slaves or former prisoners. While the audience had their favorites, many of the gladiators ended up dead.
6 The Many Gates Meant That The Colosseum Could Be Quickly Evacuated
If you’ve ever been to a major concert in a huge entertainment venue, you’ll know how long it can take to empty the building. With a crowd of thousands around you, it can take ages to just get outside to the road. But the Romans didn’t have that problem when it was time to leave the Colosseum.
Though the arena could fit 87,000 spectators inside, it was often emptied in a matter of minutes. This is because the general public had no less than 76 gates on the ground level which they could leave through.
5 It Looked Very Different In The Time Of The Gladiators
From looking at the ruins, we can get a reasonable idea of the overall shape the Colosseum had in its glory days. But according to many sources, it still looked completely different from what most of us imagine. Archeologists have uncovered that the building was actually a very colorful structure.
The hallways inside the Colosseum are said to have been painted light blue, green, red, and black. There also would have been some graffiti on the walls, since the gladiators and their fans were permitted to doodle in certain places.
4 The Movie Wasn’t Filmed There
Gladiator is one of the most famous movies to ever be set in Ancient Rome, and a large part of it takes place in the Colosseum. Many fans will be shocked to know that, although the film had a huge budget, it wasn’t actually filmed in the famous arena.
Filming it in the Colosseum was certainly the intention, and director Ridley Scott obtained permission to do so. But the real thing just didn’t have the look that he was going for. To solve the problem, he built his own arena in Malta.
3 All Roman Citizens Were Invited To Watch The Games
Unlike sports games today that cost money to get into, the games held at the Colosseum were actually free for Roman citizens. That’s because the arena was actually used to promote the political agendas of the Emperors. If foreigners wanted to watch the games, they had to pay.
Being a Roman citizen wasn’t about just being born in Rome. It had to do with who your parents were and what rights they had, although you could also become a citizen (with some limitations). At later stages of the Empire, it became much easier to obtain citizenship.
2 It’s Old, But Not As Old As Other Ancient Monuments
It doesn’t take a genius to work out that the Colosseum is a very old building. Since its foundations were first laid in 72 AD, it’s nearly 2000 years old and has survived an awful lot in that time. Even though the Colosseum is old, it might be considered relatively new when compared to other ancient monuments.
The Pyramids of Giza, for example, were about as old as the Colosseum is now when the Colosseum was being built. In other words, they’re twice as old. And England’s Stonehenge is thought to date back 5000 years.
1 Only A Third Of The Original Building Is Left Standing
As mentioned, we tend to have a pretty good idea of the overall shape of the Colosseum from looking at its ruins today. Or do we? It’s estimated that only a third of the original building is left standing, which means that it probably did look very different from what we understand.
The crumbling ruins of the Colosseum were used to build other magnificent structures in Rome before there was great interest in preserving it. Parts of St. Peter’s Basilica and Palazzo Barberini, among other buildings, were constructed using materials sourced from the Colosseum.