Colosseum Essay


If New York had the Statue of Liberty and France had the Eiffel Tower, Rome would always have the Colosseum. A tourist’s visit to Rome would never be complete without visiting the bulwark that could testify the splendor of the Roman history. It was the proof of the puissance of the Roman Empire. It had witnessed the conspiracies, entertainment as well as the torture that people had to endure within its walls. For almost four centuries, it had served as a citadel, a church, a sepulcher, a tabernacle, and a lot more (DuTemple 10). It emulated the grandeur of the Roman history and its civilization. Seeing it even from afar would make one feel stunned by its vast magnificence. It was the biggest amphitheater that was impossible to miss – the Colosseum.

The Roman Colosseum was actually an egg-shaped amphitheater situated in the heart of Rome. Everyday a lot of tourists flock to marvel the grandiosity of the place. They cannot help but be mesmerized by the architectural designs, the strength of the pillars and the majestic aura it emits. Imagine how the people of ancient Rome could create a colossal structure like this that was so incomparable in terms of size, proportion and design. While the rest of the world were still beginning to develop, Rome was already far ahead.   This amphitheater was a link that connected the past to the present. It was not just a historical landmark of Rome per se but of the world. If this edifice could testify, it must have attested how the Romans once conquered the world.  By visiting the Colosseum, one could meet its previous honorable guests. This was the same spot where the venerated emperors of Rome stayed to watch. It was the edifice that witnessed torture of countless people. It witnessed Rome as a city state, a papal seat and even as a capital of the Mediterranean empire. It amplified the glory of the Renaissance and embraced the coming of the modern age.

The Colosseum was a giant structure that was hard to miss when reviewing the roman history. It was a Roman contribution to the World.  It revealed how resourceful, innovative and gifted the Romans were in terms of architecture and engineering. From its façade to its arches as well as the designs and the durability of the materials used in the building. It had stood the test of time.   It was an accolade of the might of the Roman Empire and a legacy left by a determined and altruistic emperor. One cannot study this edifice without perusing its past. The story why the Colosseum was built was embedded in the history and culture of the Roman Empire (DuTemple 7).

The Colosseum was built by a Flavian Emperor Vespasian. He built it so that people could have a venue to perform public activities. The building of the Colosseum had a political origin. As a matter of fact, it was a strategy used by Vespasian to win the hearts of the people. He knew that the people were already frustrated and tired of the corruption and abuse of their previous rulers. He used this disgruntlement of the people to win their hearts. By giving them what they want, he was able to win the hearts of these people. During those times, there gladiators and animal fights amused a lot of people. However, Rome was already crowded and there were no ample space for the arena and the spectators. The Colosseum was actually his gift for the Romans. He, along with his two sons, had built the Colosseum.  That was why this Colosseum was also called a “Flavian Amphitheater”, a tribute to remember the Flavian emperors who built it (DuTemple 6).

The etymology of the word Colosseum had several versions. Some accounts claimed that it was derived from the colossal statue of the previous emperor, Nero that was placed nearby. It can also be attributed to the massive size of the building (Huskinson 11).

Despite the power bestowed upon him to be the Emperor of Rome in AD 69, Vespasian remained meek and practical. He had taken good care of his reputation by giving something back to the people to enjoy. He did not live a luxurious life like Nero. As a matter of fact, he despised Nero and his policies (Bussagli 120). He wanted to make a change in his leadership. He used a systematic strategy in restoring and developing the vast amount of land that Nero grabbled. He focused on developing communal utilities and centers.  During his reign, a lot centers for the community were build.  He drained the lake and had it filled with land. He ordered twenty-four elephant to move the huge statue of Nero to a place near the Colosseum (Bussagli 120). He wanted to eradicate all the traces of Nero’s realm by building from his own. As a matter of fact, he did his best to destroy the Golden House of Nero and all infrastructures he built. Instead, he built temples for the Roman gods and other infrastructures (Scherer 90).

It will be noted that before Vespasian rose to the throne, the people had to bear with the whims of Nero, an emperor from the line of Augustus Caesar. He had had occupied a vast amount of land to be a part of his residence. As a matter of fact, the huge Colosseum was formerly an ornamental lake made to adorn his place. Surrounding it were villas and other leisure places exclusive only for the emperor.  That was why the Colosseum was near the Golden House built by Nero. A lot of people hated him because Nero always took something from the people and did not give anything back. When he died, there were nominations done and Vespasian was the only one fortunate enough to be alive and reign. After Vespasian’s death, the whole architectural masterpiece was opened for public by his son, Titus. It was finally completed by his brother Domitian (Scherer 80).

The Colosseum was a vast amphitheater that can accommodate about 50,000 people. Amphitheaters during those times were built for people to gather and be entertained. . At that time there were no televisions, radio or any form of modern entertainment that were enjoyed today. Thus, the emperor built an edifice that would serve as an avenue for people to gather and be entertained. An amphitheater was appears like a juxtaposition of two theaters so that it could be used for few or even large number of spectators. It was used to hold shows and events like the gladiator show, public trials, to mention a few (Milani-Snatarpia). It was commonly quoted as the “Amphitheater of Death.” (DuTemple 5).

            It took more than five years to complete the structure. It was actually inaugurated on A.D. 80 by Emperor Titus. (Sear 134). The inauguration of the Colosseum was declared a public holiday. It was the first day that people from all walks of life were invited by the emperor. The crowd was so elated to enter the impressive edifice in the presence of the Roman Emperor. The opening started with a remarkable procession of the government officials, followed by the elites, the athletes and the convicted people to be castigated in the arena (DuTemple 8).

            The cortege became thrilling because of the gladiators and the wild animals that amused a lot of people. In order to get out of the arena, one must win by killing the other. It could be fight between a gladiator against a wild animal or a gladiator with another gladiator. If the gladiator was unsuccessful, then it would be his graveyard. If he won, it would be his field of glory. The event was also graced with skilled dancers who were dancing in the streets enticing the people with their melodic music. The arena was filled with the aroma of incense carried by the priests as an offering to the Roman gods while the beautiful girls spread. The pinnacle of the gaiety was the presence of the emperor himself seated on a majestic chair being carried by several men. He was accepted by thousand of people with revering acclaim. They rose in respect as he passed and continued to applaud him until he signaled the silence to start the frolic (DuTemple 10).

            The battles of the gladiators were one of the events that made the Colosseum popular. It was actually one of the reasons why it was built   It was a game formerly held to amuse the people in a funeral. It was adapted from the Etruscans who believed that a blood shed on the grave of a person could give honor.  However, the Romans viewed it as an entertaining event. The elite Romans grew fond of watching as gladiators kill each other. With its popularity, a lot of people became interested to watch it. It became an outlet of the rich to flaunt their affluence and power. Before, they performed before in small circus and forums that were not conducive to its increasing number of fans. That was reason why the Colosseum was designed that way so that people on top could still see the arena. The gladiators who had the honor to fight in this huge arena were trained and professional. It was a survival of the fittest. The final decision whether they would live or not depend on the whims of the Emperor himself. If the emperor was pleased, he might spare the lives of the gladiator (DuTemple 12). The training of gladiators who would be performing in front of the emperor became in demand. Originally, gladiators came from slaves, prisoners of war, convicted people or those people who were deprived of any rights by the Romans. Fighting in the arena of the Colosseum could be their only means of redemption or doom. They could die in vain or live to be a star. Whoever wins the battle usually captivated the hearts of the crowd. He will be welcomed by thousands of people like a hero. The gladiator who lived could win the heart of the emperor and be given wealth. A lot of empress and emperors actually fell in love with gladiators and some of them even became obsessed with a latter’ charisma (Huskinson 20).

            At the beginning, the people who were trained as gladiators were those whose lives did not matter to the Romans. They were people deprived of any rights. However, with the hype given by the public towards the gladiators, a lot of elites also trained to be one. It served as a venue for them to acquire popularity among the people. With the rise of Christianity in Rome, these pagan events were actually challenged. Christians trained themselves as gladiators and fought in the arena. This was to show multitudes of people that their victory could be attributed to their religion.

            There was some irony in considering the Colosseum as a symbol of Rome. Imagine that this erect structure had been the silent witness of the brutality of the ancient Romans. It was built as a battle ground for gladiator who had no choice but to kill another in order to survive. It was their form of entertainment. Thousands of people were betting on who will win between the two. The value of human life was sent aside. A lot of people died mercilessly in these ground. In fact thousands of people died in these grounds being watched. Yet, the Romans were proud of its heritage. As long as this symbol of Rome, so will the memoir of the gladiators and people who died in these grounds (Huskinson 13).

            On the other hand, this edifice served as a good avenue to unite the people of Rome. It was the chance of the common people in the same building as the emperor and watched the same event that he watched. It was also a strategy of the emperor to win the hearts of its people. Since entertainment was what most people wanted, giving them the privilege to watch a spectacular show that was worthy to be watched by the emperor. In return people became supportive to the emperor and people became united at the expense of the gladiators battling for their lives in the center (Huskinson 20).

            The Colosseum was conceptualized out of the cravings of the people for entertainment. The imperial engineers and architects first identified the number of people that an amphitheater could accommodate. Since gladiator games had drawn thousands of avid fans, they need to build an edifice that could accommodate thousands of people. Taking into consideration the flaws of previous infrastructure where only the privileged few could watch the entire show, they designed a tiered seating so that people on top could still see what is happening in the arena (Huskinson).

The Colosseum was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian to be built by imperial engineer on AD 75 (Sear 139). It was an imperial engineer named Vitruvius who made a great contribution in the architecture and engineering of the Colosseum. He believed that before building a certain edifice, its function must first be identified. He considered that the prime function of a building would be its capacity to serve as a citadel. For it to optimize its function, materials to be used should be durable and strong. Along with its function and the materials used, a building should also have elegance. It should captivate the attention of the passersby. Thus, the key elements considered in building that colossal structure were its function, its components as well as its aesthetics (Huskinson).

The first proposal for the materials to be used in the layered seats would have been wooden benches. However, after considering the number of people that it needed to accommodate, it was deduced that it was not sturdy enough. Thus, durable materials were used for this purpose. The main component used to build the Colosseum was the Travertine lime stone. Pumice was also combined with the cement in making the vaults (“Antiquities of Rome”).  The walls and structure of the Colosseum were made extraordinarily strong because of the manner the concrete was built. It was formed by layers of facing materials that holds the viscous cement in the middle. Thus, when it set, it became firm and served as the framework of the Colosseum (Huskinson). Almost three hundred tons of iron was used to connect these blocks of cement together.  The bulk of the workers who build this great Colosseum were actually Jewish prisoners. However, a large number of army, mason, blacksmiths, bronze and marble workers and a lot more skilled workers were needed to create and materialize the designs of the building. (Sear 138).

            They first identified the spot where the arena would be. From that focal point, they built layering walls and seating with similar shape whose passages tapers as it moves toward the aisle. Vaults covered the void between the walls.  The vaults actually covered the passages that circled continuously until it reached the top. On the arena per se, four passages were allocated for the movement. (Huskinson). Ideally, one of these passages was reserved for the emperor himself and the top officials of his empire. The two other passages were reserved for religious corteges and the last one was reserved for removing dead bodies. However, there were claims that the two passages were really reserved for the emperor and his allies and the other two for the gladiators. The spectators use the corridors as well as the tunnels to enter the cavea. The openings were called “vomitoria” and there were almost 160 of them through out the Colosseum. (“The Antiquities of Rome”) Today there were about seventy-six numbered gates around the perimeter that the public could use to get inside the building (“Antiquities of Rome”).

            The Colosseum appeared like an ellipse that measured approximately 620ft by 513 ft in length. It was approximately 165 feet high. The area of the interior measured approximately 287 ft by 180 ft. (“Antiquities of Rome”). The floor is proportionally divided into four floors. Every floor was approximately forty feet high. Every floor was adorned by arcades and colonnades with vintage design. There were approximately 80 arches. The fourth floor does not have any arches. Rather it has squared windows that lights up the ground. The distances of the arches, the spaces and the mass part of each floor were consistent on every floor. The arch on one floor is parallel to the arch of the next floor. It appeared like one arch is on top of another. The same goes for the spaces in between as well as the solid parts. The solid and void parts are consistently aligned in every floor that it looked like one whole mass. This formation actually contributed to the stability of the structure (Huskinson).

The semi – circle design of the arches as well as the colonnades blended and complemented each other and had excellent proportion. The designs used in the Colosseum were actually adapted from several civilizations. The architectural order of the pillars was Tuscan, Doric, Ionic, Corinthian and Composite. The Doric order measured around four to seven in diameter while the Ionic measured nine to ten diameters tall. Each of the order had contributions. The Doric and Tuscan orders contributed the strength and sturdiness of structure. The Ionic and Corinthian order added elegance and splendor.  The columns were closely set to emphasize its strength. The Greek architectural concepts were also adapted. The pillars had shafts and a capital while frieze, cornice and architrave comprise the entablature. The exterior façade of the building was awe-inspiring. As a matter of fact, it was much more attractive outside than inside. It was intended to impose splendor with its grand arches and articulation.   Its contour and design emulated the remarkable contribution of the Roman Architecture. It had greatly influenced the foundations of architecture all over the world. Today, a lot of structures and coliseums were patterned after the Colosseum. Its columns and cornices were carefully crafted to flaunt imperial majesty. The Colosseum stood as an emblem of the greatness of the imperial Rome (Huskinson).

            The seats inside the Colosseum were actually meant to be free for everyone. However, the arrangement of the seats would be based on their social classes. The seats on the upper end that was quite far from the arena were made of wood. These were the only seats that women, poor and foreigners could occupy. The views of the arena got blurred as it gets to the top. That was why the lower levels were reserved for Romans. Their seats were made of marble. Those levels were still categorized according to social ranking. The more comfortable levels were reserved for higher officials and wealthy businessmen. Since this colosseum was intended for everyone, even slaves were also allowed to watch. However, they need to stand on top of the wooden scaffold at the topmost portion.   A comfortable portion called podium was also made for special visitors. There were seats for the archers whose main duty is to protect the vast number of people watching from the wild animals or gladiators (“Antiquities of Rome”).

The arena of the Coliseum was actually open. It does not have any roof at all. That was the reason why its field could be seen on a top view.  However, the seats of the people watching were covered. A sail called “Velarium” was actually placed on top of the Colosseum and tied in place. It actually weighed around 24 tons and fastened across the pillars to protect the watching public from the rays of the sun as well as the rain. This way, they were able to enjoy watching the gladiator games more comfortably (“Antiquities of Rome”).

            The arena was covered with sand and wood. Below it was a huge basement composed of several rooms that serve as the backstage of the performers. These were also allocated for the prisoners and wild animals .This  basement was linked to some tunnels that lead to gladiator schools and morgue. It was approximately 18 ft. high. It was also designed with a ramp and apertures to add sensation to the performance (“Antiquities of Rome”). It was Domitian who suggested that the mazes on the ground as well as the systematic caging of animals. Roman’s creativity and innovation was also manifested in the system used for the elevation of the stage just like the one that we have today. It was systematically arranged so that the performance could proceed smoothly. Through the hinged platforms, the performance and tricks of the animals and performers on the ground can be done smoothly.  (Sear 141).

The water supply of the Colosseum was good and systematic. Water fountains were provided for the thirsty watchers. There was underground water used to clean the arena. The sewage system for draining water from the rain was different from the sewage system used for wastes. Lavatories were also provided for public use (“History of the Colosseum”).

The use of the Colosseum for gladiator show became less and less as the Roman Empire began to collapse. The ascent of Christianity discouraged those barbaric events. A lot of earthquakes also caused minor damages in the edifice.  Its was not maintained well before so some of the ruins was not completely restored (“History of the Colosseum”)

The Roman Colosseum had a great influence not just in architecture but also in the world of Art. It had inspired a lot of poets all over the world. A lot of poems were attributed to the splendour of the Colosseum. A lot of tribute about the Colosseum was mentioned in the works of the early Romantic poets. It had even influenced the foreign poets and novelists that were famous today. The rhetorical phrases attributed to the beauty of the Colosseum dazzled by the moonlight were the common trend even after generations. Lovers flock the Colosseum to view its breathtaking serenity. Poets and gifted writers could not help but write a prose upon the glimpse of the Colosseum (Scherer 85).

There were a lot of flowers growing in the Colosseum. An approximate number of about 420 species of flowers were identified to thrive in that field. Flowers like rosemary, cherries, violets and marigold to name a few graced the arena with its lively colors (Scherer 88). The flowers inside the Colosseum, along with the gentle moonlight shining through the windows were a view that was breathtaking and invigorating (Scherer 88).

The arena was no longer used for barbaric entertainment. It was being preserved and used for concerts and musical plays (Scherer 89). The Colosseum that we knew today did not simply stood as an architectural legacy. Its antiquities cannot be surpassed. The conceptualization, effective and organized planning and engineering were so perfect that it matched the exact function of the building. (Sears 144) The building of the Colosseum was like a puzzle that formed piece by piece until it was perfectly in place. From exterior to interior, from the around to the top edge, it was carefully arranged.

            The Colosseum can be considered as a link to the grandeur and brutality of the past. By looking over the empty arena today, one canot help but be reminded of what transpired within its pillars centuries ego. One cannot help but be mystified by the secrets kept  within its pillars and arches. Its ground contained stories of thousands of nameless people who died for the sake of entertainment.  Looking over the seat reserved for emperors reminded us of their eloquence as well as their caprice. The Colosseum will continually remind us that no matter how imposing and majestic a place could be, it still had some dark spots hidden within itself. Its cultural legacy was incomparable, however, along with that reveals a the truth about its ruthless past.

Works Cited

Bussagli, Marco. Rome: Art and Architecture. Slovenia: Koneman Verlagsgesell Schaft mbH,


DuTemple, Lesley. The Colosseum. Minnesotta:Lerner Publications, 2003.

Huskinson, J. and James, P. An Introduction to Humanities – The Colosseum – Block 2. United Kingdom: Open University Worldwide, Ltd., 2006.

Milani-Santarpia, Giovanni. N.d. “Antiquities of Rome.”Mariamilani.24 April

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Scherer, Margaret. Marvels of Ancient Rome.Ed.Charles Rufus Morey. New York: Phaidon


Sear, Frank. Roman Architecture. London: Routledge, 1998.

“The History of the Colosseum.” Architectural Science Review 45 (2002):386