While the history of the Colosseum seems to be seeped in blood and violence, the echoes of its architectural brilliance still reach us today
Many a sports fan around the world has keenly experienced the ups and downs of supporting a beloved team.
Novices to the athletic world can also attest to the thrill of seeing their favourite player in action, even from the virtual assistance of a throbbing TV screen.
However, witnessing athleticism in real life provides a rush that escapes simple voyeurism; standing shoulder to shoulder with strangers over a united passion involves the spectator, and enables ticket holders to be a part of the victories and failures enacted on the field below.
Today, stadiums represent hulking masses of steel and concrete that dazzle occupants, host pivotal sporting events, and house all who pilgrimage to their sweeping structures.
However, were it not for the Colosseum, it’s fair to say that stadiums as we know them would not exist.
Let’s back track for a moment.
The construction of the Colosseum began under the rule of Vespasian in 72 AD, and was completed by his successor and heir, Titus in 80 AD. Its original Latin name was Amphitheatrum Flavium, or Flavian Amphitheatre, after the Flavian dynasty from which the emperors who presided over its creation came from.
The Colosseum was the largest amphitheatre in the ancient world. Many experts agree that it held 50,000 spectators, although some sources even cite up to 87,000. Inspiration for its shape, and that of other similar structures, is believed to have come from the ancient Greek application of the theatre.
Ancient theatres were traditionally built on naturally occurring slopes of land, upon which tiered seats were added. Many held the shape of a ‘U’. These features allowed for audiences placed at different heights to witness, and most importantly, hear the comedies and tragedies played out before them.
The ancient Greeks were on to something, and the Romans of antiquity knew this. Architects of that time took the concept of two theatres, and put them together. What resulted was an area in the shape of an ellipses, which is referred to as an amphitheatre.
And one of the most well-known examples is the Flavian Amphitheatre, aka, the Colosseum.
Since its inception, it has become the prototype that stadiums around the world model themselves after.
There are many reasons why the Colosseum is still a big deal today, and all are of equal importance.
Its longevity still astounds its international visitors. The gladiatorial games continue to capture the imagination throughout films and other forms of entertainment. Insight into the background of its ancient audience is gleaned from the social hierarchies that determined seating.
For the sports world, aspects of the Colosseum are indisputably present in modern stadiums. Architecturally, those influences are seen in their elliptical shape, along with the use of arches to support the structure, and facilitate the entry and exit of fans.
Arches are also pretty. Aesthetically pleasing, they invoke the idea of spaciousness in a physically limited setting.
But what about all of the action that happened in the Colosseum? How were the ancient games similar to sporting events now?
Regardless of the type of fan you speak to, there are a fundamental commonalities between gladiatorial events, and sports of the modern era.
While gladiators didn’t fight in teams, the act of watching their skirmishes is reminiscent of contact sports such as American football.
The clash of helmets precedes levels of injury that players invariably experience, from dislocated shoulders to even concussions-the risk of brain injury is an ongoing crisis. The extensive degree of physical contact in rugby, in addition to ice-propped hockey, draws passion from fans due to the almost seismic collisions of competing players.
While violence in sports is not something that is lionised in contemporary times, it’s fair to say that strength, athleticism, and competitiveness combine to render brutal injuries that intensify a game’s unfolding. Ancient Roman spectators swarmed to the gladiatorial games to witness skilled fighters triumph over one another, with the standard that injury meant bravery in combat.
Furthermore, as research continues, more and more experts agree that the death of an opponent was not as commonplace between gladiators as previously thought. Rather, the willingness to undertake bodily harm to acquire victory was a trait that garnered favour from the crowd; they viewed it as courage, and a desire to win.
Although the spilling of blood is not a requirement from modern day fans, the passion involved in witnessing two opposing forces come together is a unifying theme between the passed and the present. This element of the spectator experience is heightened by the Colosseum’s enduring influence in the architecture of contemporary stadiums, which represent a unity of people from varying backgrounds over a shared, visceral experience.
The Colosseum’s story doesn’t end here though. Discover more about its history and contemporary significance through Joy of Rome’s extensive selection of tours!
Explore The Secrets of the Colosseum, and the different forms of Ancient Rome (Short, Classic, Extended, and Kid Friendly) to delve even deeper into the importance of this iconic structure.