During the Roman Empire, people gathered at amphitheaters stretching all over the region. They replaced the tradition of watching gladiatorial fights unfold on hillsides and made it easier (as well as more user friendly) for when special events were held. In this article, you will learn more about the history of ancient amphitheaters in Rome, including the first stone structure of its kind.
The action and intrigue of gladiator fights first took place during Etruscan times, where people gathered on a hillside to watch the festivities that took place on flat ground close to the hill. This allowed people to get a better view of the contests. Sometimes, it wasn’t convenient to hold an event on a hill, so around 300 BC, things started to change. Wealthy residents and city officials began constructing temporary wooden amphitheaters that allowed people to take a seat at the games. They were shaped like artificial hills. These structures were given the name of ‘amphitheater’ since they resembled two theaters facing each other.
An increase of gladiatorial fights took place during the last years of the Roman Republic, causing the need for a more permanent place to host events. People grew tired of constructing the wooden amphitheaters and breaking them down once events were over. Larger towns started to build permanent amphitheaters ”“ using limestone and marble. Interestingly, the first stone amphitheaters did not hail from Rome, but were instead constructed in Pompeii and other smaller town across Italy.
Thanks to the Roman emperor Vespasian, the first stone amphitheater built in Rome was the Colosseum, which was constructed in the 70s AD. During the Roman Empire days, nearly every town that accommodated more than a few thousand people had its own amphitheater made out of stone. These structures stretched from Syria to Spain and were found in England and Tunisia. The majority of these buildings (or some part of them) still stands today ”“ attracting many tourists to the regions.
The Colosseum (or the Coliseum) was originally called the Flavian Ampitheatre. It offered an elliptical shape in the middle of Rome that would become the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. When it comes to Roman architecture and engineering, it served as one of the greatest examples. Construction for the building started in 72 AD. It was placed at a site that was east of the Roman Forum. The Collosseum project started with Vespasian as the emperor, but was not complete until 80 AD under the rule of Titus. During the reign of Domitian, additional changes were made.
When the Colosseum was complete, it accommodated 50,000 spectators who came to see gladiatorial contests and other public events, such as animal hunts, re-enactments of famous battles, mock sea battles, and Classic myth dramas.
When the early medieval era arrived, the building was not used for entertainment purposes, but became housing, a workshop, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, as well as a shrine for Christians.