Rome’s 2000- year old Colosseum is rich in history, culture, and tradition. It does not come as a surprise as to why it’s one of the most visited places in the world. What was once a breeding ground of battles and blood, is now a ruin and a heritage site with so much to tell. Although it has been abandoned for many years, efforts to restore the arena are now in place. Get ready for some shocking and unexpected revelations in these Colosseum facts.
- The Colosseum was built around 72 and 80 AD at the east of the Roman Forum.
- Known as the world’s largest amphitheater, the Colosseum measures 50 meters tall, 156 meters wide, and 189 meters long.
- The Colosseum could accommodate 50,000 audiences for a variety of events.
- The earthquake between 847 AD and 1231 AD caused the most damage to the Colosseum that we now know.
- Around 4 million tourists and visitors come to Rome every year to see the Colosseum.
- The iconic structure of the Colosseum was built by thousands of Jewish slaves.
- When the Colosseum was built, it was a place for gladiator contests, famous battle reenactments, and even animal hunts.
- The Colosseum was constructed under Emperor Vespasian’s reign.
- There were plenty of trap doors, underground passages, and rooms in the Colosseum to hold the gladiators and animals.
- The Colosseum had an awning or known as the ‘velarium’ which is a shade that protects the spectators from the heat of the sun.
- Animals that were brought into the Colosseum to fight included tigers, lions, bears, crocodiles, and rhinos.
- Animal hunts and gladiator contests were stopped between 435 AD to 532 CE because of maintenance and cost problems.
- The Colosseum is officially called the Flavian Amphitheater by Emperor Vespasian’s son, Titus.
- Until the early 18th century, the Colosseum was used as a building materials source.
- Even though most of the Colosseum is already destroyed, it’s still a popular destination for tourists as a symbol of Rome.
- During the olden times, the Colosseum was intentionally flooded with water for mock sea battles.
- Most of the games that took place in the Colosseum lasted for around 100 days.
- Approximately two-thirds of the iconic structure of the Colosseum were destroyed due to vandalism.
- Entry is for free for everyone who wishes to watch the games as Emperors pay and organize these events to gain popularity
- Over 1 million animals and 400,000 people died for all the games that took place in the Colosseum.
The Colosseum was commissioned after Emperor Nero's death.
In 65 AD, Emperor Nero took his life. After his death, the effects of his misrule caused several civil wars. But it was only during the rule of the Vespasians that the Colosseum came into the picture. Emperor Nero built a Golden Palace for himself that was torn down due to a fire at the center of the city. Vespasian promised the Roman people that on that same site, he will build an amphitheater for public entertainment.
It only took 10 years to complete the Colosseum.
For a project as grand as the amphitheater is, construction was definitely quick. One of the least known Colosseum facts is that it only took 10 years to build it. Big projects like that would take at least 2-3 decades but construction for the place was only for a fraction of the usual timeframe. In 80 AD, Titus officially opened the Colosseum for the Roman public.
Emperor Domitian took over the construction of the Colosseum's final stages.
Titus was a well-loved ruler during his time. He got the Roman people’s devotion through the recovery efforts he did after an eruption that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. But his time must come to an end that’s why the final touches of the construction of the amphitheater fell in the hands of his successor and brother, Emperor Domitian.
The Colosseum was unlike any other amphitheater in Rome.
In the olden times, amphitheaters were dug and built between hillsides to provide enough support for the structure. But the Colosseum was different. It was a freestanding structure made from concrete and stone. This is one of those awesome Colosseum facts on the list.
You can find the Arch of Constantine at the Colosseum.
The Colosseum has a distinctive exterior. It has three stories and each entrance is supported by circular columns that were far too advanced back then. Also, you can find the Arch of Constantine near the main entrance. Constantine, I won over Maxentius. The arch was built to honor her victory in 315 AD.
Gladiators were the main attractions in the Colosseum games.
Aside from animal hunting and mock battles, it was common to see gladiators in the amphitheater. Gladiators were war prisoners or condemned criminals turned into slaves. Most of those who fought were men but there will be times when female gladiators fight, too.
The Colosseum was actively used for four centuries.
Around the 6th century AD, there was a gradual change in the taste of the public for public entertainments and gladiator combats. With this, the arena wilted. The Western Roman Empire’s difficulties during that time also had a big part in the downfall of Rome’s biggest amphitheater. Now, that’s one of the most interesting Colosseum facts today.
Popes sought the conservation of the Colosseum.
In the 18th century, popes in Rome sought higher authorities to conserve what was left of the arena. These popes wanted it to become a sacred Christian site. Although it’s uncertain to know if there were Christian martyrs who met their death in the Colosseum, the religious community still vouched for the idea.
The Colosseum's decorative elements were destroyed.
Despite the amphitheater being branded as one of a kind, the arena has met its untimely decay in the early 20th century. Natural disasters coupled with vandalism and weather factors caused the Colosseum to crumble down. The decorative elements that made it special including the arches, posts, and marble seats for the spectators were all destroyed.
Games at the Colosseum were brutal.
When gladiators were not fighting, the arena was filled to the brim with spectators for animal hunting events. The emperors would hold such activity and within a single day, almost 10,000 animals were killed. Imagine how much blood the Colosseum sheds in a week!
Seating at the Colosseum depends on your social status.
One of the least known Colosseum facts is that your social status will determine your place in the arena. Although it’s free for all the citizens of Rome, it came with a certain condition. Spectators had separate sections based on their wealth and social status. The senators and the wealthy would seat close to where the action is. The poor and the women would have nosebleed seats. The arches guided the people on what section they belonged to maintain the separation of classes and status.
Some volunteers battled in the Colosseum.
It was not only gladiators who could join the combat. Volunteers and ex-soldiers were also welcome to join. And yes, all the bloody fighting was for the amusement and entertainment of the emperors and the Roman citizens. Battles between gladiators and volunteers are organized according to experience, fighting style, size, and skill level.
Builders and scavengers took advantage of the Colosseum's remains.
The marbles and beautiful stones drew the attention of builders. Since the area was abandoned for centuries, some people got an idea on how to make use of it. Because of this, the amphitheater became a quarry for building materials. Remarkable designs and pieces were sourced from the Colosseum for projects such as the cathedrals of Palazzo Venezia and St. Peter Basilica.
A pope tried to turn the Colosseum into a factory.
In the late 16th century, Pope Sixtus V tried to help rebuild the ruins of Rome. Part of his plan was to overhaul the arena and turn it into a wool making factory. He thought of making the upper reaches the living quarters while the arena floor will become the official workspace. However, the pope passed away in 1950. Thus, the project and his plans did not come to fruition.
The Colosseum became a place of all sorts.
One unique truth in all these Colosseum facts is that it became home to many. What was once a place of bloodshed and battles became a place for new things to grow. After many years of abandonment, the amphitheater eventually got filled with dirt. The Romans found a way to grow a vegetable garden and use the remaining ground space for storage purposes. Merchants and blacksmiths even lived in the vaulted passageways above.
It will cost you $13 to tour the Colosseum.
The Colosseum is Rome’s most-visited monument. It also ranks second (next to The Vatican) in Italy’s most sought after tourist spots. If you wish to see the arena in all its glory, the day ticket costs about $13. It’s a two-day trip and it includes the nearby Palatine Hill.
The Colosseum is getting the makeover it deserves.
In 2013, a billionaire promised to donate $33 million to help fund the restoration of the Colosseum. Imagine the arena being rebuilt again with clean marbles, brick walls, metal railings, arches, and even a café for tourists! Dario Franceschini, the Italian Culture Minister made this announcement in 2013.
Battles in the Colosseum caused the extinction of wildlife.
We already know that the Colosseum was a place where gruesome things happen. Gladiators fought with each other and battles were fought in the open. Wild animals were no exception. Historians say that the slaughter level in the Colosseum was so high that it contributed to the extinction of wildlife species in the Mediterranean region and North Africa. This is one of those hard to believe Colosseum facts.
A lot of marbles were used for the Colosseum.
The ancient Romans were fond of marbles. The arena speaks for this fondness, too. The builders used at least 100,000 cubic meters of marble. It was transported to the building site with 200 Bullock carts. Oxen pull the cart and it was a mode of transportation in ancient times.
If it was built today, the Colosseum would cost $43 million.
There is no denying that the structure of the amphitheater is sophisticated and advanced for its time. It took a lot of effort and strength to even carry the bulks of stones and marbles used to put it up. The Romans used 1.1 million tons of brick, stone, and concrete. In today’s money, the Colosseum would cost around $43 million or 39 million euros. Definitely, one of those Colosseum facts you will always remember.
The Colosseum has an underground world.
While we know that a lot of happenings in the Colosseum were dangerous, a chilling mystery still lingers in its underground tunnels. Away from the spectator’s eyes, the underground is where the gladiators and animals were kept before they went onstage. It is where they spend their final moments before meeting their fate. It’s known as the Hypogeum and has a network of tunnels. You can find 80 vertical shafts, animal pens, and cages inside.
The thumbs-up response traces back to the games in the Colosseum.
Here’s an interesting scoop in these Colosseum facts—a thumbs-up signal means death in the arena. The greeting that is now part of the American culture was actually from the games in the Colosseum. When a gamemaster signals a thumbs up, it means that a gladiator will be put to death through its neck. Once a gladiator dies, they will be sent to the west exit. Thus, it became the amphitheater’s Gate of Death.
The Colosseum has become a part of pop culture.
If you scroll through Netflix and other movie-streaming websites, you can definitely find movies about gladiators and ancient Rome. This comes as no surprise as it has become a popular part of today’s culture. The Colosseum, the games in the arena, and almost everything that we know about ancient times have been immortalized via films and songs.
Botanists claim that the Colosseum had 337 species of plants.
Archeologists and historians are not only the set of scholars taking an interest in the Colosseum’s history. Botanists find it interesting, too. Since 1642, botanists have cataloged and compiled the plant species that have taken root in the arena’s grounds. According to their record, there were around 337 plant species in the ruins.
Reverse a 5 cent Euro coin and you will see the Colosseum.
Italian Euro coins are designed uniquely. But the common theme is that it will contain important monuments in the country. When you reverse the 5-cent coin, the Colosseum will appear. The Italian citizens were given the choice of what design and landmark they would like to put on their coins. The announcement was made via a television broadcast and voting was done through the phone.
The Colosseum also had free food for the spectators.
It’s said that the battles would run for 100 days or more. During this time, the reigning emperor would shoulder all the food that will be given to the Roman public. Although there’s a very slim chance of having a cold beer and hotdogs just like the stadiums today, free food is still cool!
The Romans were the first to make a makeshift sky dome in the Colosseum.
Since gladiator battles and events went on for days, rains are also possible. Because it’s an open space, the Romans would stretch a red canvas to cover the entire Colosseum when it pours. The scorching heat of the sun or the rain will not stop the ongoing matches.
The Colosseum has made a trademark in opposing capital punishment.
In 1948, Italy abolished the death penalty. Since then, the Colosseum has become a symbol against it. Today, when someone is released from death row anywhere in the world, the light illuminating the arena will turn from white to gold. The color change will also occur whenever a country/state abolishes the death penalty jurisdiction. Truly, one of the most remarkable Colosseum facts.
A schedule of events also took place in the Colosseum.
One might assume that everything that took place in the arena ended in death. The argument is somehow true as most of the events shed blood but on a lighter note, there was a structured flow of schedule in the Colosseum every day. Animal shows took place in the morning, tortures and execution in the afternoon, and gladiator fights in the evening.
Efforts were undertaken to restore the Colosseum.
Starting in the early 1990s up until today, restoration efforts were made to preserve what’s left of the grand arena in Rome. Over the years, the amphitheater has been considered one of UNESCO’s World Heritage Sites. An interesting note in these Colosseum facts is that despite its age, it is still one of the leading tourist attractions in the world.