Gladiators, and Lions, and Literature, oh my!

The Colosseum in Rome, Italy (visited in 2013)

Ever since I first heard about the Ancient Romans, Greek/Roman mythology, and the gladiators, I have always been fascinated with Rome. Being an avid history buff, it was always a dream of mine to visit one of the most historic cities in the world and in 2013, my dream became a reality. Although the Colosseum was the home of Roman cruelty, it is still a glorious monument of ancient history. Stepping into the Colosseum is like stepping back through time. You are instantly engulfed in thousands of years of history and your mind tries to wrap itself around the fact that the very ground that you are stepping on has been there for centuries. Even though the monument has fallen into ruin (now only 1/3 of the original structure remains), it still stands as one of the most beautiful and imposing sights in Europe. In the entrance of the Colosseum, a cross stands tall and reminds you of the horrific persecution that early Christians faced in ancient Rome. This magnificent and humbling sight reminds you just how big the world really is.

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The Beginning:

  • The Colosseum is officially known as the Flavian Amphitheater.
  • It was commissioned around A.D. 70-72 by Emperor Vespasian of the Flavian dynasty. It was meant to be a gift for the Roman people.
  • In A.D. 80, the Colosseum was opened by Vespasian’s son, Titus.
  • It was built with  80 arched entrances allowing easy access to 55,000 spectators, who were seated according to rank.
  • Just outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Constantine, a 25m high monument built in AD 315 to mark the victory of Constantine over Maxentius at Pons Milvius.
  • After several centuries it fell into neglect and began to fall into ruin.
  • The last recorded games were held there in the 6th century.
  • Other public spectacles that were held there were re-enactments of famous battles, dramas based on Classical mythology, animal hunts and even executions.

img_1992(Arch of Constantine)

The Gladiators:

  • Although it is not true for every case, most gladiators were slaves, prisoners of war, or convicted criminals. These men were lured in by hopes of glory and riches.
  • Most of these fighters were men, but there are cases of female gladiators.
  • Contests were typically single combat between two men of similar size and experience and did not always end in brutal deaths.
  • Gladiators were generally expensive to house and feed, so owners were usually reluctant to have them killed.
  • Nevertheless, gladiator lives tended to be short and brutal and gladiators typically only lived until their mid-20s.
  • People from all social classes attended these events, including the emperor himself.
  • If the ground became too soaked with blood throughout the day’s fighting, a fresh layer of sand was placed on top and the fighting raged on.
  • In contests held at the Colosseum, the emperor had the final say in whether the felled warrior lived or died, but rulers and fight organizers often let the people make the decision.
  • Fighters were placed into different fighting classes based on their record, skill level and experience.
  • Most warriors specialized in a particular fighting style and set of weaponry.
  • The most popular gladiator classes were the “thraeces” and “murmillones,” who fought with sword and shield, but there were also the “equites,” who rode in on horseback; the “essedarii,” who fought from chariots; and the “dimachaerus,” who may have wielded two swords at once.
  • Of all the popular gladiator types, perhaps the most unusual was the “retiarius,” who was armed with only a net and a trident. These warriors tried to ensnare their opponents with their net before moving in for the kill, but if they failed, they were left almost entirely defenseless.
  • Gladiators usually became celebrities and sex symbols.
  • Despite popular belief, gladiators only rarely fought against animals.

*Checked by: http://www.history.com/news/history-lists/10-things-you-may-not-know-about-roman-gladiators

My Experience:

The Colosseum has fallen into ruin over the centuries since its glory in Ancient Rome. However, this ruin allows visitors to experience the Colosseum in ways that the Romans could not. Due to its deterioration, you can see the underneath portion of the Colosseum’s floor that would have been hidden from spectators in ancient times. (see below)

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(Seeing the levels under the original flooring)

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We even also got to see some of the cells that held the gladiators and some of the animals that were used during the games.

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(A cell in the main part of the arena)

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(One of the holding cells)

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(Another entrance into the arena)

Literary Recommendations:

There is plenty of literature on the glories, the tragedies, and the lifestyle of the Ancient Romans. For this literary recommendations list, I challenge you to expand your horizons and focus on literature that is not solely based on the history of the Colosseum. I recommend that you pick up some of the most influential works in all of human literature, such as the writings of Virgil (The Aeneid) or the works of Horace if you are interested in a satire. The Aeneid is an epic poem that is based off of some of the writings of Homer. If you like tales about epic heroes and demigods, like Achilles, Hector, Perseus, and Hercules, I strongly encourage you to pick up The Aeneid and experience the tale of Aeneas!

Thank you all so much for checking out my post! I hope you enjoyed it and learned something new. I actually have the extraordinary privilege of being able to return to Rome this Spring (2017)! I am beyond excited and I cannot wait to see the wonderful treasures that Rome has to offer for a second time! I thought I would do this post as a before and another post as an after when I get back from my trip in the spring. I plan on learning a lot more on my upcoming trip and I’m looking forward to seeing different parts of the Colosseum that I have not seen before. Stay tuned, friends!

-Gabrielle

** All pictures are taken by yours truly **

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