Originally known as Amphitheatrum Flavium in Latin, and as the Flavian Amphitheater in English, the Colosseum, located in the east of the Roman Forum is said to be the largest amphitheater ever been built in the Roman Empire. Built of concrete and sand, this elliptical amphitheatre was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in AD 72, and was completed in AD 80 by his son Titus, with later improvements by Domitian. In history, these three emperors are known as the Flavian dynasty, and the amphitheatre was named in Latin for its association with their family name, Flavius.
It is believed by many that, the name Colosseum is originated from the colossal statue of Nero, which was named after the Colossus of Rhodes. Subsequently the statue was remodeled by the successors of Nero into the statue of the Sun God Helios or Apollo. Even the head of the statue, Nero’s head, was also replaced several times with the heads of the succeeding emperors. Possibly the statue was destroyed or pulled down to reuse its Bronze. Today, only the base of the statue survives near the temple of Venus and Roma. However, by the year 1000 the name “Colosseum” had been coined to refer to the amphitheatre.
Originally, the Colosseum was built as a four storey building with 80 entrances. The arched entrances were supported by semi circular columns and each storey had columns of different styles. At the bottom the columns were of Doric style, followed by Ionic and topped by Corinthian Columns. The Arch of Constantine, located near the main entrance, was built in 315 AD to commemorate the victory of Constantine I, over Maxentius at Pons Milvius. The Colosseum had the estimated capacity for more than 50.000 spectators. It was decorated with hundreds of life size marble statues. Each floor of the amphitheatre was allocated for people of different classes and status, top floor for the lower classes and lowest floor for the important and honourable citizens. Special seats were also built for the use of the Royal family. There were provisions for the underground cages for keeping the wild animals for the gladiatorial fights.
Vespasian ordered the Colosseum to be built on the Domus Aurea, the site of Nero’s palace, to dissociate himself from the hated tyrant. He had the aim to gain popularity by staging deadly combats of gladiators and wild animal fights in the arena for public viewing. These combats were attended by the poor, the rich, and also frequented by the Royal visit. As the gladiators fought fiercely for their lives, vicious cries and curses were heard from the audience around the Roman Colosseum. As the contests followed one after another in the course of a single day, the bloody ground was smothered with a fresh layer of sand for the continuance of the brutal show to entertain the spectators.
The advent and progress of Christianity and the consequent gradual change in public tastes put an end to the gladiatorial combats and other large public entertainments by the 6th century A.D. Even by that time, the arena had suffered severe damages due to the natural phenomena such as lightning and earthquakes of 847 AD and 1231 AD. In the centuries to come, the Colosseum was abandoned completely, and even used as a quarry for numerous building projects, like the construction of the cathedrals of St. Peter and St. John Lateran, the Palazzo Venezia and defense fortifications along the Tiber River. Finally, a combination of vandalism, negligence, and natural disasters had destroyed nearly two-thirds of the original Colosseum, including the marble seats and the decorative elements. Yet, till today, the Colosseum is regarded as the iconic symbol of Rome with its long, glorious and tumultuous history.