Engineering Marvels: The Colosseum
One of the world’s most famous engineering marvels, Rome’s Colosseum was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian in AD 72 on the marshy site of a lake in the grounds of Nero’s palace, the Domus Aurea. Deadly gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights were staged free of charge by the emperor and wealthy citizens for public viewing. The Colosseum was built to a practical design, with its 80 arched entrances allowing easy access for 55,000 spectators, but it’s also a building of great classical beauty. It was one of several similar amphitheatres built in the Roman Empire, and some survived—at El Djem in North Africa, Nimes, and Arles in France and Verona in northern Italy. Despite being damaged over the years by neglect and theft, it remains a majestic sight.
Fascinating Fact: The emperor of Rome held impressive shows, which often began with animals performing circus tricks. Then came the gladiators, who fought each other to the death. Gladiators were usually slaves, prisoners of war or condemned criminals. When one was killed, attendants dressed as Charon (the mythical ferryman of the dead), carried his body off on a stretcher and sand was raked over the blood in preparation of the next bout. A badly wounded gladiator would surrender his fate to the crowd. The victor in a gladiator fight became an instant hero and was sometimes rewarded with freedom.