10 Amazing Facts about the Roman Colosseum

#1 The construction of the Colosseum was financed by booty from the Jewish War waged by emperor Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian.

#2 At one time there were well over 250 amphitheaters in the Roman Empire. The Colosseum was the largest stadium the Roman built, capable of holding some 50,000 spectators. The second largest stadium is located in the center of Capua near Naples though little remains of this amphitheater above the ground. Spartacus, the leader who led the slave revolt in 73 B.C. against Rome, first distinguished himself as a gladiator in the Capua amphitheater.

#3 Before the overgrowth of vegetation was cleared away in 1871 over 400 species of plants grew on the ruins, a variety made possible both by the seeds ingested by exotic animals supplied for the games and the amphitheater’s special microclimate.

colosseum model

#4 The Colosseum was covered with a giant sail known as the velarium. This protected the spectators from the sun and rain. It was attached to large poles on top of the Colosseum and anchored to the ground by large ropes.

#5 Large sections of the Roman Colosseum as it now stands are not ancient at all, but the result of restoration in the 19th century. Only 1/3 of the original amphitheater remains intact. 2/3 is gone forever, especially the south side. Its original marble facing, the statues decorating the arches and the lavish decoration of the interior did not survive.

There were many different kinds of gladiator: a Retiarius fought with a net and a trident, a Samnite carried a short sword and shield, a Bestiari fought with animals, a Murmillo fought with a longer sword, a shield, and a helmet with a fish on the crest, and there were dozens more types. Female gladiators (or gladiatrices) were rare, and were marketed as a novelty attraction, but they did exist.

#7 During the early days of the Colosseum, the amphitheater was used for simulated sea battles (called naumachiae). One account tells of a re-enactment of a famous sea battle between the Corcyrean Greeks and the Corinthians. It remains unclear how the arena could have been waterproofed. Providing the water on the other hand would have been relatively easy for the Romans.

Colossus of Nero Photo credit: Jaime Jones

Colossus of Nero Photo credit: Jaime Jones

#8 The name Colosseum is derived from a colossal statue of Emperor Nero that once stood nearby. The 30-meter (100-foot) high bronze statue was originally located inside Nero’s private palace in the center of Rome. The statue was eventually moved to a spot outside the Flavian Amphitheatre where it stood for a few centuries until it disappeared from history. Its fate remains unknown. It was possibly destroyed during the Sack of Rome in 410, or toppled during an earthquake. Today, nothing remains of the Colossus of Nero except for the foundations of the pedestal near the Colosseum.

#9 So many wild beasts were killed in the Roman Colosseum and other amphitheaters that some exotic animals became virtually extinct. The Hippopotamus were captured from the River Nile in Egypt but following the Roman era they disappeared from this habitat.

#10 On visiting the real Colosseum, film director Ridley Scott remarked to production designer Arthur Max that it was “too small” for the movie Gladiator so they designed an outsized “Rome of the imagination”.