View Page: The Colosseum: Power, Brilliance, and Brutality
University of Washington Honors Program in Rome

The Colosseum: Power, Brilliance, and Brutality
Section Three 3 of 7

This is a mosaic of a retiarus battling with a marmillo, another type of gladiator.
The Flavian Amphitheatre was very much meant for the masses. The size was impressive to behold and admission was free. Free food was also given out which helped to appease the unemployed.

Gladiators were the mainstay of Colosseum entertainment. There were also wild animal hunts, battles between charioteers, and warm up plays with midgets pretending to fight lions. In the interim between matches, the upper classes would often go out for lunch. Executions were held to entertain the poorer classes and women remaining in the stadium.

The Romans were fascinated with death. There have been many explanations for gladiatorial tradition. One is that it came from a tradition of human sacrifice to the gods. Another is that it came from a military tradition of allowing captured criminals to fight to the death rather than be executed.

Gladiators were usually impressed war criminals and a few were glory seekers. Gladiators usually only fought one-on-one, refereed matches. A typical day would have gladiators fighting at the very end. The bloodbath has been exaggerated; there would usually only be a few deaths a day. Gladiators wore visors and helmets to make themselves appear as more aggressive and impersonal monsters. The dead were taken out through the Arch of Libitana, named after the goddess of death.

There were many different types of gladiators. One of the most popular was the Retiarius, who only had a small shoulder shield, net, and trident. Spectators loved to watch him fight more heavily armoured gladiators as he was always the underdog.

Telemachus, a Christian monk, was stoned to death by spectators when he tried to separate two fighting gladiators. This led to an imperial decree in 404 abolishing gladiatorial combat though animal hunts and other brutal forms of entertainment would continue for many decades.

When the Colosseum was used as a quarry, so much material was carted away that a special road was set up specifically for that purpose. The function of the Colosseum later changed to a grazing ground, a fortress for an Italian baron, and later as a theatre for Passion plays when it was taken over by the church. It was used as a symbol of the triumph of Christianity over pagan traditions and preserved because of the martyrs that died inside. Restorations and excavations began again in the 1700s and continue to this day.
Changes in Function : Taken from, this timeline illustrates how the function of the Colosseum changed over time with who was in power in Rome