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

The Colosseum: Power, Brilliance, and Brutality
Section Four 4 of 7

This is a bust of Nero.
Photo by James Kuo
The bust of Vespasian contrasts starkly with that of Nero. Observe the receding hairline and the wrinkled, shaven face.
The Location
The location of the Colosseum was strategically chosen to place it in between three mountains and at the center of the urbanization of Rome.
Vespasian was the first major emperor after Nero, the infamous emperor whose reign was characterized by excessive grandeur. After the large fire that burned down most of the city in 64 CE, Nero began construction of his Domus Aurea, or Golden House. The extravagance of the Golden House sat in the center of a 200 acre park, centered by a large artificial lake that Nero had built and a 120 ft tall gilded bronze statue of Nero himself.

Unlike Nero, Vespasian was the son of a plebeian. He rose to power through the military and was leading a campaign in Egypt when he received the call to become emperor. He was described as a plain man with a good sense of humor. Vespasian even appeared on building sites carrying a basket of masonry to encourage builders. He restored many of the buildings that had been damaged by the neglect of his predecessors.

Vespasian cultivated the image of a common man and stressed his plebeian roots to emphasize a vast departure from the instability of Nero’s reign. The bust of Vespasian shows an older man with a receding hairline. He looks wise and deep in thought; there is no sign of immaturity or instability in his face.

The location of the Colosseum was strategically chosen. By building the public monument over Nero’s private artificial lake, Vespasian symbolically returned the area to the people. The Colosseum is located in the middle of a broad valley in between the Palatine, Caelian, and Esquiline hills. At the time it was built, the center of urbanization of Rome had moved away from the Roman Forum and to that location.