Roman Coliseum - Was it a Circus or a House of Horrors?

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The Flavian Amphitheater is more commonly known as the Colosseum, a name originated to Emperor Nero who had fashioned of himself. The huge structure rose 170 feet in height and held approximately 50,000 people. The Coliseum was used to re-in act dramas. The Coliseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles (water battles) which fall into the dramas of Classical Mythology. Most importantly, were the gladiator fights which took place in the roman The Roman Citizens enjoyed having the Coliseum because of their "taste of blood". By this saying, Romans craved the excitement of gladiatorial combats which took place in the Coliseum. The Coliseum falls under a circus because of the entertainment it was used for. The Coliseum was a circus because spectators were craving for a "taste of blood" or fights to feel surprised or thrilled. Despite all the entertainment, there was a real reason behind the Coliseum. The Coliseum was a distraction for the dilemma of the downfall of Roman Empire. During the time of the Empire, much of the city's population was unemployed. This problem was then turned to the Coliseum; where entertainment was a getaway. A benefit for the Roman Citizens was that watching all the fights were for free. A circus defines the Coliseum because of all the fights which took place inside the area showing the craving for entertainment. On the contrary, the Coliseum is a House of Horrors. This is shown because of the executions which took place in the arena as well as the staggering deaths that scar the arena. Therefore, the Coliseum is defined both a Circus because of entertainment such as fights which thrilled the Roman Citizens to being a House of Horrors for traitors to the Roman Empire who were being executed as well as the gladiators whom lives were taken of during gladiatorial combats.


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Animal Hunts at the Roman Coliseum:

Roman Citizens loved the feeling of being astonished or surprised. By this, exotic animals from Asia and Africa were imported in the Coliseum especially for Animal Hunts which took place in the Roman Coliseum. These animal hunts were called called venationes and the animal hunters were called venatores. These venatores were trained in a training school named Ludus Matutinus. The term Ludus Matutinus came from Latin meaning 'morning school'. This is because animal hunts were scheduled to be morning shows in the Roman Coliseum. One famous incident was in 240 AD. In 240 AD a huge festival was held in the Roman Coliseum. During this festival something very tragic happened. 2,000 gladiators, 70 lions, 40 wild horses, 30 elephants, 30 leopards, 20 wild asses, 19 giraffes, 10 antelopes, 10 hyenas, 10 tigers, 1 hippopotamus and 1 rhinoceros were slaughtered. Animal hunts were a popular show to see because of the idea and the reason behind it. Roman citizens loved to be surprised so they got to see exotic animals and their venatores get killed and have the "thriller experience" as well.

Animals shown at the Roman Colosseum
Wild boar

Water Battles at the Roman Coliseum:

Water Battles at the Roman Coliseum were spectacular. The Coliseum was turned from dry land to sea. The first water battles started when new ships were being built.While the ships were being built, the rowers were trained on upon the land, like benches of ships at sea. There training would then be moved to finished ships and be transfered to Rome. This spectacle would have been watched by Roman spectators. The sea, rivers and eventually lakes were used for the more serious re-enactments of sea battles. Rowing practice was replaced with actual water battles, where the combatants were expected to slaughter heir opponents, or drown in the process.

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Executions at the Roman Coliseum:

Executions at the Coliseum applied to an individual whom fell into the category of Roman Army deserters, rebels, traitors, runaway slaves and those guilty of various sorts of antisocial behavior (for example the Christians). This type of execution could not apply to Roman citizens. Instead they were beheaded. Only those who were not Roman citizens could receive this form of execution. There were multiple ways of executing victims but there were two common ways of executing. The first way of executing was "Crucifixion". Crucifixion is presented to either a Christian or a slave. Crucifixion is when an individual was bare naked and pinned or bound to the cross. The criminal was crucified in areas of the wrists, arms, and shoulders which strained the criminal and dislocated the joints in the elbows. As well, this made it hard for the individual to take full breaths. The next type of execution was called "ad bestia". This is translated to "thrown to the beasts". This form of torture is that the criminal was thrown to a wild beast to be consumed of. This form of execution was possibly started by the Emperor Augustus who had a pillory erected in the Forum which collapsed and dropped the victim, a man called Selurus into a cage of wild animals. Other ways of execution were:

  • · Being burnt alive

  • · Being bound by the feet to the tails of wild horses and dragged to death

  • · Being torn to pieces by wild beasts

  • · Beaten to death

  • · Burned with plates of red-hot iron

Gladiatorial Combats at the Roman Coliseum:

The Gladiatorial Combats at the Roman Coliseum was entertainment to Roman citizens because of the spectacular fights held in the arena. These gladiatorial combats were fought in pairs and the fight when on until death. The gladiators were most likely slaves and before being transfered to the Roman Coliseum, they were placed in a training school named Ludus Matutinus. Gladiators can be saved by spectators watching. This is when a beaten gladiator has put up a good fight, the crowd may take mercy and wave their handkerchiefs to save his life. They fought in diverse styles depending on their background and how much training they had endured. Originally as captured soldiers they were made to fight with their own weapons. The odds of a professional gladiator surviving a match were one in 10.

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EbsoHost Database:

· Favro, Diane. "The Colosseum." dig 11.1 (2009): 20. Primary Search. EBSCO. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

· Baker, Rosalie F. "THE ROMAN COLOSSEUM." Faces (07491387) 24.10 (2008): 24. Primary Search. EBSCO. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

Citations from
·"Wild Animals at the Colosseum." Roman Colosseum . N.p., 2008. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

· "Water Battles at the Colosseum." Colosseum . N.p., 2008. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

· "Roman Executions at the Colosseum." Colosseum . N.p., 2008. Web. 3 Oct. 2010.

Image Citation:

· Picture of a Flooded arena staging a water battle (naumachiae). N.d. water-battles-at-the-colosseum.htm. Web. 3 Oct. 2010
< water-battles-at-the-colosseum.htm>.

· "Once the famous Roman Colosseum held 50,000 spectators. Today it is a home to
stray cats." Roman colosseum and the gladiators. N.p., n.d. Web. 3 Oct.
2010. <>.