The Colosseum

The Colosseum

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The Colosseum


According to Colin Cunningham in Unit 6, the form and function of a
building “are inextricably linked” (Block 2, pg 50). Consider three
ways in which this was so for the Colosseum.

The Colosseum in Rome was built in around 80CE. It was used to house
spectacular performances such as gladiator fights. It also signified
the power and prestige of the emperor. As such, the form and design of
the building had to help fulfil the purpose of the Colosseum.

As the Colosseuem was built to house games that people came to watch,
visibility was an important consideration. There were no pillars
blocking the view of the spectators so everyone would be able to see
the action. There were five levels of tiered seating to accommodate
the different hierarchy in the Roman society. Thus the dignitaries
seated near the centre have a better view of the spectacle whereas the
women and the slaves seated right at the top were further away. In
addition, the emperor’s box was visible to all the spectators.

With a capacity of 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum must provide easy
accessibility. There were a total of 76 numbered entrances leading
inside. Each entrance led to a different level and seat. This provided
easy and safe access. In addition, this allowed the people of
different social standing to use a different entrance. The entrances
leading to the upper levels where we find the commoners’ seats were
simple and undecorated. However, the entrance used by the emperor and
his entourage was elaborately decorated with marble panelling. This
elaborate system provided safety to the emperor and the people of a
higher social order in case of riots and disorder.

As important as the spectators were the participants of the games. As
there were many people and animals involved, there had to be good
infrastructure to house the performers be. There was a network of
cells and corridors below the arena that held prisoners and animals.
There was also an elaborate system of which led the prisoners and

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animals to the arena for the game.

Thus, the function of the Colosseum played an important part in the
form and structure.

No. of words : 328

Part II essay


Why is it that the Romans, as Thomas Wiedemann says, “did not see what
went on in the amphitheatre as something wicked” (Resource Book I,
C11, p.101)?

In ancient Rome, the games that were held in the amphitheatre were an
important part of their culture. These games included gladiator
fights, animal shows and events in which condemned prisoners were put
to death. We may think that these games that were held in the arena
are cruel but as Thomas Wiedemann says, the Roman did not see what
went on in the amphitheatre as something wicked. (Resource Book I,
C11, p.101)

The Romans viewed gladiatorial facilities as gifts from their emperor.
Martial compared the Colosseum to the other ancient wonders and how it
would achieve great fame. He praised the emperor for building a place
for the people. (Resource Book I, C1, pp 91-92) This showed that
gladiatorial facilities and games were considered as something good.
When the amphitheatre was built, highly exaggerated praises were sung
to the emperor. Martial even describes that the God and Goddess Mar
and Venus serves the emperor.

The Romans also considered the gladiator shows as good offerings to
the people. Pliny expressed his approval of the gladiator shows that a
man held as a funeral tribute to his wife. He praised the man’s
generosity in giving a lavish show. (Resource Book, C4, pp95-96) When
the beasts did not arrive in time because of bad weather, he did not
blame the man. The sentiment was that there was missed pleasure.
Apuleius also reflected this type of sentiment. When a man prepared
for a show, the bears that were brought in died from a sudden
epidemic. He described it as a missed public pleasure that did not
escape the eyes of envy. (Resource Book, C3, p95) This reaction showed
that the games were a pleasure to people and was fully justified. He
found that it was a pity that the bears died of the epidemic rather
than fighting to death in the arena. To the Romans, holding
gladiatorial shows were something to be proud of. The emperor Augustus
felt proud when he held gladiatorial shows for the people. He boasted
of the numerous shows that he held for himself and on behalf of his
son or grandsons. (Resource Book I, C11, p102)

Some of these shows involved wild beasts. The Romans felt that these
shows helped to eradicate the population of wild beasts (Resource Book
I, C11, p104). By bringing in wild beasts which would have harmed the
people, the emperor should be proud of it. Some emperors even go to
the extent of killing these animals in person to show that this was a
service to the people. Thus, it was deemed as a good thing as this was
done to protect mankind.

In the arena, condemned criminals were put into the arena. Those who
committed crime must be punished. The punishment meted out was
considered appropriate ((Resource Book I, C11, pp104-05). The
punishment had to be held in a public place, so that everyone could
see that law and order was be kept in place. As the punishment was
carried out in front of the people, this assured the people that the
criminals were being punished for their crimes.

However, once in the arena, criminals were given a chance to get their
life back. Those who fought bravely and survived may be granted their
lives back. The people in the arena were given the power to give the
life back to a condemned prisoner. Even if the emperor did not grant
the freedom, the people could make the decision to free a man. This
display of democracy gave the Roman people a sense of satisfaction.

However, not everyone in the games was a condemned prisoner. Some of
these men were professional gladiators. These men could have attracted
a huge number of women who may have been obsessed with them. These
women followed the gladiators almost like a teenager following a rock

The action inside the arena could have given the people excitement. At
times, even those who may not have approved of the shows may be
converted into enjoying the show. This was reflected by St Augustine.
He described a man who first detested the shows but somehow was drawn
into the show by the blood and gore. The feelings of excitement
overpowered him as he watched. This was probably the feelings that
many Romans had when they watched these shows. Even if they found it
wicked initially, they may be influenced by the mob tendency (Resource
Book I, C10, pp100-101). Thomas Wiedemann added that ‘these shows
tended to engage the emotions of the onlookers to an extent that made
them temporarily incapable of rational thought’ and likened it to that
of watching strip-tease shows. Somehow, the viewers will be hooked.

However, there were still some Romans who did not approve of these
shows. One of them, Cicero, wrote that there was no pleasure in these
shows. (Resource Book I, C7, p97). Another person, Seneca, expressed
his concern of the sheer butchery on a midday show. (Resource Book,
C9, p99)

Thus, the gladiatorial games and the wild-beasts shows were part of
the Roman culture. The need to have a proper system of punishing
crimes and the need to eradicate wild animals provided the basis for
these spectacular games. The Roman people believed that these were
done to benefit them. Furthermore, the mob tendency and feelings
generated at these games attracted the people to the shows. Thus, they
did not find that the shows were wicked.

No of words : 904


1. Block 2 The Colosseum, The Open University (1997)

2. Resource Book 1, The Open University (1997)

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