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Did we need a ticket to enter the Colosseum? And, if yes, were the Colosseum tickets affordable or expensive?
This is a question we always ask our guests during our live-streamed guided tours of the Colosseum. And it’s always so much fun to hear the many different answers of people living in our modern era today. Why do I say that?
Because the most common answer we get on the Colosseum tickets is: it depends on one’s budget, if you buy the best seats you’ll pay more, and if you can’t afford it, you’ll get the nose-bleed seats!
This is the answer of a human being living in our era today. An era where money can buy you things, regardless of where you’re coming from.
In ancient Rome things were different. The class of society where you belonged to actually did make a difference on your life.
In fact, tickets to the Colosseum shows were distributed for free to citizens of all classes of society. However each ticket was already assigned a seat number, which varied according to your position in society.
The best seats in the house were of course given to senators, vestal virgins, priests and to all the important personalities of Rome. These VIPs had the privilege to seat very close to the arena floor, on the lower ring of the spectators’ seats.
Then, the lower your class of society would get, the higher you would sit. Until the very last seats on the upper level were not eve seats. Slaves and poor people they actually had to watch the shows while standing up, they had no seats!
The difference with modern society today
Now you might be thinking: “so far there’s no difference with stadiums today. If you are wealthy you get the most expensive tickets for the best seats, if you’re on a budget you get the cheapest seat”.
Well, that’s not exactly like that.
In fact, let’s say today we are on a budget, but there’s a rock band we really really love and our dream would be to get the premium ticket for their concert. We cannot afford it, so we’ll probably go for the nosebleed seat, same as we would in Ancient Rome for a Colosseum show.
But there is a difference in what we can do. Because if I really really want to get that expensive ticket today, I have the option to save all my pennies over time and treat myself to that once-in-a-lifetime experience. Or someone could gift it to me for my birthday. In this situation my class of society or where I belong to does not make a difference. If I have the ticket, I will get that seat.
This option was not available in Ancient Rome for the Colosseum shows. The ticket was assigned according to your social status. Full stop.
Why were the tickets to the Colosseum free?
First of all, you need to know that the organizers of the shows were usually the emperors (especially in Rome) or influential personalities of Rome, who also covered all the expenses of the shows. For the organizer of the shows, financing the event was a good way of getting visibility, popularity among the Romans.
The Colosseum was a great place where these influential people could be seen by the population. Imagine being Ancient Roman people (with no social media, tv or movies) and having the chance to see in person the emperor! Or a VIP (even if only from a distance).
Therefore spectators had free entry, but they had to carry with them their personal entry card. This card indicated where their designated area was and the seating rules of the Colosseum. In fact, it only allowed access to a specific area of the Colosseum, so it worked the same as when we go today to a concert.
And this was for two reasons:
- to speed up the entrance and exit of thousands of spectators; and
- to keep people from different classes of society separated
Which were the doors of the Colosseum?
To enter the Colosseum you would use the gates on the ground floor. These gates are the arches that you can see on the ground level.
In fact there were a total of 80 entrances and each of them had a number, which corresponded to the number on the personal entry card that each spectator had.
On some of the arches we can still see today the numbers of the different areas carved into the marble!
These numbers were originally painted in red color, so that they could be visible from a distance.
As we said, there were a total of 80 entrance gates:
- 76 of them were the gates for the regular spectators
- 2 of them were special entrances, reserved for the emperor, the Vestal Virgins and other authorities
- the last 2, aligned with the longer axis of the Colosseum, had direct access to the arena. One of them was the Door of Life and the other one the Door of Death. The Door of Life was where the gladiators would enter the arena and where they would exit to triumphantly in case of victory. The Door of Death was the door where lifeless bodies of the gladiators, animals and condemned criminals would pass through.
Therefore, if you were a gladiator you would want to exit by the same door you entered!
Another curiosity. The remaining 76 entrances for spectators lead through a complex system of staircases and annular corridors, which today is very well preserved.
If you try to walk through the staircases you will notice that they are very steep.
There is a precise reason for that. The engineers of the Colosseum wanted to ensure a steady and quick flow out of the building once the shows were over.
In fact, those staircases’s name was vomitoria, which gives you a good image of the flow of people out the Colosseum’s mouths!
And for when you’re in Rome, have a look at these in-person guided tours of the Colosseum: