Seating in the Colosseum: tickets and rules

What were the rules for seating in the Colosseum?

Hello Rome lovers!

In this article we will discover what were the seating rules of the Colosseum.

Previously we discovered what was the Colosseum used for and why we call it “Colosseum” in the previous blog post (if you missed it, you can find the post and video here).

But now the question is: did you need a ticket to watch the gladiator shows? Could you just seat anywhere you wanted to? To find out, continue reading!

What were the shows taking place in the Colosseum?

In the Colosseum, the stadium of ancient Rome, three kinds of shows were taking place:

  • first, the venationes: the fights between animals (lions, panthers, tigers, ..)
  • after that, the capital executions of criminals through the use of wild animals
  • eventually, the gladiators fights. The gladiators were the real stars of the Colosseum, more or less the equivalent of football players today

What were the seating rules of the Colosseum?

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.

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 entrance ways on the ground floor, which are located through the arches. 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.

Seating in the colosseum
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On top of each arch on the ground floor we can still see the numbers. Above the arch in the foreground we can read: XXXIII (33 in Roman numbers)

Of these 80 entrances:

  • 76 of them were the gates for the regular spectators
  • then, 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, were accessing directly to the arena. One of them was the Door of Life and the other one the Door of Death. Firstly, 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! πŸ™‚

The vomitoria..

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 designer 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!

Seating in the colosseum
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Below section: the structure of the underground corridors; the wooden floor covered with sand (the arena) used to lay on top of it. Upper section: the structure of the cavea seats.

As mentioned earlier, the cavea, the seating area inside the Colosseum, had 5 different sections according to classes of society. In other words, the lowest section, which was the best, was where the most important people would sit (including the emperor). And then, as you go up towards the top, you find women, kids, slaves (which watched the show standing up at the very top).

The shows were taking place in the arena, at the bottom of the cavea. The arena had a wooden floor covered with sand.

Seating in the colosseum
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The underground corridors beneath the arena floor

The underground corridors

In addition, underneath the arena there were service corridors and galleries. These were stowage spaces for gladiator weapons and animal cages, which were lifted up into the arena through an elevator system of weights and counterweights. This created a very suggestive and sudden appearances into the arena, the special effects of the ancient world!

The Velarium

The shows took place all day long and, as the Colosseum was open to the sky, spectators needed some shelter from sun and heat. In fact, if you look at the very top external section of the Colosseum, you will notice a series of stones sticking out in a regular pattern. Those were the supports for the wooden posts that held the velarium. The velarium was an awning that worked through a complex system of ropes. In fact, there were a thousand sailors, which were of course the experts of sails and wind, which operated this complex system. The awning would cover the top of the Colosseum, leaving a β€œhole” in the middle.

Why is the Colosseum “broken”?

However, a question that many ask me: why is the Colosseum “broken”? Find out more in this post: Colosseum: why is it broken?

Seating in the colosseum
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Why is the Colosseum “broken”?

If you missed the previous post and video about the Colosseum, check it out here:

I hope you enjoyed reading and that this post was useful to you.

Let me know in the comments below if you have any question about the Colosseum that you’d like to see answered!
See you next time! Ciao! πŸ™‚

Written by Federica

Creative director of Live Virtual Guide. Her favorite things are gelato, pizza and the hidden gems of Rome.

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