The Colosseum: what is it? And why is it called like this?

What was the Colosseum used for?

Everybody knows the Colosseum. It’s an icon, the icon of the Eternal City and its glory, the first thing you picture in your mind when you think of Rome.

What is the Colosseum?

But do we really know what the Colosseum used to be? And why we call it like this? What was it used for? To find out, continue reading! 🙂
The Colosseum was basically a stadium, in which three kinds of shows took place:

  • the venationes: the fights between animals (lions, panthers, tigers, ..)
  • capital executions of criminals through the use of wild animals
  • and most of all, of course, the gladiator fights, who were the real stars of the Colosseum, more or less the equivalent of football players today

Some authors also talk about naumachia shows, which were naval battles that took place inside the Colosseum filled up with water!

What was the Colosseum used for?
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How big was the Colosseum?

Its name already suggests a colossal size. Its size is remarkable indeed, in fact this is the biggest monument of ancient Rome still surviving today!The estimated number of spectators is between 50000 and 70000 people! A capacity that we can well compare to modern stadiums today. For example, the Olympic Stadium of Rome is only slightly bigger, with a capacity of 72000 spectators. You can compare the capacity of the stadium that is closer to you, so you can get an idea.

Did you know that the ancient Romans did not call this building the Colosseum?

The Colosseum real name is actually Flavian Amphitheater.

Flavian, because the emperors that built it belonged to the Flavian dynasty (began by Vespasian in 72 AD, inaugurated by Titus in 80 AD and completed by Domitian in 90 AD)

While amphitheater, comes from the Greek words amfi (which means two) and theater. So when we say amphitheater we mean a “double theater”. That’s how we call structures like this since antiquity.
So then why does the whole world know this amphitheater as Colosseum?According to the tradition, the name Colosseum comes from the colossal statue of Nero that used to be located just next to it, between the Temple of Venus and Rome and the Colosseum, where today we can see some trees. This statue was as high as a 10-storey building, and only a few feet shorter than the Statue of Liberty in New York! That’s why they called it Colossus!

What was the Colosseum used for?
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The statue was part of the Domus Aurea complex (the massive residential complex of the emperor Nero). After Nero’s death the face of the statue was turned into the face of the God Sol, the god of Sun.

And from this statue, the Colossus, the name transferred later on, in the Middle Ages, to the Colosseum.
So if you were to walk in ancient Rome and ask passers-by for directions to the Colosseum, people would probably look at you like-what?!

How could you attend a show at the Colosseum? Would you need a ticket for it? And why is it “broken”? The answers are in my next post: Colosseum: tickets and seating rulesHave a look to find out more!
I hope you enjoyed reading/watching! See you next time, ciao! 🙂

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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