What is the Colosseum?

Pretty much everyone on the planet knows the Colosseum as an iconic building.

But do we really know what the Colosseum used to be? And why we do call it like this? What was it used for?

To find out, continue reading!

What is the Colosseum?

It was the equivalent of a modern stadium today. With the difference that in this ancient stadium, instead of football matches and concerts, there were way more violent and cruel shows.

What was the Colosseum used for?

In this ancient stadium three kinds of shows were usually taking 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 is the colosseum

Take a virtual trip to the Colosseum with us, without leaving your house 😉

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 that you can get an idea of how incredible this building is.

what is the colosseum

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

The real name of this building is actually Flavian Amphitheater.

Flavian, because the emperors that built it belonged to the Flavian dynasty. It was 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.

what is the colosseum
Did you know we do live-streamed guided tours of the Colosseum? You can ask all your questions.. this is YOUR tour!

So then why does the whole world know this amphitheater as Colosseum?

According to the tradition, this name comes from the colossal statue of Nero that used to be located just next to it. It used to be 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 is the colosseum

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 had no clue of what you were talking about!

Planning a trip to Rome? Better planning ahead and ensure you get a ticket to the Colosseum. Have a look at these in-person tours:

🔸VIP Colosseum Underground Tour with Roman Forum & Palatine Hill 

🔸VIP Colosseum At Night Tour With Underground & Arena Floor  

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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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