Excerpt from the book On a Tall Budget and Short Attention Span from the Teresa the Traveler Series.
Rome is the capital city of Italy and also Italy’s largest and most populated city with over 2500 years of history. It was at one time the largest city in the world and a major center of Western civilization. Fortunately many of her ancient buildings remained intact as Rome was one of the few major European cities to make it through WWII relatively unscathed.
Not only did this thriving city host the 1960 Summer Olympics it was also where the Treaty of Rome was signed establishing the European Economic Community, the predecessor to the European Union.
That was enough history for me; I closed the book and drummed my fingers on the desk willing John to get his disorganized self in gear so we could walk to the coliseum. When he finally arrived he was famished so we stopped at a nearby café for a plate of pasta. After eating a hearty dish of baked spaghetti I was stuffed and John had only begun. His favorite part of Italy was the food and he fully intended to eat his way through Rome.
He stopped at every food stand along the way devouring a large soft pretzel, two sandwiches, a pastry and some gelato. The strangest part was how he could eat that much without gaining weight. Where the heck was all that food going?
It was getting late in the day and I was afraid the coliseum would close before we got there so I threatened to staple his mouth shut if he didn’t quit feeding it.
My threat worked and 20 minutes later we were standing in front of the Roman Coliseum. How cool is that? THE ROMAN COLISEUM - home of the Gladiators and center of ancient Roman life.
Construction on the Coliseum started in 70 AD and ten years later Titus opened it. The opening ceremonies and games lasted for 100 days during which time an astounding 9000 wild animals were put to death. The Coliseum had a capacity of over 50,000 spectators who came to see gladiator combats, executions and wild animal hunts. Admission was free with people sitting according to class. The higher someone’s position in society the closer they sat to the stage. For example, women, with the exception of spouses and members of the Imperial family, and the poor stood or sat on wooden benches in the fourth tier. These events were the Emperors way of keeping the people entertained so they wouldn’t question what his regime was really up too playing much the same role as television and video games do today.
Elaborate stages consisting of hills, forests and small lakes were created to reenact famous land and sea battles. The stage was a wooden platform that covered the network of rooms and passages underneath where the wild animals were caged. During a show the animals were herded into an elevator and brought onto the stage through trap doors.
The gladiators, who lived across the road, had their own passage from their barracks to the stage. These men would battle both wild animals and each other. When a gladiator went down, his opponent would look to the Emperor for thumbs up meaning the Gladiator would live, or a thumbs down meaning the Gladiator would die. Gladiators were expensive to keep and train so the verdict was usually a “thumbs up”.
Most gladiators were slaves or convicts who were given the chance to win their freedom after a certain number of years or battles. However, only a small fraction ever achieved this – the vast majority inevitably died in battle. Gladiator fighting was abolished in 438AD with the last known Coliseum battle taking place around 523AD.
After being closed for a number of years the Coliseum was reopened as a Catholic shrine to honor the vast number of gladiators, prisoners of war, Christians and animals that lost their lives in the amphitheatre.
We arrived just before the ticket office closed giving us barely enough time to explore the world’s largest ancient amphitheatre. I wanted to smear gelato all over John’s face for making us late. MEN! We rented audio guides and raced through the theatre seeing and learning as much as possible before it closed.