Comparing the Roman Colosseum & the Theater at Epidaurus

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  • 0:02 Ancient Entertainment
  • 0:32 The Roman Colossuem
  • 2:27 The Theater at Epidauros
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Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

In this lesson, you will explore two different performance centers of the ancient world, the Roman Colosseum and the Theater at Epidauros. Then, test your understanding with a brief quiz.

Ancient Entertainment

Hey - whatcha doing tonight? Wanna go catch a show? There's some good stuff playing right now. It just depends on which theater you wanna check out. If you're in the mood for a gladiatorial combat or mock historic battle, we could head on over to ancient Rome. Or if you want to see something a bit more intellectual, maybe a stirring drama, we could stop by ancient Greece. Both of these civilizations loved their entertainment and built fantastic theaters to house their performances. So, you buy the tickets. I'll get the popcorn, and let's go see a show!

The Roman Colosseum

Want to start off the night in Rome? Ehh, good choice! Ancient Romans loved a good show, and there is no better place for it than the Flavian Amphitheater, more often called the 'Colosseum' due to its colossal size. This structure was originally built from 70-80 AD by the emperors Vespasian and Titus of the Flavian dynasty. It is an incredible structure, built mostly of concrete, a Roman invention, and using the arch to create a strong but relatively lightweight theater that is multiple stories high.

Underneath the center arena is a network of rooms for fighters to prepare themselves, and cages for wild animals, all of which connect to retractable ramps that lead to the arena. Originally, the theater was probably covered in tarps on wooden beams, modeled after a ships' sails, that protected the crowd from the sun.

And what a crowd it was! The Colosseum could hold up to 80,000 people. Since the people of Rome loved their entertainment, the emperors built this as a gift to the people of Rome and as a way to increase their own popularity.

There were many sorts of events held at the Colosseum, from reenactments of famous battles to animal hunts, and even executions. At one time, the entire arena was actually flooded and ships were built inside to reenact a famous naval battle.

Most common, however, were the gladiators: slaves who fought each other to the amusement of the crowd. These warriors were trained daily in the art of combat and became very skilled fighters. On most days, a gladiatorial fight would not result in death, the fight lasting until one gladiator clearly had the upper hand. At this point, the emperor would give a thumbs up, indicating that the gladiator should let his opponent live, or a thumbs down, ordering the opponent killed. Since gladiators were very popular figures, many being genuine celebrities in Rome, their lives were most often spared.

The Theater at Epidaurus

Well, the gladiator fight was a fun way to kick off the evening, but now I'm more in the mood for a play. So, let's head on over to ancient Greece and see what's showing at the Theater at Epidaurus. Built around 340 BC by Polykleitos the Younger, this was one of the largest theaters in all of ancient Greece, holding up to 14,000 people.

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