The Roman Colosseum as Art: Purpose & Layout

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  • 0:02 History
  • 2:15 Purpose of the Colosseum
  • 3:03 Layout of the Colosseum
  • 5:40 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Margaret Moran
The Roman Colosseum is one of the most well-known testaments to the marvels of the Roman Empire. From the blood baths of gladiators to the elegant dramas on ancient mythology, the Colosseum was where you wanted to be!


As the flames of the Great Fire of Rome in 64 AD died away, people were suffering and trying to rebuild, but Emperor Nero had other plans and took the land in the heart of the city for himself. This became his Domus Aurea, or Golden House, a man-made lake surrounded by pavilions, gardens, and statues, with a statue of his own likeness at the entrance. After Nero's death, the Domus Aurea was nothing but an eyesore. Vespasian, the first Emperor of the Flavian dynasty, chose to give the land back to the people. He filled in the lake, and in its place built the Colosseum for the people, originally named the Flavian Amphitheatre.

Construction of the Colosseum began in 70 AD, after the Great Jewish Revolt, which also led to a siege of the city of Jerusalem. Along with the money and riches from that conquest, nearly 100,000 Jewish prisoners were brought to Rome and were used to construct the Colosseum. At the quarry in Tivoli, slaves would mine the stone from the earth and lift and transport these materials 20 miles. Teams of professionals would be used for the more detailed and complex tasks of designing and building the Colosseum.

The true construction began between 70 and 75 AD. The exact date is unclear. By the time of Emperor Vespasian's death in 79 AD, construction had finished up to the third floor, while the top level was finished by 80 AD by the emperor's eldest son, Titus.

After its completion in 80 AD and the death of Emperor Titus in 81 AD, Vespasian's youngest son, Domitian, became the third emperor of the Flavian Dynasty. He redesigned a few aspects of the Colosseum, including the hypogeum, a series of tunnels underground to move and house animals or slaves out of view of the spectators. He helped design and add the gallery at the top to increase the Colosseum's capacity to 80,000 people, though an average of 65,000 people would enjoy the events.

Purpose of the Colosseum

One of the most popular purposes of this grand building was the bloody gladiator game. But this building had more than that to draw in the population. Events called munera, or simply 'shows,' were also planned and performed here. These plays and dramas were funded by rich, powerful families and not by the government.

The Colosseum was also a place for animal hunts that the Romans called venatio. These were not simple hunts. They were not quick and they certainly were not boring. They utilized wild beasts foreign to the Roman people, such as rhinos, hippos, elephants, lions, tigers, and bears, brought from Africa or the Middle East. These events were very complex, with movable trees and props to offer a variety of landscapes for the hunts to take place in.

Layout of the Colosseum

The Colosseum was a complex and marvelous building. The basic shape was that of two Roman theaters that were placed back to back. This formed an oval shape for the floor with a length of 615 feet and width of 510 feet. The area of the structure was roughly six acres, with a standing height of 157 feet.

The masterful construction of this structure used no mortar, and was typical of Roman construction at the time. It is estimated that it took nearly 3.5 million cubic feet of travertine stone. These blocks were held together by some 300 tons worth of iron clamps.

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