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What It Was Like To Be A Spectator In The Roman Colosseum

Updated March 6, 2019 37.3k views13 items

Ancient Romans loved their sports and entertainment, and the Colosseum put on the grandest games in all of ancient Rome. With its gladiators, interchangeable arenas, exotic animals, and the rare naval reenactment, being a spectator in the Roman Colosseum would have indeed been a spectacle.

Crowds of 50,000 people, spanning every region and socioeconomic class of the empire, gathered at the stadium to watch shows and get away from the disgusting life of everyday Rome. They enjoyed food, wine, music, and theatrics in a large venue, all paid for by the emperor himself. 

At the Colosseum, the audience could munch on chickpeas while waiting for the mid-day execution, watch for lions and other exotic animals released through the arena's hidden trap doors from their cramped seats, or see Roman elites collecting sweat from a gladiator (they thought it was an aphrodisiac). Events held at the Colosseum were so varied and elaborate that onlookers never knew what to expect.

  • Nobody Called It The Colosseum
    Photo: Ankurgupta208 / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 3.0

    Nobody Called It The Colosseum

    After the disastrous reign of Emperor Nero and three other rulers all within a year, Emperor Vespasian took power and distanced himself from the image of personal luxury and opulence associated with his predecessors. Through propaganda and great projects around the empire, Vespasian established his vision as a leader who worked for the Roman people, not his desires.

    One such public works project was the Colosseum. Vespasian personally commissioned the project as an entertainment venue for the people of Rome. Over 10 years between 70-80 CE, Vespasian demolished Nero's private lake, and in its place built the enormous Colosseum. At the time, however, no one called it that - it was instead known as the Flavian Amphitheater, after the emperor's family.

    So why do we call it the Colosseum? The title itself only dates back to as far as the 11th century, and most historians believe it is named after the Colossus Neronis, a large bronze statue commissioned by Nero, which was once located near where the Colosseum was built.