Colosseum Facts – Ultimate Guide on Facts (50+ facts)

With a massive seating capacity of up to 50,000 people, colosseum is arguably the best architecture of ancient Rome. What’s more amazing about colosseum facts is that such huge spectators could make a quick exit within just 3 minutes. Indeed, it was no small feat of Roman engineering. Located at the heart of Rome, the colosseum stood the test of time while its ruins reminds us of some of the ingenious ways in which romans constructed buildings. It was the largest amphitheater ever built which explains why it still stands as one of the greatest icons of the roman empire.

Now let’s go back in time and dive right into the roman colosseum history!

Colosseum old image - Colosseum facts for kids
Once upon a time, Colosseum looked like this! Image courtesy Dark Rome Tours & Walks Image permission creativecommons

Roman Colosseum History – Complete and Interesting Colosseum Facts for Kids

  • The original name for this amphitheater was in Latin language which is anglicized to Flavian Amphitheater.
  • Amphitheaters were not alien to roman culture since there were more than 250 of them throughout the roman empire.
  • Before colosseum, there were quite a lot of amphitheaters on the outskirts of Rome. But this new amphitheater was unique because it was built in the city’s center.
  • In 64 CE, the Great Fire of Rome had caused massive destruction to the city. After that, the infamous roman emperor Nero built a pleasure palace called Domus Aurea (the Golden House) for himself. He then built an artificial lake at the face of this palace, which was supplied by Aqua Claudia aqueduct.
  • After the fire destroyed most of the parts of Domus Aurea, the site of its lake was later used for building new amphitheater, called colosseum.
  • Colosseum was not only a slaughter house but also an entertainment venue for thousands of romans. 
  • After the first Jewish-Roman War, in which jews rebelled against the roman rule, about one hundred thousand jews (as prisoners) were sent to Rome for building this amphitheater. 
Colosseum pic - Colosseum facts for kids
Colosseum from the outside. Image courtesy Cornell University Library
  • In 70 CE, the roman emperor Vespasian ordered the construction of colosseum. However, he was passed away in 79 CE. By that time, three stories of this grand stadium were finished.
  • Vespasian paid for this grand structure out of the booty of war.
  • After Vespasian’s death, his son (named Titus) succeeded him and came to the throne. Thus, by 80 CE, Titus had completed the unfinished work.
  • In the year 80 CE, emperor Titus started the inaugural games and marked the beginning of this amphitheater. These opening games lasted for 100 days and more than 9,000 wild animals were slaughtered. Besides, 2,000 gladiators fought with each other in this single series of game. 
  • After the inauguration, the structure was decorated with sparkling bronze discs. These discs were placed at the upper layer of amphitheater and symbolized the shields that romans had captured.
  • Romans would normally re-enact the characters of the greek myths in the theater. But in the colosseum’s inaugural games, the convicts acted out as greek mythological characters. After that, they were hurled into the arena for real so that they would be killed in an appalling scene.
  • Under the rule of another son of Vespasian, named Domitian (81 CE – 96 CE), a number of underground passageways were built to keep slaves and animals. These tunnels were called hypogeum.
  • In 217 CE, a fire broke out due to lightning striking the top floor of the building. First, the wooden floor of the arena was burned down by fire. After that, the wooden structures underneath were set on fire and eventually the whole building collapsed.
  • It took more than 30 years to rebuild the structure to its original shape.
  • Archaeologists discovered the inscription on a marble slab made up of bronze letters. These letters were inscribed on the orders of Vespasian. According to these, the colosseum was built out of the booty from ransacking the temple of Jerusalem and the Palestinian War.
  • Roman gladiators used this arena for fighting contests until 6th century.
  • During middle ages, a clan of roman patrician called Frangipani used this amphitheater as a castle.

Fast Facts about Roman Colosseum Facts

Original NameFlavian Amphitheater
ShapeElliptical
Duration under which it remained in service443 years
Name of its originator
Vespasian
Start Date71 C.E.
Date of Work Completion 96 C.E.
Work completed byDomitian (brother of Tito)
Year of Opening Games (Inauguration)80 C.E. by Tito (Vespasian’s son)
Height of Colosseum
170 feet
Height of Outer Wall48 meters (157 feet)
Height of underground 20 feet
Length189 meters (615 feet)
Width156 meters (510 feet)
Area of the base24,000 square meters
Size of oval-shaped arena:
Length87 meters (287 feet)
Width55 meters (180 feet)
Height of wall on the sides of central arena 5 meters (15 feet)
Seating Capacity45,000 - 50,000 people

Colosseum Architecture

  • The grand amphitheater stands more than 160 feet high and with a clear span of up to 2,000 feet, it is arguably the largest amphitheater ever built.
  • The colosseum had a seating capacity of around 45,000 spectators. Besides, this stadium could also hold more than 20,000 standing people.
  • The spectators would sit in tier of seats.
  • In the colosseum, the best seats were located behind the podium. These seats were about two meters high above the arena.
Colosseum architecture - colosseum facts
Image copyright William Silveira
  • There were 80 separate entrances to the amphitheater. Out of these, only four entrances were reserved for the rich patricians, senators and emperors while the rest were used by ordinary romans (called plebs). These four special entrance gates were not numbered and located on east, west and north, south of the building.
  • Each story contained 80 arches.
  • There were 160 bronze statues under the arches of the building. Each statue measured 16 feet high. These statues represented the gods and heroes.
  • The entire amphitheater consisted of three stories. There was also a fourth story that contained holes just like windows.
  • The columns in each level of the building were made up of different designs. At the bottom, the columns were built of Doric style. Above them, there were Ionic design columns. Finally, the upper level columns were Corinthian design.
  • The roman emperor would make his way into the colosseum from northern main entrance. At the top of this entrance, a bronze horse-drawn chariot was installed.
  • For roman emperor, there was a special box at the northern end so in order to have the best view of the contest.
  • The audience would arrive through a passageway into the amphitheater called vomitorium. When the contests were over, this passage allowed tens of thousands of spectators to evacuate within minutes.
  • Each of the staircases, entryways and exits of the amphitheater was numbered.

  • The gate at the west point was known as the Gate of Death. This is because exotic animals and gladiators who were killed during the combat were taken away through this gate. This gate led toward the room called Spoliarium.
  • Originally, the floor of the arena was made up of wood. On top of wood, there was a layer of 15 centimeters of sand so that it might soak the blood.
  • The ruins of colosseum standing today is only one third of the original structure. Most of the building was destroyed during earthquakes and fires.
  • In the 6th century, a small chapel was added to the building.
  • The southern side of this structure was destroyed during the earthquake in 1349.
  • Roman builders used iron clamps (instead of mortar) to fix the travertine stones on the outer wall of the amphitheater.
  • Romans used to seek pleasure from watching mass executions. In colosseum, they staged naval battles in which ships carrying hundreds of prisoners were forced to sink, causing mass murder. This was known as Naumachia, which means “naval combat”.
  • For naumachia, romans would bring huge volumes of water into the colosseum thanks to eleven aqueducts that carried water into the capital city.
  • Under the arena, roman architects built four drains (or collectors) that took the water away and emptied the arena.
  • Archaeologists have also found signs of 40 input channels that may have brought water into the arena and flooded it.
  • After calculating the time it takes to drain the water, it is found that four drains of colosseum would empty the flooded arena within less than one hour.
Inside the colosseum - colosseum facts
Image copyright Alfonso González

Interesting Facts about the Colosseum

  • A colosseum holding more than 50,000 spectators could be evacuated in less than 10 minutes thanks to the 80 entryways.
  • Coinage was also minted in order to celebrate the inauguration.   
  • This amphitheater remained as the bloody fighting venue for about 450 years.
  • At the colosseum, the final gladiator combat was recorded in around 404 CE.
  • Colosseum has also been a worldwide symbol for anti-death penalties. In Italy, the capital punishment ended in 1948.
  • Today, whenever a death penalty convict is commuted in any part of the world, the authorities tend to change the nighttime colors of its light to gold. Normally, the structure is illuminated with white color light. 
  • The exterior wall of the structure that still stands today was once the interior wall of colosseum.
  • There was a shade for spectators sitting in the top rows consisting of women and the poor. However, they were about 100 meters away from the arena.
  • In 1756, the French Jacquier calculated that amount equivalent to more than 39 million euros must have been spent in building only the outer wall of colosseum.
  • It is estimated that for up to 400 years, about one million people were killed in colosseum.
  • During each season, about 11,000 animals were slaughtered. Due to the mass killing of wild animals, some species like north African elephant became extinct.
Painting of colosseum arena - colosseum facts
Painting by
Jean-Léon Gérôme in 1872 – Image source Wikipedia
  • Each year more than 5 million tourists around the globe flock to the city of Rome just to see this grand amphitheater.
  • A series of game in the colosseum could last for about ten days. 
  • Colosseum was built in oval shape rather than circular. In reality, if a gladiator was stuck to a corner, he would be killed because there was no way he could fight back from there. As a result, the gladiator combat would come to an end right away as soon as combatant was killed. So in order to have maximum excitement (by dragging out the combat) for the spectators, roman architects built it in oval shape.
  • In the morning, romans would stage sea battles. When naumachia was over, they would drain all the water away to allow for gladiator combat in the afternoon. Strangely enough, both these games were to be held in the same day.
  • The amount of water that was needed to flood the arena of colosseum is equal to two swimming pools of the olympic.
Overview of colosseum - colosseum facts
Image by Dennis Jarvis – Image permission creativecommons

Important Questions about the Roman Colosseum Facts

QuestionsAnswers
Use of colosseum todayIn modern Rome, this building is now one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions. It is not possible to stage big events here due to its ruined condition.
PurposeIt was used for gladiator fights, staging naval battles, hunting of animals (known as Venatio).
In the Middle Ages, Colosseum was used for workshops, housing and as a shrine for christians.
Materials UsedConcrete, travertine, tiles and tuff
The outer wall, pillars and ground floor were all made up of limestone, called travertine. It was extracted from nearby town, now known as Tivoli.
Age1,938 years
SignificanceA gift to the people of Rome;
A symbol of the emperor’s strength and infuse the roman society with the sense of who they were;
To get support from citizens for the Flavian dynasty
LocationAt the heart of Rome and on the east side of Roman Forum
Names of animals killedEuropean wood bison, ostrich, bear, Barbary lion, panther, Caspian tiger, rhinos, crocs, elephants, hippos and giraffes
Sea battlesColosseum was flooded and drained to stage mock sea battles. The prisoners and slaves were made to put up a real fight until death or drowning of opponent. They used to call these battles naumachiae, meaning ‘sea warfare’ in Greek.
The naval battles in the colosseum were held during the reigns of Titus and Domitian.
In 46 BC, the mock naval battle was held for the first time by Julius Caesar.
DamageThe structure is damaged largely due to lightning, fire and earthquakes. Some of its stones were pillaged and used in other structures as well. Metal clamps were also stolen to build weapons. Many of its parts had also been taken as souvenirs since some pieces of its structure were broken away by the people.
Number of Deaths400,000 people and one million exotic animals
Number of tourists to visit each yearMore than 400,000 people
How long did it take to complete it?It took around six to eight years to build this amphitheater.
Number of floorsEach floor had 80 entrance arches;
Each arch was separated by Corinthian, Tuscan and Ionic columns.
Number of trap doors36
Reason why is it so famousColosseum is famous for gladiator combats, wild animal hunts and sea battles. It was also a source of mass entertainment for romans since they loved spectacles.

Sources:

http://www.the-colosseum.net/architecture/numeri_en.htm

http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/ancient/romans/colosseum_01.shtml

http://www.tribunesandtriumphs.org/colosseum/building-the-colosseum.htm

https://web.archive.org/web/20180214030303/https://www.csicop.org/si/show/myths_and_secrets_of_the_colosseum

Colosseum Ancient History – Documentary