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The Roman Colosseum

© Bryan_Redding/Getty Images The Roman Colosseum stands guard against the fading day in the heart of ancient Rome, Italy.

By Rosalie F. Baker, Cricket Media

Begun during the rule of the Roman emperor Vespasian (A .D . 69–79), the Colosseum was officially dedicated the year after his death by his son and successor, Titus. The Colosseum was not completed, however, until A .D . 82, the year after Titus died. Within its walls, surrounded by a dazzling display of splendor and extravagance, the poorest citizen could share in the wealth and power of the empire. No mention of any riot or uncontrollable crowd appears in any of the works by the ancient authors.

For generations, the magnificence and size of the gladiatorial combats and other games held in the Colosseum increased as each emperor attempted to outdo his predecessor. Gradually, however, as Christianity and its philosophy of the value of life began to spread across the Roman world, the spectacles ceased to appeal to the masses. Early in the 5th century, an angry monk named Telemachus leaped into the arena in an attempt to snatch the weapons from two gladiators. The crazed spectators turned on the man and stoned him to death. Soon after, Roman legislators passed a law forbidding gladiatorial combat. The venationes (fights between animals or between animals and men) continued, however, until the 6th century.

© AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia, Files

Earthquakes in 492 and 508 caused some portions of the Colosseum to fall. The collapse of half of the outer shell was probably the result of a 9th-century earthquake. Contemporary accounts note that fallen blocks of travertine (a type of limestone) and other decorations were hauled away to build other structures such as palaces and bridges. In fact, entire buildings were constructed using pieces of the Colosseum. Even the marble fa├žade was stripped and reused, and several of the marble chairs once used by Roman senators and dignitaries stand today in Rome’s churches.

held in the arena. The destruction continued, however, as cartload after cartload of travertine blocks were hauled away. In the 18th century, the Colosseum became a depository for manure, which was used in the production of saltpeter, an ingredient needed to make explosives. Decades later, it was consecrated to the memory of the Christians who had suffered martyrdom within its walls. Today, scholars believe that no Christians were killed in the Colosseum. Gradually, the willful destruction ceased as people again began to appreciate the Colosseum’s historical value. Today, the focus is on strengthening and preserving its walls and inner structure. Efforts are also being made to curb the noise, air, and environmental pollution that still threaten this magnificent structure.

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News: The Roman Colosseum
The Roman Colosseum
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