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Ancient Rome

The Colosseum

History >> Ancient Rome

The Colosseum is a giant amphitheatre in the center of Rome, Italy. It was built during the Roman Empire.

Photo of the Roman Colosseum
Roman Colosseum by Kevin Brintnall

When was it built?

Construction on the Colosseum was started in 72 AD by the emperor Vespasian. It was finished eight years later in 80 AD.

How big was it?

The Colosseum was huge. It could seat 50,000 people. It covers around 6 acres of land and is 620 feet long, 512 feet wide, and 158 feet tall. It took more than 1.1 million tons of concrete, stone, and bricks to complete the Colosseum.


Where people sat in the Colosseum was determined by Roman law. The best seats were reserved for the Senators. Behind them were the equestrians or ranking government officials. A bit higher up sat the ordinary Roman citizens (men) and the soldiers. Finally, at the top of the stadium sat the slaves and the women.

Drawing of the seating inside the Colosseum
Seating inside the Colosseum was according to social status
by Ningyou at Wikimedia Commons

Emperor's Box

The best seat in the house belonged to the emperor who sat in the Emperor's Box. Of course, a lot of times it was the emperor who was paying for the games. This was one way for the emperor to make the people happy and to keep them liking him.

Underground Passages

Below the Colosseum was a labyrinth of underground passages called the hypogeum. These passages allowed for animals, actors, and gladiators to suddenly appear in the middle of the arena. They would use trap doors to add in special effects such as scenery.


The walls of the Colosseum were built with stone. They made use of a number of arches in order to keep the weight down, but yet still keep them strong. There were four different levels that could be accessed by stairs. Who could enter each level was carefully controlled. The floor of the Colosseum was wooden and covered with sand.

Inside the Colosseum today
Interior of the Colosseum. Photo by Jebulon.


Outside of the Colosseum was an enormous 30 foot bronze statue of the emperor Nero called the Colossus of Nero. It was later turned into a statue of the Sun god Sol Invictus. Some historians believe that the name for the Colosseum comes from the Colossus.

The Velarium

To keep the hot sun and the rain off of spectators, there was a retractable awning called the velarium. There were 240 wooden masts around the top of the stadium to support the awning. Roman sailors were used to put up the velarium when it was needed.


The Colosseum had 76 entrances and exits. This was to help the thousands of people to exit the arena in case of a fire or other emergency. The passages to the seating areas were called vomitoria. The public entrances were each numbered and spectators had a ticket that said where they were supposed to enter.

Why is it spelled that way?

The original name for the Colosseum was the Amphitheatrum Flavium, but it eventually became known as the Colosseum. The normal spelling for a generic large amphitheater used for sports and other entertainment is "coliseum". However, when referring to the one in Rome, it is capitalized and spelled "Colosseum".

Interesting Facts about the Colosseum Activities For more about Ancient Rome:

Overview and History
Timeline of Ancient Rome
Early History of Rome
The Roman Republic
Republic to Empire
Wars and Battles
Roman Empire in England
Fall of Rome

Cities and Engineering
The City of Rome
City of Pompeii
The Colosseum
Roman Baths
Housing and Homes
Roman Engineering
Roman Numerals
Daily Life
Daily Life in Ancient Rome
Life in the City
Life in the Country
Food and Cooking
Family Life
Slaves and Peasants
Plebeians and Patricians

Arts and Religion
Ancient Roman Art
Roman Mythology
Romulus and Remus
The Arena and Entertainment
Julius Caesar
Constantine the Great
Gaius Marius
Spartacus the Gladiator
Emperors of the Roman Empire
Women of Rome

Legacy of Rome
The Roman Senate
Roman Law
Roman Army
Glossary and Terms

Works Cited

History >> Ancient Rome

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