The Roman Colosseum, located in Rome, Italy. I'm sure we all know of this architecture or have at least, heard of it. It is famously known as one of the Seven Wonders of the World! Though it is currently, mainly, a tourist spot, it used to actually be the location where spectators would gather and watch the spectacles held there!
History of the Colosseum
Before we move on to the shows, we have to know a little bit of the background information of the Colosseum. In 72 CE, construction of the Colosseum was started during the reign of Vespasian on the site which used to be the lake and gardens of Emperor Nero's Golden House. The lake was drained and as a precaution against potential earthquake damage, concrete foundations six metres deep were put down. The main objective behind the construction of the Colosseum was to restore Rome to its former glory prior to the recent civil war at that time. In 80 CE, the Colosseum was officially opened, known as the Flavian Amphitheater, and it started with a 100 days of games, which inluded gladiatorial combats and wild animal fights (which were shows that were continually held from that day onwards!). These shows would last from dawn till nightfall, and it would usually be started by the gladiators, with a chariot procession (accompanied by musical instruments such as trumpets) and then they would dismount and circle the arena and salute the emperor.
The Gladiatorial Combats and Venatio
Though a variety of spectacles were held in the Colosseum, we will focus on the gladiatorial combats. The gladiatorial shows mainly featured gladiators who came from various backgrounds. Most came from slave or criminal background (though, many prisoners of war were also made to be gladiators). Bankcrupt aristocrats were also known to become gladiators as their last resort to making a living and women were also allowed to participate as gladiators (though they were later banned in 200 CE)! The combats were often seen as a demonstration of power and it was very popular with the Roman citizens. Weapons used in the battles included swords, lances, tridents, and even nets! There were basically four principal classes for the gladiators (Samnite, Thracian, Myrmillo, and Retiarius). The Samnites were the most heavily armed gladiators, wielding a sword or lance, and also having a large square shield (Scutum) and protective armor on his right arm and left leg. The Thracian gladiators wielded a curved short sword (Sica) and a very small square or round shield (Parma), held in the fist to protect its user from the blows. The Myrmillo gladiators were sometimes known as the fishman (due to the fish-shaped crest on his helmet); he, too, carried a short sword and scutum (like the Samnite) but had armor of only padding on his arm and leg. The Retiarius was the least armed as he had no helmet or amor other than a padded shoulder piece and he carried a weighted net.
The fate of the gladiators were often decided in the combat. These combats were often a matter of life and death as losers of the combats were often killed. If the loser is not immediately killed, he would often appeal for mercy by dropping his weapon and shield and raising a finger. The winner could then decide to spare his life (that, however, would bring a risk of meeting each other again) though it was considered to be a good professional practice to kill your opponent. If the emperor was present, he would decide the fate of the loser though the crowd would often try to influence his decision.
Venationes, the wild animal hunts, were also held at the colosseum. Now, there were actually two types of matching in the venatio. The first type of matching in the venatio involved the matching of beasts with one another in murderous combat. The second type of mathcing in the venatio involved the matching of men and the beasts which also had two forms of combat. The first form of combat involving the men and the beast resembled a 'hunt' where the men (generally referred to as the venatores), who were provided with offensive weapons and were specially trained for this, were made to fight the wild beasts. The second combat was often a spectacle where men condemned to death were thrown to the beasts without any form of defence or resources. Essentially, this was an execution! (We have heard of such execution being given in an example in class! Hint: Perpetua)
Modern day civilisation
Now, you may believe that the days of spectators watching brutal shows (satisfying their thirst for violence and blood) are a thing of the past and that it has no link to us today but i would suggest otherwise! i believe that it still persists today, just in a different form! We, too, have a modern-day 'Colosseum', where violent shows are also shown to spectators, also known as the cinema! Just take a moment and think of the movies that you've watched that have contained gore, violence and blood (or at least, one of them). From the likes of "300" to the "Final Destination" series, we have quite a number of such movies. We continue to gain enjoyment from watching such killings just as the Roman citizens did (I'm very much guilty of gaining such enjoyment). In fact, if we do an online search for top rated movies of all time, we get the likes of "The Godfather" (involves guns and shooting people, killing them) to "The Lord of The Rings" (involves more killing via various weapons such as swords, axes, bow and arrows) within society's rankings of top movies!
The colosseum is definitely a magnificent building that the Romans built. However, despite the beautiful structure of the building, it cannot be denied that within its confined spaces, it once held bloody and violent gladiatorial shows that were watched and enjoyed by many Roman citizens. Though such gladiatorial shows may no longer exist, the 'thrist' for such brutal shows still lingers in modern society but at least, such killings are being done in the cinematic world instead of reality!