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Roman Amphitheaters

Colosseum in Rome

Most people have heard of the Colosseum in Rome, but there were many other amphitheaters all over the Roman Empire. The first gladiatorial fights, in Etruscan times, were held anywhere that there was a flat place near a hill, so that people could sit on the hillside and watch the fights being held down on the flat area. But there isn't always a convenient hill like that, so before long, around 300 BC, rich men and city governments started to build temporary wooden amphitheaters for people to sit in, like artificial hills, or like the seating for events at county fairs or festivals today. They were called amphitheaters because they were built like two theaters facing each other.

Pompeii amphitheater
The amphitheater in Pompeii

By the last years of the Roman Republic, though, there were so many gladiatorial fights that people got tired of putting up these wooden amphitheaters and taking them down again. Big towns began to build permanent amphitheaters out of limestone and marble. The first stone amphitheaters were not built in Rome, but in Pompeii and other smaller towns in Italy.

colosseum rome
The Colosseum in Rome

The first stone amphitheater in Rome was the Colosseum, built in the 70s AD by the Roman emperor Vespasian.

In the time of the Roman Empire, nearly every town of more than a few thousand people had its own stone amphitheater, all over the Roman Empire from Syria to Spain, and from England to Tunisia. Many of these are still standing (at least part of them is still standing) even today, and you can go visit them.

Learn by doing: build a model amphitheater
Or hold gladiatorial games
More about Roman amphitheaters
The Colosseum in Rome

Bibliography and further reading about Roman amphitheaters:

Roman Amphitheaters, by Don Nardo (2002). Easy reading. Mainly about the Colosseum in Rome.

Make This Model Roman Amphitheatre, by Iain Ashman (1995).

Roman Architecture, by Frank Sear (1983). The standard college textbook.

The Roman Amphitheatre: From its Origins to the Colosseum, by Katherine Welch (2004). By a specialist, for specialists.

Roman Architecture
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Professor Carr

Karen Eva Carr, PhD.
Assoc. Professor Emerita, History
Portland State University

Professor Carr holds a B.A. with high honors from Cornell University in classics and archaeology, and her M.A. and PhD. from the University of Michigan in Classical Art and Archaeology. She has excavated in Scotland, Cyprus, Greece, Israel, and Tunisia, and she has been teaching history to university students for a very long time.

Professor Carr's PSU page

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Now that the weather's nice, try some of these outdoor activities! How about bicycle polo, or archery for a Medieval Islam day? Or kite flying or making a compass for a day in Medieval China? How about making a shaduf for a day in Ancient Egypt? Holding an Ancient Greek Olympic Games or a medieval European tournament? Building a Native American wickiup?