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A big stone building with arches, halfway fallen down - Roman colosseum

Roman Colosseum – the Flavian Amphitheater – in Rome, Italy. Built about 70 AD

Vespasian built the Roman Colosseum so people would like him

When Vespasian became the new Roman Emperor in 69 AD, he wanted everyone to know that he cared about the people. He was going to take care of them and not live luxuriously as Nero had.

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The emperor Vespasian
The Golden House
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Vespasian tore down a lot of Nero’s Golden House and made the land into a public park. That did make Vespasian pretty popular!

He called it the Flavian Amphitheater

Vespasian also used his share of the gold from the looting after the First Jewish Revolt to pay for the construction of a new amphitheater. And again, he put his new amphitheater right where the Golden House had been before the fire. He put an inscription on the front of the Colosseum reminding people that the money came from the Roman army’s victory over the Jews.

What’s an amphitheater?
Building in concrete
The First Jewish Revolt

Because Vespasian’s architects used the new method of building in concrete, he was able to build quickly and cheaply. We call this amphitheater the Colosseum. That’s a nickname it got from the giant statue of Nero that stood near it. Giant statues were called Colossi. But its ancient name was the Flavian Amphitheater. Building the amphitheater made Vespasian even more popular in Rome.

People killed animals and other people there

Seats in the Roman Colosseum - torn up so only the brick substructure is left

Seats in the Roman Colosseum

The Colosseum was a place where a lot of people could sit and watch entertainment. The entertainment was mostly people killing animals, or people killing each other. As far as we know, this wasn’t where the Roman government killed Christians – that was further out of town, where St. Peter’s Cathedral and the Vatican are now.

Gladiatorial games

It was almost exactly like a football stadium today. It was built of concrete and marble and limestone.

Basement level of the Colosseum, rooms and hallways with the floor above them missing

Basement level of the Colosseum

What happened to the seats?

The reason the Colosseum seats look so terrible in this picture is that a lot of the seats were made of marble. So people have stolen them away over the years and burned them in lime kilns to make mortar and cement.

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The floor has also been burned for cement. So you can see the rooms in the basement where the Romans kept the animals and the equipment and stuff.

Learn by doing – Building a model of the Colosseum
More about Roman amphitheaters

Bibliography and further reading about the Roman Colosseum:

The Roman Colosseum, by Michael and Elizabeth Mann (1998). Easy reading.

The Roman Colosseum, by Don Nardo (1998). Nardo writes lots of good history books for kids. This one is more detailed and more architectural than the Mann book.

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

The Colosseum, by Ada Gabucci, Filippo Coarelli, and Leonardo Lombardi (2001). From the Getty Museum, for adults. Coarelli is a well-known Italian archaeologist. This is a lavish, detailed look at everything about the Colosseum from when it was first built to now.

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