The Colosseum: Antiquity

Table of Contents
1. Introduction: The Age of the Four Emperors
2. Speakers & Audience
3. Issue
4. Sources
The Colosseum at nighttime. Source: Wikipedia.
What's a more powerful message to the Roman people
than building a Colosseum for the people on the
same location of Nero's decadent palace?

1. The Age of the Four Emperors

The age of Nero had ended with his forced suicide on June 9, AD 68. This concluded an age of misfortune for the Roman empire, as a result of Nero his inadequacies as a leader. However, the position of Emperor had again to be filled, which ushered in the year of the four emperors. The first person to declare himself emperor was the governor of Spain: Galba. He heard that the senate declared Nero as a public enemy in April of 68. The fact that it now seemed possible for someone to be declared emperor outside of Rome inspired Galba his opposition to do the same. Galba his reign turned out to be short, as just after seven months he was killed by the Praetorian Guard, whose job was to protect the emperor. Another contestant for the position of emperor was Otho, who had close relations with Nero. Because Galba had already been in his seventies, in Rome the discussion had already started who would succeed him. And Otho was one of those people who had high hopes of becoming Galba his heir. However, Galba had already selected an heir of his own, Lucius Culpurnius Piso. Yet Otho his supporters ignored this and declared Otho as the new emperor anyway.But it did not end here. Motivated by the fact that Galba had declared himself emperor while outside of Rome, Vitellius, the governor of Lower Germany, organized a coup and declared himself emperor. Vitellius approached Rome, where he defeated the forces of Otho, who then committed suicide. Lastly, the fourth contender arose, called Vespasian . He was stationed in the regions of Egypt, Judaea and Syria, sent there by Nero to suppress the Jewish Revolt. But now his armies rallied behind him to support him as he revealed himself to be a viable candidate to become emperor. Vespasian took his troops
to Rome, where he defeated Vitellius, declaring himself the new Emperor. He would remain emperor until the year 79.
This started the Flavian dynasty which lasted until 96 AD. [2]

Vespasian. Source: Wikipedia

2. Speakers & Audience

In this age Vespasian and later Titus can be regarded as the speakers. The audience were the population of Rome, which was reaching the incredible number of 1 million inhabitants. The Colosseum was built to deal with several issues that had formed. Emperor Nero was widely regarded as a terrible emperor who had destroyed the good image of Rome during his reign. Vespasian wanted to destroy any memory of this time and of Nero, so called Damnatio Memoriae. He did this by building the Colosseum on the place where the palace of Nero used to stand, the Domus Aurea, or golden palace. The large statue of Nero that stood there was transformed into a statue of the Sungod. The Colosseum got its name from this large statue, which was called the colossus.

3. Issue

Vespasian wanted to restore Rome to its former glory and to do this he came up with a solution, which was to start a wide construction programme. One of the buildings was the Colosseum, only then known as the Flavian Amphitheatre,or Amphiteatrum Flavium. [1] The Colosseum and the other buildings were also part of a plan from Vespasian to return Rome to its former glory. It would show that resurgent Rome was very much the centre of the world. Cause such an impressive and huge building would be a sign of power and wealth, known to people around the empire and even outside. Building the Colosseum on the spot of Nero's destroyed palace was a powerful message. Vespasian was the new emperor, Nero and his reign of terror was no longer.

Why did Vespasian build an amphitheatre and not a bath house?

But why an amphitheatre? An amphitheatre would provide the perfect building to keep the people entertained and occupied. Especially after a year with a lot of civil war, people could be frustrated. By showing them games and blood the masses would calm by having their bloodthirst and frustrations fed. This would lessen the chance of new riots. Furthermore, a lot of people were unemployed. So visiting the free games was a way to spend their time. What also helped was the food that was distributed during the games. From which comes the saying “panem et circenses, bread and games. Another reason to build an amphitheatre as opposed to another kind of building was that the previous two amphitheatres in Rome had been destroyed during the fires during Nero his reign. So there was a need for a new amphitheatre to host games.[1]

Vespasians wide construction programme contributed to the rise of the Roman people. Rome was the first ancient city to reach a million inhabitants in the second century. In the Middle Ages (Click the link to go to the next Wiki-page) however, the number of inhabitants decreased drastically.[1]

By Emma de Groot & Dennis Rauwerda

4. Sources

  • [1] Cartwright, M. (2012, November 6). Colosseum. Retrieved from this link.
  • [2] G. Morgan (2006). 69 AD: The Year of Four Emperors. Oxford: Oxford University Press.