The Colosseum: Christianity

Table of Contents
1. Speakers
2. Audience
3. Issue
4. Sources

1. Speakers

After the middle ages, several popes used the Colosseum for different purposes, from quarrying to organising holy rituals. When the Annibaldi family sold the Colosseum to the Christian Order of St. Salvador in the 1360s, the church did not immediately see the potential of the Colosseum. [1] Because for a long time, the church used the Colosseum as a quarry, just like its purpose had been in medieval times. Sixtus V even wanted to turn it into a wool factory in the late 16th century. [2] They did organise Passion plays that were regularly performed in the arena on Good Friday at the end of the 15th century, but the colosseum was not used for any important Christian rituals. [3] However, eventually they did see the full potential. By 1519, a small chapel of Santa Maria della Pièta had been constructed at the east end of the arena, using building materials from the colosseum. Later on in the 1670s, architect Bernini made plans for a baroque church in the centre of the arena. Those plans came to nothing. Pope Clement X came up with a wooden cross instead, raised on the top of the building. In 1749, pope Benedict XIV declared the colosseum sacred ground. [4] At the end of the 18th century the colosseum seemed complete taken over by the church to a casual visitor.

2. Audience

In the renaissance period, the population of Rome increased. The Italian renaissance moved from Florence to Rome. The Papacy wanted Rome to be mighty and popes started building extravagant churches, bridges, town squares and public places. For example, the new St. Peter’s was built in 1506, and the Ponte Sisto, a characteristic bridge, was built around 1475. All these new developments attracted new inhabitants.

3. Issues

An example of Christian propaganda. A perfect place to show the Roman terror against the Christians.

Constantine built the first Christian churches like the first St. Peter’s and Christianity slowly became the most important religion in Rome and the power of the Church became greater in medieval times. [5] The Church was the new owner of the Colosseum after buying it from the Annibaldi family. At first sight, it seems odd that the Church showed any interest in the Colosseum at all. Their view on the Games had been negative from the start. When the Games were still held, several Christian writers like Tertullian and Augustine opposed to them. But why buy the Colosseum? There was good reason for the Church to buy and take power over the Colosseum. The Church let Christians believe that the Colosseum was a place of worship, where in antiquity Christians had died defending their religion against the Romans. From the 2nd century onwards, Christians even created a new genre of literature called Martyr Acts which captured the capture and trial of a Christian who was willing to suffer for his faith.[6] There is however not any evidence that much Christian martyrs have actually died in the Colosseum. [7]

Why the Colosseum? The question that arises is similar to the one we asked in the Wiki-page concercing the time of Nero and Vespasian. Why was the Colosseum chosen and not any other building like a bath house or a Roman setting such as a Roman garden for the stories of the church? Well, the Colosseum was the perfect setting for such propaganda. A Colosseum is a place of death, massacres, drama and suffering. Christians being killed in these circumstances, offers a perfect gruesome story. It's hard to think of a more intriguing myth to convince Christians of the strength of their religion. Look at this example.

In the last three Wikipages, we have discussed the role of the Colosseum. What can we say about the Colosseum through time, has its role changed and how did the speakers and audience change? For more about this analysis, see the conclusion.

4. Sources

  • [1] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 163.
  • [2] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 166.
  • [3] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 167.
  • [4] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 165.
  • [5] Hughes, R. (2012). Rome. Vintage; Reprint edition, p. 174.
  • [6] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 165.
  • [7] Pearson, J. (1973). Arena. Keltshire Ltd, p. 162.
  • By Emma de Groot & Dennis Rauwerda