The Colosseum: Middle Ages

Table of Contents
1. Introduction: the End of the Games
2. Speakers
3. Audience
4. Issue
5. Sources
The (in)famous Roman gladitorial and animal hunting
games came to an and in the Middle Ages. Source: Wikipedia.

1. The End of the Games

In the Middle Ages, the Games came to an end because of many different reasons, which we will discuss in this chapter. Even before the beginning of the Middle Ages, the Gladitorial games came to a stop in the fourth century. The animal hunting Games stopped in the sixth century. In this chapter, we will explain how and why the Games came to an end in the Middle Ages. The question that arises is: without the Games, what was the new function of the Colosseum?

2. Speakers

The parties that were in control of the Colosseum, have had an influence on the end of the Games. Constantine was the first emperor to start legislation against gladiatorial shows. He was most likely pressured by the Church who opposed to the Games, since he was very keen of the Arena himself. Not long before he abolished the combats, he condemned a group of German prisoners to the gladiators. Before Constantine, there had been other emperors who tried to control or cut down the shows. Trajan (180-192) and Marcus Aurelius (161-180) attempted to replace the shows with mimic battles. Both had to bow to the people’s wishes. The games were too popular. It is not clear what motivated these emperors to try to control the Games, but costs probably played a big part. Gladiators and animals were in short supply and the spectacles became an affair of the wealthy. Gladiators were therefore given proper healthcare so they could fight more than once.[1] That explains why in the poor North of the Roman empire, there were few amphitheatres and the cult was not fully accepted. [2]

Constantine’s legislation did not seem to have made much impact, because as late as 523, the Roman senator Cassiodorus drafted a letter to the consul stating the Games were still very popular. [3] That is however the last sign of the Games being held. After that, it’s a guess. The Colosseum became a place of neglect and was used as a marble quarry. Those who wanted building materials were often given permission by the owners of the Colosseum in exchange for money. New owners of the church were various Roman councils and organisations of the Christian Church, but also several wealthy families of landlords. In the 12th century, the Frangipane family took over the Colosseum. [4] A century later, the Annibaldi family took over , who eventually sold it to the Christian order of St. Salvator.[5]

In this graph you can see the whereas the population of Rome reached one million in antiquity, in the Middle Ages, the number of
inhabitants decreased by hundreds of thousands. Source:

3. Audience

The city of Rome was the first to reach a million inhabitants in antiquity. At the time of the invasion by the Gothic King Tortula in 545, there were only 500 inhabitants left according to the Byzantine historian Procopius. Although that one source is not trustworthy, there must have been a massive decrease of inhabitants due to a lack of resources in Rome at the time. [6] There was a lot of poverty in Rome. The Games had supposedly ended in the sixth century and because of bad circumstances, the Romans could no longer enjoy the fighting, hence the perception of the Colosseum changed. Slowly the connection with the ancient Games was lost and the interest in the Colosseum became less.

4. Issue

A ruined Colosseum, representing the lack of function in
medieval times. Source:

There is a lack of a major issue for the Colosseum in medieval times. When the Games came to an end around the 6th century, it took centuries after that for the Church to see its full potential until it was declared a holy site in 1749. In between that, emperors, marble-seekers and several other parties used the Colosseum for various reasons such as quarrying. In the 11th century, when the Colosseum was a ruined monument, the function of the building was forgotten. When in 1332 a bullfight was held in the arena, people at the time did not seem to have made the link with antiquity at all. [7] But not all admiration for the Colosseum seems to have disappeared in medieval times. When the Frangipane family took over in the 12th century and turned it into their fortress,[8] they must have had a reason for occupying the Colosseum in particular. The Frangipane family was adopting the image of the Colosseum as their family device. [9] Just like the Colonna family took over the Mausoleum of Augustus and the Savelli family took over the Theatre of Marcellus.[10] When the Frangipane family lost the colosseum to the Annibaldi family who in turn sold it to the church. This opened the way for the Colosseum becoming a sacred place. For that topic, see our next chapter about the relationship between the Colosseum and the Christian religion. (click link to go to the next Wiki-page)

By Emma de Groot & Dennis Rauwerda

5. Sources

  • [1] Youtube documentary, 'Documentary 2015: Colosseum Ancient History', retrieved from this link.
  • [2] Pearson, J. (1973). Arena. Keltshire Ltd, p. 158.
  • [3] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 152.
  • [4] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 153.
  • [5] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 160.
  • [6] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 154.
  • [7] Hopkins, K. & Beard, M. (2005). The Colosseum. London: Profile Books Ltd, p. 155.
  • [8] Hintzen-Bohlen, B. Kunst und Architektur. Konemann, p. 101.
  • [9] Pearson, J. (1973). Arena. Keltshire Ltd, p. 174.
  • [10] Poma, M. (2015). Discovering the Museum. Mauro Poma.