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In the minds of the Romans, the amphitheater was a place of significant
symbolic meaning. It was a place of civilized order where, from the Roman point
of view, the victory of civilization over lawlessness, chaos, barbarism, and
savagery was regularly enacted. It was also a place of justice: certain
criminals were executed there by being given to the wild beasts or were forced
to fight to the death as gladiators. It also represented the domination of Rome
over its enemies: prisoners of war were either executed or forced to fight each
other as gladiators. But for the professional gladiator it was also a place of
redemption, in which one could overcome death by victory or by stoically
"As long as the Colosseum stands, Rome will stand; when the Colosseum
falls, Rome will fall; when Rome falls, the whole world will fall."
(Venerable Bede,VIIth century AD)
There was no roof on the Colosseum, but in the summer great canvas sheets
were rigged to the top to form awnings that kept the sun off everyone inside.
The bottom three stories have 80 arches each; the stories are separated by a
thin archetrave (a horizontal band running around the entire Colosseum). The
columns in one story line up exactly with those in the story above it. The
bottom story has 80 entrance arches, each of which is separated by a Doric
column (the columns are engaged, which means the column shafts are actually part
of the wall making it impossible to walk behind the columns). The second story
has engaged Ionic columns, and the third has Corinthian. The fourth story is a
solid wall with thin Corinthian pilasters (rectangular columns that are also
engaged). The space between the pilasters is filled alternately with 40 small,
recatangular windows and 40 bucklers (now lost).
The unique combination of strong support columns with airy arches and thin
archetraves makes the Colosseum look sturdy, yet open and soaring. The Doric
column is the oldest type it is strong, simple, and even severe in appearance,
making the first story appear to be a strong foundation. Moving up the building,
the columns become progressively "newer" and more refined, lending a
lightness to the upper stories.
Two phrases sum up the characteristics of Roman civilization in days of the
Empire – heartless cruelty, and unfathomable corruption. Romans thought nothing
of the death penalty, their justice was swift and ruthless, no mercy, no
compassion, no liberality. Such are the scenes which we must witness, such are
the sentiments with which we must become familiar, the very moment that we turn
our eyes away from the spectacle of the little Christian churches, composed
chiefly as yet of slaves and artisans, who had been taught to imitate a Divine
example of humility and sincerity, of purity and love.
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