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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

accepting it.

"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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