AskDefine | Define Colosseum

Dictionary Definition

Colosseum n : amphitheater in Rome built about AD 75 or 80

User Contributed Dictionary

see colosseum


Proper noun

  1. The largest stadium in the Roman empire, located near the center of Rome.

Extensive Definition

The Colosseum or Coliseum, originally the Flavian Amphitheatre (Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium, Italian Anfiteatro Flavio or Colosseo), is an elliptical amphitheatre in the centre of the city of Rome, Italy, the largest ever built in the Roman Empire. It is one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering.
Occupying a site just east of the Roman Forum, its construction started between 70 and 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under Titus, with further modifications being made during Domitian's reign (81–96). The name "Amphitheatrum Flavium" derives from both Vespasian's and Titus's family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia).
Originally capable of seating around 50,000 spectators, the Colosseum was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles. It remained in use for nearly 500 years with the last recorded games being held there as late as the 6th century. As well as the traditional gladiatorial games, many other public spectacles were held there, such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building eventually ceased to be used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for such varied purposes as housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry and a Christian shrine.
Although it is now in a ruined condition due to damage caused by earthquakes and stone-robbers, the Colosseum has long been seen as an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. Today it is one of modern Rome's most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church, as each Good Friday the Pope leads a torchlit "Way of the Cross" procession to the amphitheatre.
The Colosseum is also depicted on the Italian version of the five-cent euro coin.


The Colosseum's original Latin name was Amphitheatrum Flavium, often anglicized as Flavian Amphitheater. The building was constructed by emperors of the Flavian dynasty, hence its original name. This name is still used frequently in modern English, but it is generally unknown. In antiquity, Romans may have referred to the Colosseum by the unofficial name Amphitheatrum Caesareum; this name could have been strictly poetic. This name was not exclusive to the Colosseum; Vespasian and Titus, builders of the Colosseum, also constructed an amphitheater of the same name in Puteoli (modern Pozzuoli).
The name Colosseum has long been believed to be derived from a colossal statue of Nero nearby. This is often mistranslated to refer to the Colosseum rather than the Colossus (as in, for instance, Byron's poem Childe Harold's Pilgrimage). However, at the time that Bede wrote, the masculine noun coliseus was applied to the statue rather than to what was still known as the Flavian amphitheatre.
The Colossus did eventually fall, probably being pulled down to reuse its bronze. By the year 1000 the name "Colosseum" (a neuter noun) had been coined to refer to the amphitheatre. The statue itself was largely forgotten and only its base survives, situated between the Colosseum and the nearby Temple of Venus and Roma.
The area was transformed under Vespasian and his successors. Although the Colossus was preserved, much of the Domus Aurea was torn down. The lake was filled in and the land reused as the location for the new Flavian Amphitheatre. Gladiatorial schools and other support buildings were constructed nearby within the former grounds of the Domus Aurea. According to a reconstructed inscription found on the site, "the emperor Vespasian ordered this new amphitheatre to be erected from his general's share of the booty." This is thought to refer to the vast quantity of treasure seized by the Romans following their victory in the Great Jewish Revolt in 70. The Colosseum can be thus interpreted as a great triumphal monument built in the Roman tradition of celebrating great victories.) which destroyed the wooden upper levels of the amphitheatre's interior. It was not fully repaired until about 240 and underwent further repairs in 250 or 252 and again in 320. An inscription records the restoration of various parts of the Colosseum under Theodosius II and Valentinian III (reigned 425–450), possibly to repair damage caused by a major earthquake in 443; more work followed in 484 and 508. The arena continued to be used for contests well into the 6th century, with gladiatorial fights last mentioned around 435. Animal hunts continued until at least 523. In 1671 Cardinal Altieri authorized its use for bullfights; a public outcry caused the idea to be hastily abandoned.
In 1749, Pope Benedict XIV endorsed as official Church policy the view that the Colosseum was a sacred site where early Christians had been martyred. He forbade the use of the Colosseum as a quarry and consecrated the building to the Passion of Christ and installed Stations of the Cross, declaring it sanctified by the blood of the Christian martyrs who perished there (see Christians and the Colosseum). Later popes initiated various stabilization and restoration projects, removing the extensive vegetation which had overgrown the structure and threatened to damage it further. The façade was reinforced with triangular brick wedges in 1807 and 1827, and the interior was repaired in 1831, 1846 and in the 1930s. The arena substructure was partly excavated in 1810–1814 and 1874 and was fully exposed under Mussolini in the 1930s., or if a jurisdiction abolishes the death penalty. Most recently, the Colosseum was illuminated in gold when capital punishment was abolished in the American state of New Jersey in December, 2007 Due to the ruined state of the interior, it is impractical to use the Colosseum to host large events; only a few hundred spectators can be accommodated in temporary seating. However, much larger concerts have been held just outside, using the Colosseum as a backdrop. Performers who have played at the Colosseum in recent years have included Ray Charles (May 2002), Paul McCartney (May 2003), and Elton John (September 2005).
On July 7 2007, the Colosseum was voted as one of New Open World Corporation's New Seven Wonders of the World.

Physical description


Unlike earlier amphitheatres that were built into hillsides, the Colosseum is an entirely free-standing structure. It is elliptical in plan and is 189 metres (615 ft / 640 Roman feet) long, and 156 metres (510 ft / 528 Roman feet) wide, with a base area of 6 acres. The height of the outer wall is 48 metres (157 ft / 165 Roman feet). The perimeter originally measured 545 metres (1,788 ft / 1,835 Roman feet). The central arena is an oval (287 ft) long and (180 ft) wide, surrounded by a wall (15 ft) high, above which rose tiers of seating.
The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic meters (131,000 cu yd) of travertine stone which were set without mortar held together by 300 tons of iron clamps. Each of the arches in the second- and third-floor arcades framed statues, probably honoring divinities and other figures from Classical mythology.
Two hundred and forty mast corbels were positioned around the top of the attic. They originally supported a retractable awning, known as the velarium, that kept the sun and rain off spectators. This consisted of a canvas-covered, net-like structure made of ropes, with a hole in the center.
The Colosseum's huge crowd capacity made it essential that the venue could be filled or evacuated quickly. Its architects adopted solutions very similar to those used in modern stadiums to deal with the same problem. The amphitheatre was ringed by eighty entrances at ground level, 76 of which were used by ordinary spectators.

Arena and hypogeum

The arena itself was 83 metres by 48 metres (272 ft by 157 ft / 280 by 163 Roman feet). There is now a museum dedicated to Eros located in the upper floor of the outer wall of the building. Part of the arena floor has been re-floored.
The Colosseum is also the site of Roman Catholic ceremonies in the 20th and 21st centuries. For instance, Pope John Paul II would perform his new form of the Stations of the Cross called the Scriptural Way of the Cross (which calls for more meditation) at the Colloseum on Good Fridays.
The optical disc authoring software program Nero Burning ROM uses an image of the Colosseum on fire as one of its main icons, even though Emperor Nero's Great Fire of Rome (which the program's name and icon refer to) occurred in 64 AD, before the Colosseum was built.


  • Guida Archeologica di Roma
  • The Colosseum
Colosseum in Arabic: كولوسيوم
Colosseum in Bengali: কলোসিয়াম
Colosseum in Bosnian: Koloseum
Colosseum in Bulgarian: Колизей
Colosseum in Catalan: Colosseu
Colosseum in Czech: Koloseum
Colosseum in Welsh: Colosseum
Colosseum in Danish: Colosseum
Colosseum in German: Kolosseum
Colosseum in Estonian: Colosseum
Colosseum in Modern Greek (1453-): Κολοσσαίο
Colosseum in Emiliano-Romagnolo: Colosseo
Colosseum in Spanish: Coliseo de Roma
Colosseum in Esperanto: Koloseo (Romo)
Colosseum in Persian: کولوسئوم
Colosseum in French: Colisée
Colosseum in Galician: Coliseo de Roma
Colosseum in Korean: 콜로세움
Colosseum in Croatian: Kolosej
Colosseum in Indonesian: Colosseum
Colosseum in Interlingua (International Auxiliary Language Association): Amphitheatrum Flavium
Colosseum in Icelandic: Colosseum
Colosseum in Italian: Colosseo
Colosseum in Hebrew: קולוסיאום
Colosseum in Georgian: კოლოსეუმი
Colosseum in Swahili (macrolanguage): Koloseo
Colosseum in Kurdish: Coliseum
Colosseum in Latin: Amphitheatrum Flavium
Colosseum in Lithuanian: Koliziejus
Colosseum in Hungarian: Colosseum
Colosseum in Malayalam: കൊളോസിയം
Colosseum in Dutch: Colosseum
Colosseum in Japanese: コロッセオ
Colosseum in Norwegian: Colosseum
Colosseum in Norwegian Nynorsk: Colosseum
Colosseum in Occitan (post 1500): Colisèu
Colosseum in Polish: Koloseum
Colosseum in Portuguese: Coliseu de Roma
Colosseum in Romanian: Colosseum
Colosseum in Quechua: Colosseum
Colosseum in Russian: Колизей
Colosseum in Albanian: Koloseumi
Colosseum in Simple English: Colosseum
Colosseum in Slovak: Koloseum
Colosseum in Slovenian: Kolosej
Colosseum in Serbian: Колосеум
Colosseum in Finnish: Colosseum
Colosseum in Swedish: Colosseum
Colosseum in Tamil: கொலோசியம், ரோம்
Colosseum in Thai: โคลอสเซียม
Colosseum in Vietnamese: Đấu trường La Mã
Colosseum in Turkish: Kolezyum
Colosseum in Ukrainian: Колізей
Colosseum in Urdu: کولوزیئم
Colosseum in Yiddish: קאלעסיאום
Colosseum in Chinese: 罗马斗兽场

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

agora, amphitheater, arena, athletic field, auditorium, background, bear garden, bowl, boxing ring, bull ring, campus, canvas, circus, cockpit, coliseum, course, field, floor, forum, ground, gym, gymnasium, hall, hippodrome, lists, locale, marketplace, mat, milieu, open forum, palaestra, parade ground, pit, place, platform, precinct, prize ring, public square, purlieu, range, ring, scene, scene of action, scenery, setting, site, sphere, squared circle, stadium, stage, stage set, stage setting, terrain, theater, tilting ground, tiltyard, walk, wrestling ring
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