It is already more than a week since we went to Rome for a short break to celebrate Mrs S’s birthday. First on the list of places to visit was the Colosseum. A relative had told us before going “Enjoy walking around, soaking it all in” which we did, our jaws dropping at the sheer scale of the architecture and the easily-imagined spectacle of what took place there. The Colosseum was begun in the reign of Vespasian (AD 69-79) and financed using the booty acquired from the Judaean campaign. Vespasian’s sons Titus and Domitian completed the work and opened the Colosseum in AD 80. It would have held about 75000 spectators.
I was particularly interested in some displays presenting the archaeological evidence of what the Roman audiences were doing, the remains of some of the animals that had died in the Colosseum and the models that show how the arena worked. You can see gaming pieces and remains of the food that was being consumed, including pips and stones from peaches, olives, cherries, walnuts, melon, dates, grapes and plums and pine kernels. A brilliant artist’s impression shows the Roman audience holding DIY barbecues in the stands, whilst gamblers quarrel over the outcome of a dice game.
I was thrilled to see a Roman lamp with decoration depicting the arms and armour of the gladiators because we have an example in the Manchester Museum. Although it has lost some its central disc and the nozzle is chipped, our example is clearly the same design. Both lamps have lost their handles unfortunately. A variety of shields, helmets and other equipment is shown in the band around the hole for topping up the reservoir. A crested Corinthian helmet can be seen top right in the image of Manchester Museum’s lamp below. The Colosseum example dates from the 1st century AD.
A similar range of arms and armour can be seen on the tasteful silhouettes of gladiators that decorate the signage around the Colosseum. The sign below may depict a Samnite with trademark feathers on his helmet and round shield.
A small display shows the skulls and bones of some of the animals that died. It was sobering to reflect on the vast numbers of animals – let alone people – that died there. Bear, ostrich, horse, deer and the more mundane leg bone of cockerel are attested. The latter is another old friend because in the Manchester Museum collection is fighting cock leg bone with the characteristic spur. The male birds are set to fighting each other and people gamble on the outcome. Combats involving wild animals are attested until AD 523 during the reign of Theodoric.