The History of the Colosseum began in Rome when the first recorded
gladiatorial fight was staged in 264AD. Decimus Junius Brutus Scaeva put
on a gladiatorial combat to honor the memory of his deceased father who
was a consul named D. Junius Brutus Pera. Three pairs of slaves,
selected from among 22 prisoners of war, were chosen to fight. The first
gladiatorial fight took place in the Forum Boarium, a cattle market,
situated near the
Tiber between the Capitoline, the Palatine and Aventine hills. As
this was the funeral of a prominent aristocrat and held in a public
space, the event was likely to have drawn a large crowd. This first
Gladiatorial combat was a clever idea as it also brought political
prestige to their familyıs name.
So the history of gladiatorial combat and therefore the Colosseum is
related to a funeral. The religion of the Romans revolved around the
worship of various gods and goddesses and their belief in the afterlife.
Romans believed that human sacrifice at the dead person's funeral would
appease the pagan gods and ensure a satisfactory entrance into the
afterlife. Earlier customs of sacrificing prisoners on the graves of
warriors or aristocrats were followed by Romans. Ceremonies connected
with the dead lasted for nine days after the funeral, at the end of
which time a sacrifice was performed.
The Romans believed that "souls of the dead were propitiated by human
blood..." Preparation for Roman funeral rites involved captives or
slaves being bought, trained to kill and then sacrificed during the
This funereal ritual, or sacrificial ceremony, was called a munus - a
duty paid to a dead ancestor by his descendants, with the intention of
keeping alive his memory. The history and concept of the Colosseum grew
from the custom of funeral games. The funeral games were organised as
public events by wealthy Roman aristocrats and Patricians. The Gladiator
games were popular with the 'mob'. At first gladiator games, or combats,
were held in small wooden arenas.
The word "arena" means sand, a reference to the thick layer of sand
on the floor for the purpose of soaking up the blood. But as the
popularity of the games grew large amphitheatres were built to house the
games. The amphitheatres were round or oval in shape. Their design was
taken from joining two half circle wooden theatres together (the word "amphi"
means 'both sides').
The most important amphitheatre, prior to the Colosseum, was the
first stone built amphitheatre in Rome which was called the Amphitheater
of Statilius Taurus.
It was built in 29 BC, on the Campus Martius, by consul Titus
Statilius Taurus in the time of the Emperor Augustus. This amphitheatre
was quite small and in order to placate the plebs the Emperor Nero built
a much bigger, wooden, amphitheatre called the Amphitheatrum Neronis in
57AD. Both of these amphitheatres were completely destroyed in 64AD due
to the Great Fire of Rome.