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Digital Subscriptions > History Revealed > November 2015 > How Did They do That?

How Did They do That?

Enter Rome’s theatre of death, where tens of thousands of people and animals were slaughtered for the entertainment of the mob

THE COLOSSEUM

ILLUSTRATION: SOL 90, ART ARCHIVE X1, ALAMY X1, GETTY X2, ISTOCK X1

The Flavian Amphitheatre, better known as the Colosseum, is both a marvel of architecture and engineering, as well as a powerful symbol of Ancient Rome’s might and brutality. The largest amphitheatre ever built, it took ten years to construct, could hold 50,000 spectators at its peak and enjoyed centuries as a centre of entertainment in the heart of Rome. From its dedication in AD 80 until the fall of the Empire, the rich and poor, noble and plebian flocked to the Colosseum to watch gladiatorial games, executions and animal hunts. It was a place of spectacle and slaughter.

WHO FOUGHT?

Those sitting in the Colosseum could expect a host of different kinds of combat. A gladiator would either fight one-on-one against a man of equal strength and size or take on wild animals. Group battles were also common. There were many classes of gladiator, depending on their weapon of choice – such as swords, nets, tridents and spears and the style of combat they specialised in, so a ‘ raex’ wielded a short sword and shield while an ‘Eques’ fought on horseback. Although most fighting men were criminals, prisoners of war or slaves, some were volunteers seeking glory and riches.

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