Roman Colosseum – Italy

Of all the buildings from the ancient Roman Empire, there is none more impressive than the Colosseum.  Vespasian began construction on the sports arena in 72 AD.

“The Colosseum was started in the aftermath of Nero’s extravagance and the rebellion by the Jews in Palestine against Roman rule. Nero, after the great fire at Rome in AD 64, had built a huge pleasure palace for himself (the Golden House) right in the centre of the city. In 68 AD, faced with military uprisings, he committed suicide, and the empire was engulfed in civil wars.

The eventual winner Vespasian (emperor 69-79) decided to shore up his shaky regime by building an amphitheatre, or pleasure palace for the people, out of the booty from the Jewish War – on the site of the lake in the gardens of Nero’s palace. The Colosseum was a grand political gesture. Suitably for that great city, it was the largest amphitheatre in the Roman world…”

Did You Know?

The Colosseum was built on the site of an artificial lake that was part of Nero’s park.  This was built in the aftermath of the Rome fire in 64 AD. Nearby was a giant statue of Nero called “Colossus”.  From this the building garnishes the name “Colosseum”. The Colossus was 100 feet tall and depicted Nero as the god of the sun.  It is considered to be the largest gilded bronze statue of antiquity. When the Romans moved it in advance of the Colosseum’s construction, it took 24 elephants to move it.  

The formal name of the facility is the less known moniker of “Flavian Amphitheater”.  This is because Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian Dynasty. 

“The Colosseum had a canvas roof (called the “Velarium”, which was) raised and lowered by a specially trained team of Roman sailors known for their skill with rigging ships. The canvas “big top” had a large hole in the center to admit more light.

The building required 100,000 cubic meters of marble, and 300 tons of iron to hold the Colosseum together. The marble was carried in by 200 ox-pulled carts. The inner walls were made of tufa (siliceous rock deposits) and the vaulting of the ramped seating area was made of concrete. Hebrew prisoners were employed in its construction. Once the Colosseum was completed, it became the prototype for all later amphitheaters.

Wooden flooring was used to cover the subterranean chambers where the gladiators as well as the animals were kept prior to performance. During the first ten years of its existence, the stadium was filled with water and used for mock naval battles. However, over time the Romans found it was damaging to the foundation as well as to the flooring. (248 AD is recorded as the last year for the naval battles).

The word “arena” is Latin for sand. Sand was spread across the amphitheater-fighting floor to soak up blood.

Professional gladiators, primarily condemned criminals, prisoners or war, and slaves, fought either animals or each other, generally until death. Their weapons might include nets, swords, tridents, spears, or firebrands. Occasionally, free Romans and women would enter the fight for a few brief moments of glory. Contrary to common belief, there is no documentation to back up the story of Christians being fed to the lions at the Colosseum.

During Hadrian’s reign, the arena was planted to resemble a jungle, with every shrub and tree concealing a trapdoor, beneath which lay a lion or lioness, ready to spring up and do battle with the gladiator-huntsmen.”

Did You Know?

The Colosseum is the setting for several fight scenes in the movie, Gladiator.  

It took just about ten years to complete the project and by the time it was finished, it was the largest structure of its type in the world.  Titus opened the facility in 80 AD, the year after his father’s death.

During its inauguration, 100 consecutive days of activities were held.  Estimates say as many as 9,000 animals were killed during the opening ceremonies.

The elliptical shaped venue stood roughly 160 feet high and had four stories of windows, arches and columns.  Each of the exterior floors consisted of 80 arches. More than 55,000 spectators could enter the stadium though 80 entranceways.  In total, an area the size of 7 football fields was encompassed.

In 847 AD, an earthquake collapsed the southern side of the complex.  Some marble was stripped from the Colosseum and used in the building of St. Peter’s Basilica.

Later, “the Colosseum was transformed into a medieval fortress. It became a source of building materials during the Renaissance when Pope Paul III had some of the Colosseum’s stones transported to build his own palace. In the 18th century, Benedict XIV and other popes after him began to organize restoration work. During the Renaissance, bullfights were the popular sport that the public enjoyed watching at the Colosseum.”

Geza Alfody (1935 – 2011) taught at the University of Budapest and was an expert in ancient history.  He had a particular expertise in deciphering “ghost inscriptions” – i.e., determining sayings affixed to ancient building via pegs and bronze lettering. As opposed to carving words into stone, some inscriptions involved bronze letters affixed via pegs to stone.  

Alfody found such an inscription near one Colosseum entrance.  While the bronze letters have long since been removed, the peg marks or indentations betray that there was an earlier inscription. 

By arranging the peg holders, the earlier inscription could be reconstructed. The lettering formed the following words:

Simply put the inscription reveals the following dedication:

I[mp(erator)] Caes(ar) Vespasi[anus Aug(ustus)]

amphitheatru[m novum (?)]

[ex] manubìs (vac.) [fieri iussit (?)].

Basically, this commemorates the building of Vespasian’s amphitheater (i.e., the Colosseum) by Titus from the “spoils of war”.  The only significant military engagement conducted by Titus was putting down the Judean revolt.  Those spoils surely would have included the Hebrew Temple treasures.

Alfody concluded that this “ghost-inscription” linked the building of the Colosseum with the spoils Titus brought home from the Jewish War.  Other scholars have since come to the same conclusion.  Leen Ritmeyer, a highly regarded archeological architect, holds this view.  And Louis Feldman, a Classics professor from New York’ Yeshiva University, came to the same conclusion.

In the Gospel accounts, the Lord speaks in a parable about His rejection as Messiah by the Jews and their leadership.

Then He began to tell the people this parable: “A certain man planted a vineyard, leased it to vinedressers, and went into a far country for a long time. Now at vintage-time he sent a servant to the vinedressers, that they might give him some of the fruit of the vineyard. But the vinedressers beat him and sent him away empty-handed. Again he sent another servant; and they beat him also, treated him shamefully, and sent him away empty-handed. And again he sent a third; and they wounded him also and cast him out. 

“Then the owner of the vineyard said, ‘What shall I do? I will send my beloved son. Probably they will respect him when they see him.’ But when the vinedressers saw him, they reasoned among themselves, saying, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him, that the inheritance may be ours.’ So they cast him out of the vineyard and killed him. Therefore what will the owner of the vineyard do to them? He will come and destroy those vinedressers and give the vineyard to others.” And when they heard it they said, “Certainly not!” 

Then He looked at them and said, “What then is this that is written:  ‘ The stone which the builders rejectedHas become the chief cornerstone’?
Whoever falls on that stone will be broken; but on whomever it falls, it will grind him to powder,” And the chief priests and the scribes that very hour sought to lay hands on Him, but they feared the peoplefor they knew He had spoken this parable against them.Luke 20: 9 – 19
The word translated ‘cornerstone’ above comes from the Greek word “gonia”.  This means the corner, headstone or capstone. It can be translated at times to also mean keystone, as in an archway.  The keystone is really a trapezoid and bears the weight of both sides of the arch. If builders weren’t careful, they might reject this most important stone when it came from the masons and the quarry.

The Jewish Prophets of Old predicted Messiah’s coming.  The Jewish leadership was without excuse. They should have known through Bible prophecy that the Messiah had to be on the scene at that time.  They should have known through the things Jesus did, that He was the Messiah! Instead, they rejected the One Who was the Chief Cornerstone and plotted His demise.

It is ironic that within one generation of crucifying the Lord, the Jews were scattered throughout the world by the Romans.  The structure Rome built with looted Temple Treasure was filled with banks of archways, each one possessing a capstone or cornerstone!
Perhaps in some strange way, the Coliseum itself was a witness to the fact that the Stone Who the builders rejected was in fact the Chief Cornerstone.  Messiah had come for the Jewish People who He loves so very much!