9 Surprising Colosseum Facts

Rome wasn't built in a day; neither was the Colosseum. It was built in 3,650 days. Want to know more about this historical mainstay? Read on...Read More

Today, the Coliseum stands as a symbol of Ancient Roman ingenuity — and brutality. (Source: iStock / ventdusud)

Everybody knows the Colosseum. It was the epicenter of the Ancient Roman Empire, after all. But do you know anything about it? If you’re planning a trip to Italy’s capital any time soon, brush up on your Colosseum info — the more you know, the more you’ll be impressed by what those battle-loving emperors were able to create. Here are a few Colosseum facts (and factoids) to get you started:

Colosseum Fact 1: The Colosseum boasts 80 entrances.

With crowds peaking at 75,000, the centerpiece of Rome’s entertainment scene needed to accommodate enormous crowds — both as they entered the Colosseum and as they left. Thus, the seemingly excessive 80 gates. Two additional entrances were reserved for gladiators, however: the Porta Triumphalis and the Porta Libitinaria. The former was used by champions of gladiator games as they paraded out of the stadium, while the latter saw the procession of dead bodies, bested by Colosseum foes.

Colosseum Fact 2: About 30 trap doors line the ground inside the Colosseum.

These doors were actually more lifts than traps. Hauling as much as 600 pounds each (the rough equivalent of two adult lions), they were worked by up to eight men who turned a wooden shaft to lift beasts and gladiators into the arena. The lifts themselves weighed about two tons and dropped 23 feet under the Colosseum stage.

Colosseum Fact 3: It’s believed the Colosseum had both drinking fountains and toilets.

Evidence suggests there were over 100 fountains in the amphitheater, discouraging the indulgent consumption of wine. (There is no evidence this discouragement worked, however.) It is hypothesized that multi-level structures surrounding the Colosseum (no longer extant) served as water towers that pumped water into the fountains. Additionally, a complicated sewer system handled waste from latrines and the bloody cleanup that inevitably followed from battles. Those severed limbs had to go somewhere, you know.

Even the Coliseum today reveals its complicated, many-layered glory. (Source: iStock / stock_colors)
Even the Colosseum today reveals its complicated, many-layered glory. (Source: iStock / stock_colors)

Colosseum Fact 4: It took only 10 years to build the Colosseum.

Though the numbers vary, historians claim between 60,000 and 100,000 Jewish slaves built the Colosseum over the course of a decade. Additionally, wealth taken from the Temple of Jerusalem helped fund the project. This was all made possible following the squelching of the Jewish Revolt of 70 CE and the subsequent plundering/enslavement of the Jewish people.

Colosseum Fact 5: The exterior of the Colosseum is built using more than 1,000,000 square-feet of limestone.

Most of the stone lining the Colosseum came from Trivoli, some 20 miles from Rome. Additionally, 300 tons of iron clamps and massive amounts of concrete were used in the construction of the arches, which served as ceilings for the entrances and supports for upper levels. Additionally, lightweight volcanic rock was used to reinforce the inner walls. Inside the Colosseum, the seats were made of marble (for upper-class spectators) and wood (for lower-class spectators).

Colosseum Fact 6: Occasionally, the Colosseum was flooded and ships brought in to stage mock sea battles.

These sea battles, known as naumachia, were conceived by Julius Caesar in 46 BCE and commonly occurred in large outdoor basins built by slaves. To accommodate the unique setting of the Colosseum, Emperor Titus ordered special flat-bottom ships to be built that would not run aground in the shallow Colosseum basin.

Titled "The Christian Martyr's Last Prayer," this painting depicts what the Coliseum likely looked like in its heyday. (Source: Wikipedia)
Titled “The Christian Martyr’s Last Prayer,” this painting depicts what the Colosseum likely looked like in its heyday. (Source: Wikipedia)

Colosseum Fact 7: The very top seating area of the Colosseum was left for slaves, poor citizens, and women.

Senators and rich citizens enjoyed seating closer to the action, while mid-level sections were set aside for very specific citizen groups, including students, soldiers, scribes, and priests. The lowest classes, of course, got the nose-bleed seats.

Colosseum Fact 8: The Colosseum is also known as the Flavian Amphitheatre.

Built by emperors of the Flavian dynasty, Rome’s primary stadium was known for many decades by two names: The Flavian Amphitheatre and the Colosseum. “Colosseum” derives its name from the statue that once stood nearby: a colossus of Nero. This statue was retrofitted with the heads of different emperors over the years, and eventually fell in the Middle Ages, but the name stuck.

Colosseum Fact 9: The Colosseum suffered tremendous damage from a lightning strike in 217 CE.

So wrote historian Dio Cassius, anyway. Predictably, the wooden seating was burned to a crisp and had to be replaced entirely. Renovations continued until about 240 CE, but the amphitheater suffered another blow when an earthquake struck in 443 CE. The last known use of the Colosseum for gladiatorial fights was around 435 CE; later centuries saw the amphitheater repurposed as a religious space, factory, and cemetery.

The Coliseum, Rome's monument to a monumental past, anchors the city. (Source: iStock / tomch)
The Colosseum, Rome’s monument to a monumental past, anchors the city. (Source: iStock / tomch)

Ready for a visit? Sure you are. Tickets start at 16 Euros ($18) and can be purchased online. For more Colosseum facts and tourist information, visit the Colosseum website.