Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient structure in Genzano, Italy, which is thought to be a mini-colosseum that belonged to the Roman emperor Commodus depicted in the Hollywood film ‘Gladiator’.
The archaeologists from Montclair State University in New Jersey discovered the ancient building in a village southeast of Rome which overlooks Lake Nemi while excavating thermal baths in an old estate known as the Villa of Antonines. Based historical references and artefacts, the site is believed to have been the property of the Antonine Dynasty (138–193), which begun with the reign of Antoninus Pius and included emperors Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus.
The large oval structure measuring 200 feet by 130 feet with curved walls and marble floors is believed to have been the opulent setting in which Commodus practiced for his first semi-public appearances as a killer of animals and a gladiator, earning him the nickname ‘the Roman Hercules’.
Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, ruled Rome from 180 A.D until 192 A.D., delighted in showing off his strength and agility in grisly gladiatorial combats at Rome’s Colosseum in which he was known for slicing off body parts of his opponents and for ego-filled antics in battles against bears, tigers, elephants and other animals.
The ‘mini-collosseum’ found by the archaeologists could seat more than 1,300 people and featured underground tunnels and chambers, an imperial box and richly decorated marbles with mosaic tesserae, suggesting that Commodus might have enjoyed more elaborate shows in his private arena. According to the archaeologists, several large blocks of worked peperino stone would have helped support an awning system (velarium) to shade spectators from the sun, just like at the Colosseum in Rome.
In the Oscar-winning film “Gladiator,” Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, fought to the death in the Colosseum in Rome with fictional army general Russell Crowe. The real Commodus, however, was strangled to death in his bath by a wrestler by the directions of his mistress, Marcia and Quintus Aemilius Laetus, prefect of the guard. At last, Rome was rid of the cruel and depraved tyrant of Emperor Commodus.
In Ancient Turkey, Gladiators Fought at This Colosseum-Like Amphitheater
Archaeologists in western Turkey have unearthed an 1,800-year-old amphitheater similar to Rome’s famed Colosseum.
“This might be the only arena preserved in its entirety here in Turkey,” Umut Tuncer, head of the Directorate of Culture and Tourism in Aydın, tells Daily Sabah. “The preservation was maintained as it was buried for years.”
Residents of the ancient town of Mastaura probably used the oval structure for sports and gladiator fights. Though other historic amphitheaters once stood in western Turkey, they have largely fallen into ruin. Relatively well-preserved arenas exist in other parts of Turkey, including the 2,300-year-old city of Kibyra and Anavarza, a southern site whose name translates to “invincible.”
The newly discovered amphitheater dates to about 200 A.D., when the Severan dynasty ruled the Roman Empire, reports Laura Geggel for Live Science.
“During this dynasty, the city of Mastaura was very developed and rich,” Tuncer and excavation leader Sedat Akkurnaz, an archaeologist at Adnan Menderes University, tell Live Science. “There is a great increase and variety of Mastaura coins during this period.”
Compared to the Colosseum, which could hold more than 50,000 people, the Turkish arena had a maximum capacity of between 15,000 and 20,000. The two structures had similar features, including rooms where gladiators would wait for their turn to fight and private entertainment areas. The archaeologists say that people from around the surrounding area probably traveled to Mastaura to bet on wild animal fights and gladiator battles.
“People from neighboring cities were coming to Mastaura . to watch the big events in this building, specially designed for bloody shows,” Tuncer and Akkurnaz tell Live Science.
The team found the arena last summer and has spent the past several months clearing away trees and brush that had grown over the site. As İhlas News Agency reported in August 2020, the archaeologists located the amphitheater using records written by people who visited the region more than 200 years ago.
“When European travelers came to visit Anatolia in the 18th century, they also visited Mastaura and shared information about it,” Akkurnaz told the agency. “When we examined the notes of those travelers, we saw that they gave very interesting information about Mastaura.”
Per the Greek City Times, the area where Mastaura once stood is an earthquake zone. Different cultures, including the Spartans, Ionians, Persians and ancient Romans, repeatedly rebuilt the city over the centuries. About 80 percent of Mastaura was ultimately buried under soil.
The team also discovered evidence of other settlements in the area, including the remains of four cisterns, a grave and a mill, according to Daily Sabah.
“We believe that there are numerous small settlements around the ancient city of Mastautra, and the cistern and tomb we [found] here are the obvious evidence of this,” Akkurnaz told Demirören News Agency last October. “So, Mastaura was a center and there were rural villages like this.”
Live Science notes that the researchers are now working with the Aydın Archaeological Museum and the Nazilli Municipality to fix cracks in the arena’s walls and otherwise repair the structure. They plan to conduct geophysical surveys to learn about the portions of the buildings that remain underground, as well as use laser scans to create a virtual 3-D image of the arena.
As Monika Kupper and Huw Jones reported for BBC News in 2007, a graveyard found in the ancient Turkish city of Ephesus suggests that life as a Roman gladiator wasn’t as straightforward as one might think. An analysis of 67 individuals’ bones showed that many had healed wounds—a clear sign that they were “prized” fighters who received high-quality medical treatment. Rather than participating in mass brawls, the researchers wrote, the evidence pointed to gladiators undertaking one-on-one duels governed by a precise set of rules.
Some gladiators died of wounds sustained in combat, while others were executed for lacking courage or skill. But a select few survived this deadly profession, fulfilling their three years of required fighting to earn their freedom. One likely free man buried at Ephesus had multiple healed wounds, none of which had proved fatal.
“He lived quite a normal Roman lifespan,” study co-author Fabian Kanz, a pathologist at the Medical University of Vienna, told BBC News. “And I think, most probably, he died of natural causes.”
About Livia Gershon
Livia Gershon is a freelance journalist based in New Hampshire. She has written for JSTOR Daily, the Daily Beast, the Boston Globe, HuffPost, and Vice, among others.
Commmodus Takes The Throne
Lucius Aurelius Commodus, born 161 A.D., was appointed co-emperor by his father Marcus Aurelius in 177 A.D. when he was just 16 years old. Contemporary Roman writer Cassius Dio describes the young heir as “rather simple-minded,” but he ruled agreeably with his father and joined Marcus Aurelius in the Marcomannic Wars against the Germanic tribes along the Danube, which the emperor had been waging for several years.
But once Marcus Aurelius died in 180 A.D. (of natural causes, not at his son’s own hand, as depicted in Gladiator), Commodus hastily made peace with the tribes so he could return to Rome “to enjoy the pleasure of the capital with the servile and profligate youths whom Marcus had banished, but who soon regained their station and influence about the emperor.”
Despite his unusual personal tastes, Commodus at first behaved more like a typical spoiled, rich youth than a bloody dictator. Cassius Dio declared that Commodus “was not naturally wicked” but that “his cowardice, made him the slave of his companions.”
He kept most of the advisers from his father’s regime in place and the first three years of his reign ran as smoothly as that of his father with the added benefit that Rome was no longer fighting any wars. In fact, the rule of Commodus might have gone down as quite unremarkable in the history of Rome were it not for one unfortunate incident.
3. They didn’t always fight to the death.
Hollywood movies and television shows often depict gladiatorial bouts as a bloody free-for-all, but most fights operated under fairly strict rules and regulations. Contests were typically single combat between two men of similar size and experience. Referees oversaw the action, and probably stopped the fight as soon as one of the participants was seriously wounded. A match could even end in a stalemate if the crowd became bored by a long and drawn out battle, and in rare cases, both warriors were allowed to leave the arena with honor if they had put on an exciting show for the crowd.
Since gladiators were expensive to house, feed and train, their promoters were loath to see them needlessly killed. Trainers may have taught their fighters to wound, not kill, and the combatants may have taken it upon themselves to avoid seriously hurting their brothers-in-arms. Nevertheless, the life of a gladiator was usually brutal and short. Most only lived to their mid-20s, and historians have estimated that somewhere between one in five or one in 10 bouts left one of its participants dead.
What was the Colosseum used for?
The primary reason the Colosseum was built was for Emperor Vespasian to gift the Romans a place for entertainment purposes. It also served as a reminder to the Romans of the power of their emperor, the wealth, and generosity bestowed on them. Many events were organised, but the main drawcard was the gladiator fights. It is believed that the gladiator games began to celebrate the death of a nobleman by making human sacrifice to appease the spirit of the departed. In other words, it was connected to magic and religion. It also showed the wealth and prestige of the individuals who held these games. The gladiator battles were mainly between males, and later on, animals were introduced to add more excitement. These animals were normally brought in from Asia, Egypt and Africa. The gladiators were normally made up from slaves, prisoners of war or convicts. Yes, gladiators were allowed to go free after they had won several battles and it was a great honour for a gladiator to receive a wooden sword from the emperor in front of a roaring crowd which signified their freedom.
A small valley
In prehistoric times the place where the Colosseum is currently located was a collection area for runoff. In the long run a small pond was formed between the hills.
This is the time of the Roman Republic. In the early days of this Republic the Romans came to settle on the edge of the Tiber. To dry the pond they built drains and replaced the swamps with a city. Temples, buildings, public spaces appear. The area of the ancient pond is at the junction between 4 sectors of ancient Rome.
The fire of Rome
On July 19, a fire broke out in Rome. It spreads rapidly and consumes much of the city, which is then destroyed. The disaster lasted 6 days. Once extinguished, the Emperor Nero ordered the building of a palace on the area of the old pond. He razed the ruins of this area and replaced them with a series of beautiful houses, gardens, and even an artificial lake. This place becomes a symbol of power.
Beginning of the construction of the Colosseum
When Nero died, his successor Vespasian ordered that the Nero's built area be returned to the people. His palace is then destroyed and replaced by buildings for the use of the people. The main one will be a big amphitheater, a symbol of the gathering of the people.
Inauguration of the Colosseum
Vespasian meurt en 79, il ne verra pas son amphithéâtre fini. C'est son fils Titus qui l'inaugure, en 80 après JC. Il offre à cette occasion un spectacle gigantesque, une reconstitution d'une bataille navale.
First improvement work
As soon as he seized power, Emperor Domitian, brother of Titus, ordered improvements to the Colosseum. He builds the third floor and digs the hypogeum, in the ground of the arena. The hypogeum represents the backstage of the show, from where we could bring up in the arena what we wanted to see.
During the reign of Anthony, during the second century, a fire spread to the city. 350 houses were destroyed but this fire caused less damage than that under Nero, 3 centuries ago. The fire having reached the Colosseum of the works was engaged for repairs.
A second fire caused the almost complete destruction of the Colosseum, which suffered its worst day on August 2, 217. The fire that began that day burned for several days the structures of the building, especially the tiers of the third floor, wood. The building is then in ruins, and Emperor Macrinus had to start major works that lasted 30 years.
It was not until 240 that the Colosseum was advanced enough to be inaugurated. We are then under the reign of Alexander Severus, and it will remain after many repairs before it is completely restored. But the inauguration still takes place, the building being dedicated to the Gods.
Twice, in 250 and 254, a new fire broke out at the Colosseum, which was again damaged. But repairs will be faster, every time.
An earthquake second to North Africa and the Eastern Roman Empire, the tremor is violent. The damage in Rome is important and the Colosseum and slightly touched.
Last gladiator fight
The last gladiatorial fight at the Colosseum took place in 404. The Emperor Theodosius having converted to Christiannism he ordered the end of the persecutions of Christians as well as any reminder to paganism. Gladiator fights are finally abolished.
In 410 the Visigoths break in Europe, along with other Germanic peoples. The Visigoths move on Rome and provoke the siege of the city. The Romans, unable to bury their dead outside the walls, converted the Colosseum into a large cemetery. At the end of the siege, when the Visigoths manage to enter the city, they sack it. Soon after, 2m of earth was added to the graves to bury them more effectively.
The co-rulers Honorius and Thédose II undertakes restoration work that they pay on their own funds. From now on all the collapsed stones will be recovered for reuse, which will gradually destroy entire sections of the Colosseum.
The Colosseum suffered a new earthquake in 429, under Theodosius II and Valentin III. New repairs took place on this occasion.
3 rd earthquake
Four years later a new earthquake hits Rome, the Colosseum is hit again. This time it is the Prefect Lampadius who will make the repairs on his personal money.
Rampage of the Vandals
The Vandals' German people arrive in Rome and ransack the city for 15 days under Genseric's orders.
The end of the fifth century saw a series of restoration take place on the Colosseum. We have dedications thanks to engraved stones, they give most of the time the author of the works.
It was in 523 that the last animal hunt took place at the Colosseum. Since the beginning this popular show consisted of observing how the "hunters" attacked their prey. This show is now over.
The Colosseum is abandoned
For 4 centuries the Colosseum will no longer be used or maintained. During this time different events mark it: A road is built through the arena, the valley is partially filled with earth, and above all stones were used for other reasons, like the construction of private buildings. Gradually the Colosseum is disfigured. In the 9th century it is owned by Santa Maria Nova Church.
The Colosseum serves as dwellings
Little by little, the church develops the interior of the Colosseum with small buildings, makes paths between the spans and organizes life on site. Houses are rented or sold there. On the north side a road is built to improve access to the monument. And for the first time we speak of "Amphitheatrum Colisei".
Arrival of the Vikings
The Vikings arrive from northern Europe to Rome. The city falls quickly in their hands, they share the sectors of Rome. But they can not stop the war between the different Vikings families. One of them, the Frangipanes, settles in the Colosseum.
In 1349 there was a strong earthquake on Europe. Many cities were affected, including Rome. It was on this occasion that the lighthouse of Alexandria finally collapsed at sea. In Rome the Colosseum was hit, but it was already partly in ruins before, anyway.
Transfer of ownership
The Archconfraternity of St Savior buys one-third of the Colosseum, the other two-thirds of which are the property of the Church and the Roman Senate. At the same time, they get the rights to use materials. This archconfraternity always has its insignia engraved in the stone of the Colosseum.
Destruction stone by stone
Until the eighteenth century the Colosseum will be gradually destroyed, the stones being sold for the construction of houses, palaces and churches of Rome.
First protective measures
Considering the Colosseum as a symbolic place of the persecution of the early Christians Pope Benedict XIV forbade further destruction. It even begins restoration work to beautify the architectural ensemble.
Laying a way of the cross
The archconfraternity of Jesus and Mary organizes the first procession in the Colosseum. For the occasion a way of cross is installed there.
Archaeological Park Project
The Napoleonic forces conquer part of present-day Italy and enter Rome. They then administer the city and create an archaeological park project that encompasses the entire historic center.
During the first half of the 19th century, major restoration work was undertaken. These are the first important works to safeguard the monument. It was at this time that the brick buttresses were constructed which delimit the remains of the facade.
New restorations are undertaken, which allows to discover many vestiges still unknown at the time. The way of the cross is destroyed. The Colosseum takes the form that we know today.
Gladiator arena from Roman era unearthed in Turkey
Spectators likely bet on the arena's wild animals fights and gladiator battles.
Archaeologists in Turkey have discovered the remains of a "magnificent" Roman-era arena, where up to 20,000 spectators likely cheered and jeered as they watched gladiator matches and wild animal fights, the excavators said.
The 1,800-year-old arena was discovered on the rolling hills of the ancient city of Mastaura, in Turkey's western Aydın Province. Its large central area, where "bloody shows" once took place, has since filled with earth and vegetation over the centuries.
"Most of the amphitheater is under the ground," and the part that is visible is largely covered by "shrubs and wild trees," Mehmet Umut Tuncer, the Aydın Culture and Tourism provincial director and project survey leader Sedat Akkurnaz, an archaeologist at Adnan Menderes University in Turkey, told Live Science in a translated email.
Archaeologists found the arena in the summer of 2020, after they received permission from the Turkish Ministry of Culture and Tourism to conduct archaeological research in the ancient city. After finding immense stonework rising out of the ground, the team immediately began clearing and studying the site. From October to December 2020, they "cut down all the bushes and wild trees," Akkurnaz and Tuncer said. "We started to protect the building against the destruction of nature."
It soon became clear that the arena was old, dating to about A.D. 200, meaning it was built during the Severan Dynasty, which included five emperors who successively ruled from A.D. 193 to 235, they said.
"During this dynasty, the city of Mastaura was very developed and rich," as Roman administrators helped the city grow economically, which led to new stonework and masonry dating to that dynasty, Akkurnaz and Tuncer said. "There is a great increase and variety of Mastaura coins during this period," they added.
Much of the arena's underground structure is well-preserved. "It is solid, as if it was just built," Akkurnaz and Tuncer said. Many of the structures above ground have crumbled over the years, but it's still possible to find "some of the rows of seats, the arena where gladiators fought and the supporting walls outside the building," they said.
Between 15,000 and 20,000 people could fit into the arena, making it smaller than the famous Colosseum in Rome, which held about 50,000 people, Akkurnaz and Tuncer said. The Colosseum, which was built in about A.D. 70, was larger overall &mdash its outer walls still stand about 157 feet (48 meters) compared with the Mastaura arena's 82-foot-tall (25 m) walls and the Colosseum's central arena was roughly 285 feet by 180 feet (87 by 55 m), compared with Mastaura's smaller arena of about 131 feet by 98 feet (40 by 30 m), Akkurnaz and Tuncer said.
Mastaura arena's gladiator battles and wild animal fights, which people bet on, however, were likely just as bloody as those at the Colosseum, Akkurnaz and Tuncer said. The arena also had specialized areas, including gladiator waiting rooms and entertainment rooms for private spectators, the archaeologists found.
"There is no previous example of such an amphitheater in Anatolia [also known as Asia Minor] and its immediate surroundings," the researchers said. The arena likely attracted spectators from all over, including from the ancient Western Anatolian cities of Aphrodisias, Ephesus, Magnesia, Miletus and Priene, they said.
"People from neighboring cities were coming to Mastaura town to watch the big events in this building, specially designed for bloody shows," they said.
Going forward, the team is working with the Aydın Archaeological Museum and the Nazilli Municipality, which encompasses Mastaura, to clean and preserve the arena. They plan to address "cracks in the walls of the building" and masonry stones that are falling off the ancient structure. The team has already conserved one of the arena's walls and has started doing laser scans of the structure so they can make a virtual 3D image of it.
After that's done, likely in May, the archaeologists plan to do geophysical surveys above the building so they can "understand what the underground parts of the building are like," Akkurnaz and Tuncer said.
A Brief Background On The Roman Colosseum
The Colosseum was started under Vespasian’s ruling as a neophyte emperor, around 70 to 72 CE, in attempts to restore prestige and power back to the Romans after the excesses of Nero’s reign. The site originally housed a pleasure place to provide entertainment and luxury for Nero. However, Vespasian turned it into a place to house the people – scraping up the remains of the Golden House and turning it into the largest amphitheater designed to welcome Roman citizens.
After a decade of construction, the Colosseum – also touted as the Flavian Amphitheater – was dedicated by Titus in 80 CE, the successor of Vespasian. Titus celebrated the arena’s opening with a bang, focusing on hosting 100 days of games.
The Vespasian Empire
In the reign of the Vespasian empire in 72 AD, a revolt broke out in Jerusalem that yielded endless spoils and slaves. Soon after, it was quelled by Vespasian Flavian as he commissioned an ambitious project of building the largest amphitheatre ever known to mankind. His prime goal was to make his subjects happy so he could continue expanding the Empire.
After Emperor Nero’s assassination, Vespasian became Roman Emperor in 69 A.D and was the fourth Emperor that year. That was the year of civil unrest. Rome soon realized stability was key for the nation’s growth and it shouldn’t appoint another emperor anytime soon after having introduced the fourth one in the span of a year.
Even though we are unaware of who was the architect of the Colosseum or the people involved in constructing it, what we know for sure is that tens of thousands of slaves were involved in building this massive structure.
The only surety that stands in this regard is that it only took eight years to build it and the materials used were travertine, brick, wood, and tufa.
Today, the Colosseum stands almost 2000 years old. It would’ve looked even better had it not been for the pillaging that it succumbed to for 1000 years and becoming like a quarry for stone.
Heroes of History
The Colosseum was originally called the Flavian Amphitheater. It was named after its builders, the emperors Vespasian and Titus, both from the Flavian family. Construction began around 70 AD near the Palatine, Esquiline, and
Caelian hills. The Colosseum was built to entertain the masses with barbaric games, such as the famous gladiator games.
The opening celebration was a 100 days of games in which thousands of animals and gladiators were killed. The Colosseum was finished in 80 AD and can accommodate more than 50,000 people. . Often times, the Colosseum was flooded in order to stage small naval battles. The emperor had his own entrance to the Colosseum, and from his private “box seat” he decided the fate of gladiators that had been defeated. Beneath the floor of the Colosseum was a maze of passageways, and temporary holding pens for the animals. The floor of the arena was wood covered with sand. A manual elevator was used to raise the animals from the basement up to the arena floor. The walls of the subterranean passageways can still be seen today when you visit the site.
The Colosseum is also a marvel of efficiency. The Romans created tickets and assigned seating long before modern sports arenas came into existence. Before a game, a spectator would receive a ticket which had a number that corresponded to one of the 79 entrance arches. All arches had numbers above them. The ticket also included a level, and a seat number.
For almost 400 years, The Colosseum was used regularly and has survived through earthquakes, neglect, and the pillaging of popes who took its marble for their own buildings. It fell into despair for many centuries after its use, and has only been preserved in the last century.
Colosseum Visitor Information
Colosseum Admission Fees are as follow:
Full ticket – €15.50
EU reduced ticket – €10.50 (only for European citizens aged between 18 and 25)
EU minors & seniors ticket- €4.50 (only for EU citizens aged above 65 and under 18)
The Rome archaeological card is also valid at the Colosseum.
Colosseum Opening Hours:
Mid February – mid March: 9 AM – 4.30 PM
Mid March – end March: 9 AM – 5.00 PM
End March – end August: 9 AM – 7.00 PM
End August – end Sept.: 9 AM – 6.30 PM
End Sept. – end October: 9 AM – 6.00 PM
End October – mid March: 9 AM – 4.00 PM
The Colosseum is easy to get to with its own metro stop as well as being served by many buses. Tours to the Colosseum run daily and cost about €10 and can be used as a joint ticket to the nearby Palatine hill. You will also find many guides in the area who will offer you tours. Be careful who you choose- while many are knowledgeable and reputable, there are quiet a few who are not. Make sure they have an official tour guide license.
What to see while visiting The Colosseum:
- The Exterior – The exterior of the Roman Colosseum is made entirely of travertine, stretching 527 m around and four stories high. There are 80 entrances, with the two main ones reserved for the emperor and his entourage.
- The Cavea – Otherwise known as the seating area. This is divided into three tiers: the lowest for knights the middle for wealthy citizens and the top for the general population. In total the Colosseum could hold up to 45,000 spectators.
- The Podium – The arena is surrounded by a 5m-high wall to protect spectators from attacks by wild beasts. At the top of the wall is where you will find the podium, on which the imperial party and other VIPs had their seats.
- The Colossus Statue of Nero – The statue after which the amphitheater is named, can be seen between the Colosseum and the nearby Temple of Venus and Roma.
- Palatine Hill – As you come toward the end of the forum, there is a path that goes off to the right, up hill. The palatine hill. Approaching the Colosseum you will see several things. Vending trucks, people dressed as gladiators, souvenir carts, and tour touts.
Colosseum Conservation Effort
When restoration started in 1995, just 15 percent of the Colosseum was open to visitors. Now, up to 85% of the site is open to tourists. Last year, as many as 2.5 million people toured the world’s most famous amphitheater, making it by far Italy’s most visited site.
The Colosseum is constantly being renovated and cataloged in order to restore it. However, there is a lot of red tape in Italy as well as a lack of funds for many of their historic ruins. The Colosseum is not immune to this and thus progress on its conservation is much slower than it should be. Moreover, pollution from modern Rome is also a threat to the architecture.