Roman Times and Events: Those about to Die, Chapter 04, Part 2 of 4

(by Daniel P. Mannix)

The building has eighty entrances; seventy-six were used by the general public while one was reserved for the emperor and one for the Vestal Virgins, a group of chief priestesses whose duty was to guard a sacred flame which was kept burning continuously.

The other two doors opened directly into the arena. One was called the "Door of Life" and through it the opening procession marched before the show.

The other was called the "Door of Death" and through it the dead bodies of men and beasts were dragged to clear the arena for the next event.

Ivory tickets were distributed for the shows, each one marked with a seat number, tier number and entrance number.

Under the stands was an elaborate systern of passageways and ramps so that when you entered the building you were able to go directly to your seat with a minimum of trouble. The stands were divided horizontally by flat walks (praecinctiones) and vertically by stairs (cunei).

The seats were made of marble, numbered, and with lines inscribed on the marble showing the limits of each seat. Marble diagrams with the seating arrangements marked on them were set in the walls by the entrances. One is now in the Capitoline Museum in Rome.

There were four tiers of seats, the three lowest represented on the outside of the building by a circle of arches which admitted light and air into the passageways.

The topmost tier has now virtually disappeared. The arches of the ground level tier were used as entrances. The arches of the next two tiers contained statues of the gods, all except the arches directly above the two main entrances which were bigger than the rest and held life-sized representations of a chariot with four horses and the driver.

The first three tiers each had columns of a different type and the topmost tier was solid masonry with forty small windows flanked by ornamental columns set in the masonry.

An elaborate series of sewers carried off the blood and refuse from the arena and the animal cages below it.

A system of small sewers led from all parts of the building to one great circular drain which surrounded the Colosseum. This drain, in turn, connected to the Cloaca Maxima, the main sewerage system of the city.

Around the inside of the arena ran a perfectly smooth marble wall about fifteen feet high made of carefully jointed blocks so no animal could climb it. Directly above this wall was the podium, a flat area about fifteen feet wide where the emperor had his box and the nobility sat, composed of senators, knights and the civil and military tribunes.

There were apparently no permanent seats on the podium. As in modern boxes, the seats (called curule) were movable and the occupants could stand and walk around as they wished.

The podium was separated from the first tier of seats by a low wall. In this first tier sat the rich merchants and minor officials. After that, came the ordinary people.

As a leopard can jump fifteen feet and a tiger can jump twenty, the podium wall was obviously not enough to protect the spectators. However, elephant tusks about five feet long were fixed to the edge of the podium and nets strung along them in such a way that they overhung the arena.

In addition, a bronze bar ran along the top of the wall that turned on a pivot so if an animal did jump high enough to grab the bar, it would turn and drop him back into the arena.

There was also a moat as in the Circus Maximus. The moat was mainly to break the force of an elephant charge. Without such protection, elephants could easily reach the nobility in the podium—as was discovered when Pompey first exhibited elephants in the Circus Maximus in 55 B.C. before Julius Caesar had the moat dug.

Iron gratings had been put up for additional protection but the elephants ripped these down and only fast footwork on the part of the emperor and his friends saved their lives.

Roman Events: Those about to Die, Chapter Four, Part 3 is next.

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