The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre

The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre

The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre

The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre


The Roman amphitheatre was a site both of bloody combat and marvellous spectacle, symbolic of the might of Empire; to understand the importance of the amphitheatre is to understand a key element in the social and political life of the Roman ruling classes.
Generously illustrated with 141 plans and photographs, The Story of the Roman Amphitheatre offers a comprehensive picture of the origins, development, and eventual decline of the most typical and evocative of Roman monuments.
With a detailed examination of the Colosseum, as well as case studies of significant sites from Italy, Gaul, Spain and Roman North Africa, the book is a fascinating gazetteer for the general reader as well as a valuable tool for students and academics.


In this book I shall try to tell the story of that most typical of Roman monuments, the amphitheatre, from its origins through its heyday and on into its death throes and beyond, in such a way as to be of interest both to the specialist and to the general reader. Due to limitations of time and resources available for this research, the material and monuments discussed have had to be highly selective. They were chosen either because of their undoubted importance or else because of personal interest or personal experience of them. the vast dispersal of the amphitheatres within the empire makes it virtually impossible for anyone to visit more than a select subset of these monuments.

This book is not intended to be a comprehensive discussion of this architectural genre; one already exists: a vast compendium of recent research and a comprehensive architectural survey and analysis in French by Jean-Claude Golvin. Nor does my own experience allow me to attempt such an investigation; there are far too many amphitheatres that I have not seen and research has had to be crammed into the school holidays between terms of teaching. the result must inevitably be a mélange of carefully chosen case studies, general principles, impressions and conclusions linked together by a running commentary.

In the first chapter I investigate how the amphitheatre formed a central element in the social and political life of the ruling classes of ancient Roman society. By examining the seating arrangements in the Colosseum (Flavian Amphitheatre, Rome) in detail, I intend to show how this monument epitomises the functions of social status and conspicuous display of wealth and power. To be seen to be in attendance at the Colosseum and one’s particular location vis-à-vis the emperor’s box were vital social and political markers of status and the progress (or otherwise) of one’s official career. Here I also attempt to investigate some of the psychological interactions between architecture and spectator. I do not intend to say anything new about the actual structural details of the Colosseum, nor do I intend to give a detailed overall architectural summary. There is a great need for a comprehensive modern study of the Colosseum and efforts to this end are afoot elsewhere by other hands, most notably the team of archaeologists, architects and architectural historians led by Dottore Moccheggiani Carpano. This book has neither the scope nor the research resources to attempt such an ambitious project. I use the Colosseum in the light of the published resources available as illustrative of wider principles. I make no claim to pushing forward our knowledge of the architectural history or delineation of the structure of this monument, but I shall try to provide insight into its social functions in Roman society.

I also intend to rectify the popular misconception that ‘the Roman mob of unemployed, welfare-coddled proletariat’ filled the amphitheatre watching spectacles. As will be shown, the vast majority of the seating in this arena was reserved for the cream of society with only a limited portion for what might be called popular seating. It is as if the vast majority of the best seats at a . . .

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