Roman culture

The Roman culture was the phenomenon considerably more difficult than Greek culture and existed more than 12 centuries (VII B.C. ”“ V A.D.). Rome appeared on the international history scene later than Greece and was the capital of immense empire, embracing all territories, joining to Mediterranean. Travelers and merchants from all over the world directed there.

Many peoples and tribes, submitting to the Roman power, formed the Roman culture: the population of Italy, Greek areas, and Hellenic states. But Greek and Eastern influences were creatively processed in accordance to the Roman system of values.

In its turn Rome also sufficiently influenced on the conquered Hellenistic territories. In that way the synthesis of Greek and Roman cultures was formed; the result of it was the late-Ancient Greek-Roman culture (I-V A.D.) that was at the heart of Byzantium civilization, Western Europe, and many Slavonic states.

In my essay I want to compare two monuments of Roman Empire: the Coliseum in Rome and the amphitheatre in El-Djem (Tunisia).

The Flavian amphitheater (Amphitheatrum Flavium) or Coliseum (lat. Colosseum, Italian. Colosseo) is the biggest Ancient Roman amphitheater and one of the most magnificent buildings in the world. It is situated in Rome in low valley between the Caelian, Esquiline and Palatine Hills, where the pond, belonged to the Nero’s The Domus Aurea (Latin for “Golden House”), was located. It is one of the greatest and most difficult works of Roman architecture and Roman engineering.

The Flavian amphitheater in Ancient Rome

The building of amphitheater was started by the emperor Vespasian after his victories in Judaea and was completed in 80 AD under Titus. The opening of Coliseum was celebrated by games. The name “Amphitheatrum Flavium” is originated from both Vespasian’s and Titus’s family name (Flavius, from the gens Flavia), the present name (Latin Colosseum, Colosaeus, Ilalian Coliseo) established later, beginning from VIII century and, probably, is got either because of its colossal dimensions or the gigantic statue, building by Nero in honour of himself.

For a long time Colosseum was the main place of entertainment shows such as gladiatorial contests, public spectacles, animal hunts, and mock sea battles for the Romans and visitors.

Contrary to the generally accepted opinion that Coliseum was used for execution of Christians, last researches show that it was a myth, which was created by the Catholic Church. Under the emperor Macrinus it was damaged during the fire, but was restored by Marcus Aurelius Severus Alexandrus‘s decree. In 248 AD the emperor Philippus celebrated thousandth anniversary of Roman Empire existence with the great pomp. In 405 AD Flavius Honorius Augustus forbad the gladiatorial contests as conflicting with Christian morality, which became domain after the rule of Flavius Valerius Aurelius Constantinus, nevertheless the animal hunts continued to exist till the death of Theodoric the Great.

The Construction of Coliseum

Like other Roman amphitheatres, the Flavian amphitheater represents the ellipse, in the middle of which the arena (also elliptical formed) and concentric rings of places for the audience, encircling it are situated. It is the most grandiose Ancient amphitheatre: the length of its exterior ellipse is 524 m, major axis ”“ 187.77 meters, minor axis ”“ 155.64 meters, the length of the arena ”“ 85.75 meters, width ”“ 53.62 meters, height of its walls ”“ from 48 to 50 meters. It could seat about 87 thousands spectators thanks to such dimensions.

The Flavian amphitheater is built of the large pieces of travertine stone, which in former times were connected by iron bracing; for the inner parts tuff and brick were used. The present holes in the building existed in the Medieval Ages, when the iron was estimated. From the outer side the building represented three-tier arcs. Between arcs half-columns were situated, in the lower tier was in Tuscan style, the middle ”“ Ionic style, and in the upper tier ”“ Corinthian style. The picture of the Coliseum on the Ancient coins show that statues stayed in the bay of arcs of the middle and upper tiers. Under the upper arcade tier the fourth, higher floor situated, it was made in the form of solid wall, partitioning by the Corinthian pilaster into the compartments (spatial groups in the extent of the building) and having the quadrangular window in the middle of each compartment. On the extremity of the major and minor axis there were four main entrances in the form of three-arched gates. Two of them (on the extremities of the minor axis, from the direction of Esquiline and Caelian Hills) were intended for the emperor, the others served for the festive processions before the beginning of the show, for the entering of the animals and necessary machines.

The spectators entered into the amphitheatre from under the lower floors, which were marked by the numbers from I to LXXVI and went up the stairs to their seats (also 76). These seats were situated around the whole arena in the form of the rows of stone benches (lat. gradus). The lower row or podium was intended for the emperor and his family, senators, and vestals, the emperor had the higher seat.

Podium got detached from the arena by the parapet high enough to secure the audience against the unfettered animals. Than there were the seats for the audience, which formed three tiers (maeniana) according to the tiers of the façade. In the first tier, which included 20 rows of benches, where the city authorities and persons who belonged to the horsemen estate sat; the second tier, consisting of 16 rows of benches used by the people who had the Roman citizenship.

The wall dissociating the second tier from third one was very high, the benches of the third tier were located on steeper sloping surface; this device had for an object to enable the visitors of the third tier to see an arena better. The audience of the third tier belonged to the inferior estates. Above this tier there was a portico, surrounding the whole circumference of building and joining by one its side to its external wall. On its roof, during presentations, the sailors of emperor’s fleet sat; they were sent for the enormous awning (lat. velarium) above the amphitheatre for protecting of the audience from the burning sun rays and a bad weather. This awning was fastened by ropes to the masts, placed on the top edge of the wall. In many places of the external cornice the masts were passed through the holes, and rest their lower end against the stones, as brackets; they are visible till present day. Places for an audience were propped up below by the powerful vaulted construction, containing communicating corridors (lat. itinera), chambers for different needs, and stairs, to the top tiers.

Under the arena, at foundation of the internal wall, there were cages for animals and nearer to the middle of it a lot of walls, posts and vaults, supporting an arena or served for the instantaneous appearance of people from under it, beasts, machines, and sceneries, were discovered. Although the present archeological digs spread more than on the half of all space of arena, the purpose of some walls and posts are not clear till nowadays.

Coliseum lost two third of its primary mass; nevertheless, it is unexampled enormous even now: one architect in the XVIII century approximately calculated the amount of a consisting in Coliseum build material, and defined its cost according to prices of that time: 1.5 million skudos (about 8 million francs). Therefore Coliseum from the earliest times was considered the symbol of Roman grandeur. “While Coliseum stands” ”” pilgrims talked in the VIII century ”” “Rome will stand, if Coliseum will disappear ”” Rome and the whole world also will disappear”.


In ancient Thysdrus, now it is little Arabic town El-Djem, a grandiose amphitheatre was saved; it is slightly smaller than Coliseum in Rome. Actually, it is named the second Coliseum in the world, although everybody knows that Coliseum is the Roman amphitheatre. An amphitheatre is built in 238 by order of ruler Marcus Gordianus. More than forty years giant blocks were extracted from the quarries, trimmed, and driven to the place of building, then they were accurately stowed and then the whole surface was reveted with a marble. The walls of Coliseum were mosaiced with the pictures of galloping riders, hunters, and beasts, pursued by them.

El-Djem is situated between the cities Suss and Sphacs. This city was the largest city of the African province; it played a basic role in the economy of this region which traditionally traded in olive oil.  Time of foundation of city El-Djem is not determined exactly by historians until now. It is known only, that the first habitants of city were Berbers, and El-Djem was named Thysdrus then.

The bloom of El-Djem in III century was related to arrival of Romans. At that time the best olive oil in a country was produced there. But in 238 the population of El-Djem overturned the Roman deputy Maksiminus and proclaimed their own emperor Gordianus. And the city lost its value. However exactly thanks to Romans modern El-Djem is famous by real Roman Coliseum, one of the most wonderful sights in the world.

Today millions of tourists arrive there to see the best-saved and second in the world on a size Roman Coliseum. This impressive amphitheatre (140 meters in length, 122 meters in width, the height of three-storeyed arches about 36 meters, capacity about 30 000 places) is dated the beginning of III century. Coliseum in Rome saved much worse than amphitheatre in El-Djem. Stone, from which Coliseum was built, was brought from the city Rzhish not far from El-Djem. It is considered that exactly it gives to the building the special force.

Both of these magnificent buildings were used for the blood entertainment. Gladiators, wild beasts, slaves were imprisoned in Coliseum. An arena was the place of holding of famous gladiatorial fights, hunt on beasts, fights of slaves. Theatricals, concerts, city collections also took place there. The habitants of El-Djem differed rebellious character and during rebelling against oppressors an amphitheatre quite often became a fortress. Building is very well saved, including underground apartments, where prisoners and animals lived. Basic damages were inflicted to it during artillery bombardment in XIX century.

Presentations were very popular and attracted crowds of the Roman audience. Passing through the vaulted galleries, they went upstairs to the places of seating. An emperor usually took seat from a that side where shade was; gladiators and Christian martyrs, contained together with lions, went out from the underground prisons (discovered only in 1904), and a fight began. Both in Roman Coliseum and El-Djem the lower places were for the poorer public. Women, as caste without any rights, sat in the last rows. Beasts before appearance were not fed during three days! It is possible to imagine what happened in the arena, when the animals were set free!

The Use of Coliseum

In Ancient time both these buildings were used for the sacrifices and executions.

On its stone steps more than thirty thousand of Roman audience sat. Emperor’s place situated so that it was possible to see the rooms of gladiators. Next to rooms there was the room, where the bodies of the defeated fighters were stacked. Not far from this room there were cages with predators which became more and more blood-thirsty because of the smell of fresh blood. The wildest spectacle was venationas – the fight of the unarmed people with lions and other predators. The dead were sacrificed to gods. Wild beasts which were set free in the arena were dedicated to gods: lion and bull ”” to Saturn and Juno, panther ”” to Dionysius, bear ”” to Diana. Some animals were trained to do tricks in animal shows, but the vast majority died in the arena. It is considered that over a million wild animals were killed in contests at the Colosseum [1]. In XVII age, Coliseum in El-Djem was fired in conflict between Berbers and Tunisians. Then for a long time it served as an inexhaustible quarry for the habitants of El-Djem.

Coliseum in Rome, as one of the most majestic buildings, is often considered as a symbol of Rome such as Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London, Kremlin in Moscow, the Tower of Pisa in Italy, and Charles Bridge in Prague. At the schematic image of map of Europe Rome is often marked by the schematic image of Coliseum.

Originally Coliseum was perpetuated in the list of world wonders, made by the Roman poet Marcialus in the first century.

Some other examples of the use of Coliseum:

\    Burning Coliseum is represented in illumination of the program Nero. Reason is laid in consonance of phrase “Nero Burning Rome” and the name of the program “ Nero Burning ROM”

\    In games Age of Empires, Civilization III, Civilization IV.

\    In a film “Teleport” (2008)

The Colosseum’s fame as an entertainment venue has also led the name to be re-used for modern entertainment facilities, particularly in the United States, where theatres, music halls and large buildings used for sport or exhibitions have commonly been called Colosseums or Coliseums. [2]

But movies about gladiators are never made in Coliseum: it is not enough well saved for shooting. Therefore instead of Coliseum the Amphitheatre of Mark Anthony Gordianus in Thysdrus (El-Djem, Tunisia) is often used in the cinema. Besides in this Coliseum the festivals of classic music hold annually because of its unique acoustics.

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