Reub's journey

17 July 2010

Coliseum: no justice without life

The Coliseum is an icon of the Roman Empire, so it was a sight we had to see when we were in Rome: everybody should see this place. Built in under 10 years on the site of Nero's palace lake, it wasn't eclipsed until the Houston Astrodome was built almost 2 millenia letter.

The sporting events held here for the pleasure of 50,000 spectators were bloodbaths, and this was a theater of slaughter. Seeing it once was plenty for me.

Marble frieze at the Coliseum

There were battles between gladiators, men who were most often prisoners of war or convicts trained to fight.

Mosaic at the Coliseum

There were animals imported from Africa, killing unarmed prisoners, and then slaughtered by gladiators.

Detail of painting by Peter Wenzel, Vatican Museums

There were other exotic animals, starved and then set loose among elaborate artificial sets.

Animals and prisoners were kept in dungeon-like rooms below the wooden floor of the Coliseum.

Hundreds of men were employed down there, working the complicated pulleys and trapdoors to the surface.

Detail of drawing at the Coliseum

The emperor Trajan celebrated his victories in Dacia, 107AD, with four months worth of bloody, desperate contests involving 10,000 animals and 11,000 gladiators.

Statue in the Hall of Animals, Vatican Museums

This was a place of extreme violence, a symbol of humanity's worst tendencies toward brutality, greed, and corruption of power.

Although these events occurred 2,000 years ago it is a sobering reminder of what the human race is capable of doing.

I was filled with dread here.

Weathered marble, the Coliseum

Was it just the Zeitgeist of the Roman era that gave me the shivers, or is this place so steeped in blood that you can still sense the fear and the awful lust?

AP photo

These days the Coliseum is the ironic symbol for those who wish
to see the death penalty abolished. Whenever the death penalty is voted out somewhere in the world, the Coliseum is bathed in golden light in honor of this action. When New Jersey ended capital punishment 3 years ago, the Coliseum was shone in this golden light with the projected words:

No justice without life.


  1. I know the Coliseum is magnificent and historical, but I couldn't stay there more than 10 minutes. The energy is awful, as it should be! Beautiful images! Hideous history there. I like the Forum. Interesting things happened there.

  2. I felt exactly the same way during the time I toured the Coliseum. There is something about the place that feels so evil.

  3. Wow. These photos are magnificent and surely speak of a sobering reminder. Thanks for sharing the shots and the history, this was really interesting!

  4. The whole of history is bloody; whether you go beyond the Romans, further back in history, or come towards our time; throughout history, 'history' has been written by the victor and for the victor any kind of bloodbath is justifiable.

    Mankind can be endlessly creative, both for good and evil.

  5. Interesting. I didn't know the link between the death penalty and the Coliseum. At least today's death penalties are more humane that those the coliseum saw. I hate hearing the tales from there.

  6. While I *knew* the history of the Coliseum, what it was used for, architectural mastery, etc. , I have never been and had no clue how it made people feel. The feel of death and so on, I did not know but it makes sense. Very interesting story of your visit and thank you for sharing.


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