Lost in my
Roman Empire reverie,
Marla tapped me on the shoulder
and brought me back to reality. It was time to head over to the
Colosseum a half mile away. This would be our last
stop of the day. Slowly but surely Sam, Marla and I trudged over.
We were getting
tired, but we weren't going to stop now.
Besides, with something this amazing, we
couldn't help but lured over. Wow! What an enormous structure! I had
no idea how vast it was until now. I guess that's one of the reasons
you try to visit these places personally.
Today was more or less the one-year anniversary of the Colosseum
being named a Wonder of the World. On July 7, 2007, the Colosseum
was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders
of the World.
I have always been amused at the title "New Seven Wonders of the
World". Let me tell you, as I stared at this monster, there wasn't
anything "New" about the Colosseum at all!
But I suppose the word "New" separates it from the Seven
"Ancient" Wonders of the World.
The Seven Ancient Wonders of the
1. Great Pyramid of Giza
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
3. Statue of Zeus at Olympia
4. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
5. Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
6. Colossus of Rhodes
7. Lighthouse of Alexandria
Here is a list of the
1. Chichen Itza, Yucatán, Mexico
2. Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro,
3. Colosseum, Rome, Italy
4. Great Wall of China
5. Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Perú
6. Petra, Jordan
7. Taj Mahal Agra, India
As we walked up, we were immediately
pegged as people who needed a tour guide. A handsome young man from
Scotland approached us
to ask if we wanted a guided tour. I
wasn't sure whose eyes lit up more - my wife's
or my daughter's - but I figured it would
be nice to learn more about the history of this incredible structure
from this charming lad named Ian.
The moment we committed, I learned the
personable young man was not going to be our guide.
Ian was just a recruiter. He assured us that we would not be
disappointed with "Roberto", the legendary
guide of the Colosseum. Then he led us to some lady who
collected our 51 Euros. The disappointment on the faces of Marla and
Sam was obvious. Actually I was a little sad too. Ian was a nice
We were told by the lady to go sit down in the shade and wait for
the next group to form. We
sat there on the grass all by
ourselves wondering if we had just been scammed. Marla had read
about the dangers of travel and was on the alert. Just then a
policeman walked past the lady. She not only greeted him, but also
engaged him in a conversation. That was reassuring.
The tour was on the level.
Obviously other tourists found
Ian, our young Scotsman, just as engaging as we did. Pretty soon
there was a steady stream of new recruits. The kid was really good.
Wading into the throngs, Ian picked off prospects
off one by one. In the space of twenty minutes there were now 40 of
us. As I sat, I wondered if Ian would being
interested in a job going to Wild West to corral some Western
dancers for the studio.
Now some guy with a dark tan wearing a
pink shirt strode up. I told Marla that had to be our tour guide. No
tourist would be caught dead wearing pink! He would be pick-pocketed
in an instant. Sure enough, I was right. It was Roberto!
Our guide introduced himself to the crowd
and began to talk to us. I would have taken
his picture, but my camera had long since maxed out its memory card.
It turned out that Roberto, age 35, had a very strong
personality. Roberto and I quickly developed a like-dislike
rapport. On the one hand, he appreciated me because I was
interested in what he had to say. I asked questions
Roberto seemed to approve of plus I enjoyed
answering his Trivia questions
when I could.
On the other hand, Roberto and I
conducted a running
Roman Numerals. Roberto said the Roman numeral for 4 is "IIII".
I said I was taught in school that the Roman numeral for 4 is "IV".
He said I was wrong. That didn't sit well with me. I have seen the
"IV" symbol for 4 on too many occasions throughout my life
to be dismissed.
At first I assumed he was playing a
practical joke on me. Then
as I listened to
his argument, I realized that we were both right. The "IIII"
was the early symbol for 4, but "IV" became
the popular contraction
So I asked Roberto if we were both right. He replied, "No, I am
right and you are wrong." Nor did he smile. Too bad I didn't notice
till later the "IV" plastered next to one of the Pope's names right
there on the wall of the Colosseum. I would have been
amused to hear Roberto
explain that inconsistency.
No matter. I wasn't all that invested in the fight. I was more
interested in figuring out why the guy was willing to embarrass some
of his guests rather than encourage them. I wasn't the only one he embarrassed. He picked on
two women who clearly did not appreciate
his sexual jokes at their expense. A third
woman, a blond from Denmark, did not speak much English. She didn't even realize he was making fun
One of Roberto's favorite lines was when he asked
the group what was the modern equivalent of the heroic Roman
Gladiators. Answer - Colosseum tour guides.
Roberto spent an
inordinate amount of time explaining the
popularity of the brothel in a
certain section of the Colosseum. We didn't
care, but he continued anyway. Nor did he miss a chance
to comment on the genitalia of the various naked
male sculptures to any woman who glanced.
Roberto also spent quite a bit of time
showering the female members with unwanted attention. Twice he took
unescorted women aside to give them private views
of latrines and former prostitution chambers.
It was about
this point that Marla and I
came to the same conclusion -
he was advertising. Roberto was
obviously itching for a little Vidi Vici Veni
of his own. Maybe if talked about sex enough, he would get lucky with
someone from this last group of the day.
It was actually painful to watch a good-looking guy like Roberto
overplay his hand so badly. He thought he was being sexy, but in
reality he was offending one woman after another with his comments.
Oh well. In
my opinion, Roberto had been doing this guide stuff too long.
I think he was burned out.
Maybe the heat
and the constant Roman sun had taken its toll.
That said, I can attest that Roberto definitely knew his
Once he finally got down to business, Roberto explained that the
Colosseum was mainly used for gladiatorial contests and
spectacles. Capable of seating 50,000 spectators,
the arena remained in use for nearly 500 years.
traditional gladiatorial games, many other public spectacles were
held there, including mock sea battles,
animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and
dramas based on Classical mythology.
Morituri Te Salutamus - We who are about to die salute
you! What gladiators did was kill well and die well.
Gladiatorial games were immensely popular within the Roman Empire. It was a thrilling,
intense high-stakes spectator sport. Although the practice seems
abhorrent to our modern culture, as members of a relentlessly
militaristic culture, Romans valued the art of killing in a way we
simply don't understand.
The Gladiator Games were the symbol of the foundation
of the Empire: Roman Fighting Ability!
Since the success of the Roman battle line often depended on the
courage of individual soldiers in hand to hand combat, the ability
of an ordinary citizen to kill single handedly was a skill that the
entire empire depended on to survive. The greatest fighters were
worshipped just as we admire our own modern athletes.
Martyrs & the End of an Era
To my surprise, Roberto insisted that the
Colosseum was not the place where the Christians were persecuted.
He said this brutal practice was conducted before the
Colosseum was ever built. His
statement seemed to defy common sense, so I investigated his claim.
After finishing my research, I think Roberto was probably right,
but I can't be sure.
There is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue.
Christians have long regarded the Colosseum as a site of martyrdom.
The Christians held that early believers had been thrown to the
lions there. However this is unlikely. The majority of
the Christian persecution was carried out by Nero, whose reign ended
before the Colosseum was ever built.
There are no records of religious martyrdom ever having taken place
in the Colosseum. Nevertheless, in 1749, Pope Benedict XIV
endorsed as official Church policy the view that the Colosseum was a
sacred site where early Christians had been martyred. For
example, Domitian was also accused of mass executions
of Christians. Domition took over right after his brother Titus
finished building the Colosseum. So maybe Christians were
persecuted at the Colosseum after all, but definitely not on the
same scale as Nero's horror.
Fortunately there was a bright side to this
horrible story. The Christian martyrs who were
brutally tortured to death amid the jeers of the Roman spectators
did not die in vain.
The noble way they endured their suffering impressed a lot of people
and won converts to Christianity. Their suffering helped pave the way
for the eventual development of the Catholic Church.
The Colosseum eventually fell into disuse for a variety of reasons.
The main reason of course was major earthquakes
and fire had taken their toll. Plus
stone robbers had done a lot of damage to the Colosseum as they
redistributed the rocks to various other projects around Rome (for
example, it was Roberto who suggested that Michelangelo
pilfered many stones for his Sistine Chapel project).
Another reason the Colosseum fell into disuse was disease.
There were times when plague was so rampant in Rome that there
weren't enough people still alive to fill the stadium. This
fact I did
confirm and will discuss at great length in a moment.
In addition, the Gladiator tradition that had fueled the early
excitement at the Colosseum began to fade as
the pacifistic principles of Christianity began to
In other words, the thirst for blood had begun to wane. Constantine
I issued an edict in AD 325, which briefly ended the games:
"In times in which peace relating to domestic
affairs prevail, bloody demonstrations displease us. Therefore we
order that there may be no more gladiator combats."
Constantine's edict, eventually
the games were
last recorded games were held
at the Colosseum as
late as the 6th century.
Roberto said the true origin of the Colosseum began with
the Roman Emperor Nero,
54-68 AD. This statement surprised me because Vespasian
and his son Titus are the
Emperors credited with building the Colosseum.
Roberto made his case by telling
some interesting anecdotes
about Nero. He began by pointing out you don't have to be a Roman History
scholar to know that Nero was easily the most despised Roman Emperor
of all time.
Rumor has it that Nero's own mother Agrippina poisoned Emperor
Claudius to promote her son to the throne. This was kind of extreme.
some mothers won't do to help their children get ahead!
And here I thought the all-time record for parental excess belonged
to Wanda Holloway, the infamous Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.
Well, Wanda couldn't hold a
Roman candle to Agrippina!
Considering his mother's unusual contribution, Nero turned out to be a
most ungrateful son. Agrippina did have one bad habit
- she was fond
of meddling in Nero's love life. One day she went too far.
objected to Nero's desire to marry an 'unacceptable' woman known as
Poppaea, a regular on the Roman Orgy circuit. Agrippina considered
her to be a wanton slut. Furthermore
Agrippina thought Nero was out of his mind to divorce a nice girl
like his wife Octavia for this woman of
dubious virtue who was also inconveniently
married at the time.
Thoroughly enjoying his affair with his wanton slut, Nero thought
otherwise. Sick and tired of his mother lecturing him about his love
life, Nero ordered his mother murdered! Off with Mom's head!
He did feel a bit guilty afterwards,
but eventually cheered up enough to
chasing that wicked woman Poppaea again.
However first Nero had to get rid of the unwanted wife Octavia.
Nero tried exiling her, but that didn't
work. She refused to stay gone. It is so embarrassing to be Emperor
and have your unwanted wife around town shooting her mouth off
at all the Orgy Talk Shows.
Shut the ..... up, woman! So he had her executed
too. Later down the road he had
Poppaea murdered as well. Nero the
Zero was definitely an inspiration to
Henry the VIII.
The Power Elite in Rome didn't like Nero very
much. As was nearly
always the case with the Roman emperors (but
especially with this monster), plots were continuously in the
making to overthrow Nero. However,
Nero was sly enough to avoid all the traps for a number of years.
Every failed plot just made him more vicious.
Nero had a good solution to the problem
- he executed his rivals all the time! Now
we know where Josef Stalin got his role model.
Okay, that should be enough to convince you that Nero was not a nice
man. The reason I discuss Nero at such
length is that he was
connected with the Colosseum in two very
The Great Roman Fire
The Colosseum was built in 72 AD.
Oddly enough, the story of the Colosseum began eight years earlier
Great Fire of
Rome in 64 A.D. The fire started in
the Circus Maximus before raging through the city for
Legend has it that Nero played the fiddle as he watched Rome
burn through his window. In truth Nero was
actually in a seaside city known as Antium (Anzio) when it started, but
returned to Rome when he heard the news.
Whether the fiddle story is true does not matter. There is much evidence to suggest that Nero may have ordered
the fire set deliberately.
people say Nero set the fire because he was out of his mind.
Our tour guide Roberto had
his own theory. He said Nero wanted to build a bigger house right
next door to the Forum. He was tired
of those long commutes.
In addition, Nero had long wanted to make
room for a grand new city that he had designed. Naming
it "Neropolis", Nero had previously built a replica of his vision
for the new city before the fire even started.
However Nero's hands were tied because Emperors
were not allowed to seize standing property. But
there was a loophole - Emperors could seize undeveloped land.
So Nero set fire to the very location where he wanted to build his
home, and then seized the lands once they had been cleared by fire.
In other words, Nero was crazy, but crazy like a fox.
day fire was incredibly destructive. Ten of the
fourteen regions into which the ancient city was divided were either
ruined or destroyed.
As the city was being
rebuilt, Nero decided to turn the whole
valley below the Oppian Hill into a part of an immense new palace.
Known as the Golden House
(Domus Aurea) thanks to its
rich and costly decoration, this huge
residential complex linked imperial
possessions on the Esquiline and Palatine hills.
His home was so big that it covered a quarter of the entire
city of Rome! The intervening
depression between the hills was flooded
to form an artificial lake for the emperor's private park.
As you can see there is a
lot of circumstantial evidence to support
Roberto's theory. For
example, I noticed a passage in Wikipedia that confirmed Nero did
indeed build his new home on the same land where the fire had
burned. Very suspicious! I will share the passage with you.
"In the wake of the
fire, Nero made a new urban development plan. Houses after the fire
were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide
Nero also built a new palace complex known as the Domus
Aurea in an area cleared by the fire. This included lush
artificial landscapes plus a 30-meter statue of himself, the
Colossus of Nero. The size of this complex is debated (from
100 to 300 acres).
To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, unpopular
tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.
According to Tacitus, the population searched for a scapegoat
and rumors held Nero responsible. To diffuse blame, Nero targeted a
sect called the Christians. He ordered Christians to be thrown to
dogs, while others were crucified and burned."
So we learn three things from this brief Wikipedia excerpt.
First, Nero did indeed rebuild his home in
the section cleared by the fire. Second,
Nero erected a huge statue of himself and gave it the name
Colossus of Nero. Third,
Nero used the Christians as his scapegoat for the fire.
Christians to the Lions
Rome's rebuilding project did not begin until
after the single darkest moment in Roman History (and there were
plenty of dark moments, believe me).
After the fire ended, several influential
writers suggested that Nero was involved, causing rumors
throughout Rome almost as fast as the fire itself. As the bitterness
grew, the populace threatened to swell into an angry mob that could
conceivably rush the palace.
Nero may have been mad,
but he wasn't crazy. He needed to
act fast. Not only did he make
his own supplies of food available to the hungry people, but he
promised to personally fund the rebuilding of the city. As
people lined up for their food, to
divert suspicion away from himself, Nero
made sure they got the
message - the Christians
had started the fire!
Nero had picked the perfect scapegoat. The Christians were
hardly causing much of a problem, but their weird "turn the other
cheek" religion was
regarded with great suspicion by the war-happy Romans. Nero had
barely even noticed the new
until he needed to save his own skin. But
now that he put his sick mind to it, Nero became the
Anti-Christ. Not only was did he kill
the Apostles Peter
and Paul, he became the first person to
extensively persecute the Christians.
The stage was set for a public
persecution of innocent people
that has never been surpassed. Nero
came up with the idea of feeding the Christians to the lions
as well as other brutal forms of persecution.
Many were killed by wild animals before crowds of
spectators in the arena, while others were tied to posts, covered
with flammable material, and used as human street lamps for Nero's
gardens. Still others were crucified in public
It is difficult to imagine a more evil man.
Quo Vadis is a remarkable movie that starred
Peter Ustinov as a thoroughly despicable Nero. The decadence and
cruelty of the Romans during Nero's reign is shown on the screen in
painful detail as the Christians are mauled by the lions.
Nero used the horrible carnage to distract the public.
Unfortunately, his stunt worked. The Christians weren't popular to
begin with. The Roman populace was quite willing to transfer the
blame for the fire to them, especially since they enjoyed the public
display of brutal torture so much.
Four years after Rome burned, Nero was gone. The Senate turned on
Nero and had him proclaimed a 'public enemy'. Nero
committed suicide in 68 AD with the knowledge that
he was about to be publicly flogged to death. He
was only 31.
The Year of the Four
Nero left no heirs. His death created a massive power vacuum.
The Year of the Four Emperors was a wild period in the
history of the Roman Empire. In 69 AD, four different emperors ruled
in short succession. These four emperors
were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.
Believe it or not, this same nonsense would be
played out again two more times in Roman history. Besides the
Year of the Four Emperors (69), there was the Year of the Five
Emperors (193) and the Year of the Six Emperors (238)
They came and went so fast you would think they were playing "Queen
The first three - Galba, Otho, and Vitellius - had reigns no longer
than several months. But Vespasian was a keeper. He
was credited with getting the Roman Empire back on track.
Vespasian got his start as a trusted aide of Nero. He was put in
charge of the suppression of the Great
Jewish Revolt (66 AD - 70 AD). Apparently the region
of Judaea put up a very serious fight. However by 68 AD, the year of
Nero's death, most of Judaea had been recovered. Only Jerusalem
still remained to be taken.
During the rapid turnover of emperors following the death of Nero in
68 AD, Vespasian prepared his own bid for power. The legions of
Egypt, Judaea, Syria and the Danube all declared for him.
Emboldened by this support,
Vespasian sent his commander Primus ahead to secure Italy on his
behalf. A major victory was achieved at the bloody Battle of
Cremona. Primus took Rome in December 69 AD.
Quickly the Senate passed a law conferring the powers of emperor on
Vespasian. He arrived in Rome in the late summer of 70 AD, having
left his elder son Titus in charge of mopping up the
operation in Judaea. Jerusalem was taken in August 70 AD and the
Temple destroyed. The massive Judean revolt had finally been broken,
but it hadn't been easy. The populace was
thrown into slavery and strewn across the Empire to prevent any
further revolts, an event known as the Jewish Diaspora.
Once Vespasian was in charge, his major
objectives were to restore Rome's finances after Nero's reign,
restore discipline in the army after the civil wars and ensure the
succession of his son Titus. Vespasian was successful in all three.
Work on the Colosseum was begun in Rome in 72 AD.
The Great Fire of 64 AD had left Rome with only smaller arenas.
Thanks largely to Nero's practice of using bloodletting to
pacify the masses, the Gladiators were at the height of their
popularity. Vespasian took careful note and decided
to begin a project that would take 8 years to
So using the spoils from the
recent conquest of Jerusalem,
he decided to create a new arena in the center of Rome.
The arena would not only celebrate
the conquest of Judea, it would
be so large that practically the entire
population could see
the Gladiators perform. Not only were the Roman coffers flush with
Judean gold, but Vespasian also had 15,000 Jewish slaves at
Vespasian decided to put the Jewish slaves to use in this massive
construction project. That's right, the Colosseum was built by
Jewish slaves. Personally, I imagine
every single one of the slaves cursed every moment of their horrible fate.
Their brave fighters had been conquered, their temple was destroyed,
their women had been raped,
many survivors had been crucified, and the
were scattered across the world. Now for eight long
years the slaves were forced to
build this monument intended to honor the
glory of Rome's brutal destruction of
their homeland. I imagine that left a
I guess we don't have to wonder too hard why the Roman Empire was
hated so much and by so many.
But where to build the new arena? Vespasian had an ingenious idea.
Why not build it on top of the most unpopular real estate in the
city? You guessed it - the
Colosseum was erected right where Nero's palatial home stood.
Even though the structure was only six years old, Nero's
Golden House was torn down
to make way. No one minded a bit. Nero's
lake was filled in and the land reused as the location for the
Colosseum, then known as the Flavian Amphitheatre.
Gladiatorial schools and other support buildings were
nearby on the former grounds of the Domus Aurea.
Vespasian's decision to build the Colosseum on the site of Nero's
lake was seen as a very wise move. By returning to the people the
area of the city that Nero had appropriated for his own use,
Vespasian tapped into the huge reservoir of bitterness the people
still felt towards their despised former leader.
Furthermore, thanks to Vespasian's use of this prime real estate
just down the street from the Forum, the Colosseum
had been constructed in the very center of
the city where it stood as a widely-viewed symbol
to Roman Glory.
There was a Roman tradition of celebrating great victories.
With this in mind, soon no monument
in Rome was more revered than the Colosseum. It not only
represented Roman power over the conquered Kingdom of Judaea, it
also served as a measure of revenge towards Nero,
the man who had burned Rome and disgraced the Empire.
These factors explain why
even today the Colosseum stands as the most enduring symbol of all
of the Roman Empire. Given this significance, the Colosseum is
indeed most worthy of its status as one of the
seven Wonders of the World.
The Fall of the
Oddly enough, although the Colosseum stood as the enduring symbol of
Roman power, an argument can also be made
that it contributed to the Fall of the Roman
Empire as well.
Rome finally fell to German invaders in 476 AD, four
hundred years after the Colosseum was built. Historians
list many reasons for the downfall, but most say the Empire was not
conquered as much as it collapsed from within.
Much has been written about the spiritual decay.
That is an obvious place to start. But since the Empire
was rotten from the start, let's begin with a more subtle assassin -
A major cause behind
the decline of the Empire was the constant presence of disease.
haunted Rome like a silent predator.
As a result, the population
of Rome had wild fluctuations.
The population of Ancient Rome was 130,000 in 508
BC. In 294 BC the populace that lived here was 262,321. But in 289
BC it was down to 27,200! Since Rome was never attacked in
those days, there could be only one explanation.
Two hundred years later in the time of Augustus Caesar, Rome became
the first city to hit a population of one million in 5 BC. It would
be more than eighteen centuries before the second such city, London,
would reach that milestone in 1800.
One million people.
Yet as our guide Roberto pointed out, there
were years when the Colosseum was
at all because the population of
Rome had fallen so greatly.
Indeed, plagues constantly beset the city.
Due overcrowding, poor sanitation, and
generally poor nutrition, diseases were rampant among Rome’s urban
masses whose life span was very short. Most people were not expected to live past 30!
For starters, food contamination was a major problem, making
intestinal parasites a common malady. For example because of its
proximity to the Tiber, the cattle market was routinely flooded and
food was most likely contaminated on a fairly regular basis.
Another problem were the tightly-packed slums of Rome.
Although the wealthy lived in beautiful clean homes, the poor of
Rome lived in complete squalor.
It is obvious the city had grown much too fast. Advances
in medicine did not even begin to keep pace with the rapid increase
of population. Consequently in the filthy streets of
the city, disease found a perfect breeding ground
in the rats and fleas that thrived in the unsanitary conditions.
However, for the
influential people of Rome, the slums were of little importance as
they never visited such areas. And yet the wealthy died at
practically the same rate as the poor!
One curiosity was the extremely high death rate
among the wealthy due to disease, a perpetual problem that constantly robbed
the city of its political and economic leaders. And
yet the wealthy lived in spacious, clean homes distant from the
Roman slums. What could account for this death rate?
Modern epidemiologists point their finger
directly at two places.
The Roman baths are the first suspect in this murder mystery.
The sick and the healthy often bathed together. Doctors suggested
their patients visit the baths for the therapeutic value. The ill
apparently preferred to visit the baths at midday or at night when
the general public did not frequent them. The Romans did not have
disinfectant. It is also likely that the bathing pools were
only periodically emptied and cleaned. The picture that emerges is
that the Roman baths were hardly the pristine, hygienic places that
we imagine them to have been.
The second culprit in the
murder mystery was the Colosseum itself.
As long as the rich and the poor stayed apart, perhaps disease
could have been contained. But such was not the case.
As we have read, the most popular amusement in all of Rome was
watching the gladiatorial combats in the Colosseum
attended by the rich
and poor alike.
People were in the stadium all day long. One contest after
another was staged in the course of a single day. During the bloody
battles below, the intake of alcohol was enormous.
As the gladiators fought, vicious
cries and curses were heard from the drunken
audience. As sweaty people rubbed against each other, virus
had the perfect opportunity to spread.
In modern day sports, open blood is prohibited. Not so in
the ground became too soaked with blood,
it was covered over with a fresh layer of sand and the performance
went on. But whatever disease was in the
human blood or animal blood had been exposed to the air.
The Colosseum was a death trap in more ways than one. Unbeknownst to the spectators, during the
continuous interaction of people at the Colosseum,
disease spread like wildfire.
As the wealthy rubbed elbows with the
poor, money no longer mattered. The close
proximity allowed disease to pass from one person to the next.
Social position meant nothing. Poor and Rich alike shared the
oxygen plus whatever airborne virus could be passed. No
one was spared. Rome had unwittingly
built the largest disease incubator in history.
Spiritual decay and the loss of civic
virtue was another factor in
the Fall of Rome. The Roman citizens
gradually entrusted the role of defending the Empire to barbarian
mercenaries who eventually turned on them.
The Empire had come to depend on the enrollment of barbarians, in
large numbers, in the army, and … it was necessary to render the
service attractive to them by the prospect of power and wealth.
This was, of course, a consequence of the decline in military
spirit, and of depopulation through disease,
in the civilized Mediterranean countries.
Those morals and values that once kept together the Roman legions
and thus the empire could not be maintained towards the end of the
empire. Crimes of violence made the streets of the larger
cities unsafe. Even during Pax Romana there were 32,000 prostitutes
in Rome. Emperors like Nero and Caligula became infamous for
wasting money on lavish parties where guests ate and drank until
they became ill. The most popular amusement was watching the
gladiatorial combats in the Colosseum.
The excesses of Rome
also made people vulnerable to disease. Emperors
like Nero became infamous for wasting money on lavish parties where
guests ate and drank until they became ill. Orgies became the order
of the day. Unbeknownst to the revelers, the sex, food and alcohol weakened defense systems. The
constant gluttony made people soft.
Slowly but surely the unchecked excesses took its toll.
Rome had become a nation of weaklings. The populace
became so soft and effete they had to hire people to fight their
battles for them. Spiritual
decay formed a
direct link to physical disease.
The mighty Roman Empire
had eroded from within. And
the Colosseum, symbol of Roman greatness, had played a direct role. Surely the Gladiators who
spilled their blood and gave their lives at the
Colosseum had found a measure of revenge
in the knowledge that the very people who cheered their death might
easily be exposed to the cause of their own death as well.
Somewhere from their graves, the Jewish slaves forced to build the
Colosseum against their will could
take solace in the knowledge that
the Colosseum, symbol of the invincibility
of Rome, had secretly become a
death trap that indirectly
aided in the Fall
And that, my friends, is known as Irony.
The Amphitheater Gets a New Name
As another amusing historical footnote, it seems our friend Nero the
anti-Hero played a key role in renaming the Flavian Amphitheater to
the Colosseum about a thousand years after it was built.
Although Nero's palatial estate Domus Aurea had been flattened to
allow the building of the arena, Nero's 100-foot
statue, the Colossus of Nero,
was allowed to stand while the stadium was
constructed. Then for hundreds of years, the statue
of Nero and the amphitheater coexisted
side by side.
Sometime around 700 AD (roughly 600 years after the construction),
an important Benedictine monk from England known as Bede,
672–735 AD, made a pilgrimage to the Vatican City. When
Bede was taken on a tour of Rome, he took note of the two giant
structures, first Nero's statue and then the huge arena across the
street. Bede was deeply impressed.
Bede, who is the only Saint to ever come from Great Britain, later
wrote this famous passage:
"As long as the Colossus stands, so
shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome
falls, so falls the world."
Bede was clearly referring to the Colossus of
Nero, not the Flavian
after Bede's visit, Nero's Colossus
actually was deliberately torn down
several years later in order to reuse its
valuable bronze. Once Nero's
statue was out of sight, it was quickly forgotten.
Bede was the most influential writer of his era (700 AD).
Consequently his reference to the Colossus was widely read. However
there wasn't any "Colossus" any more. What was Bede referring to? No
one outside of Rome knew Nero's statue had ever existed and
only a very few people who lived in Rome
knew about it either.
When people saw Bede's passage about the Colossus of Nero, which no
longer existed, they got confused. They
assumed Bede must be referring to the enormous amphitheater instead.
People started to use the name 'Colossus' to refer to
the arena, an easy mistake to make because the place was indeed
colossal in its own right.
It took a few hundred years for the mistake to completely take hold,
but the die was cast. Documents from
the year 1000 AD show the name "Colosseum"
had been coined to refer to the amphitheatre. The
name transfer was complete.
One thousand years after his death, the ghost of
Nero the Zero enjoyed the last laugh. The
enduring symbol of Rome had adopted the name of his statue.