Updated: Feb 16, 2022
In a city like Rome where “il passato che non passa” (the past does not pass) we live our modern life amidst the remnants of an ancient world witnessed by the Apostle Paul. Recently to help us “see” what we’ve been seeing Sandy arranged a tour of the Colosseum and Roman Forum with a licensed guide. The guide did a fantastic job of giving us a better understanding of the passion, culture, and history of the country in which we minister.
Here are a few snapshots of what we saw and learned at the Colosseum…
Like any modern sports stadium in America, the gates entering the Colosseum were numbered for ticket holders. Although the events were free the people were segregated by social class. The gate below is for ticket holders with seats near to Gate 52 (you can see the Roman numeral “LII” above the arch). The emperor provided free food, wine, and entertainment as a means of displaying his wealth and power, as well as keep the masses in-line with public executions and the controlled violence of the “games.”
The quarried stones of the Colosseum were held together by iron beams. When there was an iron shortage in Rome, the iron within the structure of the Colosseum was mined out and used for weapons, other structures, etc. This is evidenced by the many holes in the stone columns of the Colosseum.
Imagine what it must have been like for someone who never saw a lion (or heard of one for that matter) to suddenly see one come up from the basement of the Colosseum and onto the floor. It took six months to gather the wild animals from the vast Roman Empire and bring them back to Rome. Imagine trying to catch a lion without a tranquilizer dart, cage it, and bring it the long journey back to Italy. Only one in five animals survived the trip. Lions and elephants became extinct in North Africa through this exportation. The propaganda from these animals was simple – the Roman Empire is strong and reaches to the ends of the earth. Below is a display case with the skeletal remains of animals found in the Colosseum.
The Colosseum is not round but actually oval in shape. Everyone’s seats would be equal if they sat in a round stadium and the emperor could not have that so he sat at the “50-yard line” in the oval with the best seat in the house. His seat would have been located in the area where I took the picture below. If he sat on the opposite “50-yard line” then the sun would have been in his eyes. Plus there was a tunnel that led form the emperor’s palace to the side of the Colosseum where it is assumed he sat.
The pictures cannot convey the different perspectives of standing at the top of the Colosseum (amongst the audience) and at the base of the Colosseum (amongst the participants). From the top there is a sense of awe due to the grandeur and engineering of the stadium. From the base level, the weight of what occurred there is almost overwhelming as you put yourself in the sandals of someone about to die. Our tour guide did a wonderful job at this point of getting us to imagine the noise of the crowd, the trumpets, the animals under our feet, as we would have stepped into the arena and felt the magnitude of the Colosseum and death just minutes away. The Colosseum stood for the best (building) and worst (brutality) of Rome.
Many of the gladiators that fought in the Colosseum did so voluntarily. The average lifespan of a man in Rome was 40 and that of a woman was 29. Twenty percent of Rome’s population lived without a roof overhead. Gladiators only fought three times per year and the remainder of their time they were fed, housed, and treated like superstars. Each year the violence and gore grew and the threshold of what was acceptable lowered. The lesson we should not pass over is that when the lower instincts of man are fed there is no telling how bad it can get.
As we sat on a fallen pillar at the end of our Colosseum tour our guide explained how within the context of such a violent society, where people lived with very little hope and with no ethical god that demanded ethical behavior, Christianity, a religion of love, filled the spiritual and moral vacuum of the Roman Empire.
Although the externals of life have changed in twenty centuries the people that once filled ancient buildings like the Colosseum were real human beings exactly like us, with the same basic needs. We feel the weight of sin and mortality just like they did. We long for love and peace exactly as they did. And though our modern world might move at a faster pace than the world twenty centuries ago, mankind today still needs Jesus Christ and to experience the transforming power of His resurrection just as they did.