The Colosseum

The Colosseum

4.0 2
by Keith Hopkins, Mary Beard

ISBN-10: 0674018958

ISBN-13: 9780674018952

Pub. Date: 11/15/2005

Publisher: Harvard University Press

Read the Bldg Blog interview with Mary Beard about the Wonders of the World series(Part I and Part II)

Byron and Hitler were equally entranced by Rome's most famous monument, the Colosseum. Mid-Victorians admired the hundreds of varieties of flowers in its crannies and occasionally shuddered at its reputation for contagion, danger, and sexual temptation. Today it

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Read the Bldg Blog interview with Mary Beard about the Wonders of the World series(Part I and Part II)

Byron and Hitler were equally entranced by Rome's most famous monument, the Colosseum. Mid-Victorians admired the hundreds of varieties of flowers in its crannies and occasionally shuddered at its reputation for contagion, danger, and sexual temptation. Today it is the highlight of a tour of Italy for more than three million visitors a year, a concert arena for the likes of Paul McCartney, and a national symbol of opposition to the death penalty. Its ancient history is chockfull of romantic but erroneous myths. There is no evidence that any gladiator ever said "Hail Caesar, those about to die..." and we know of not one single Christian martyr who met his finish here.

Yet the reality is much stranger than the legend as the authors, two prominent classical historians, explain in this absorbing account. We learn the details of how the arena was built and at what cost; we are introduced to the emperors who sometimes fought in gladiatorial games staged at the Colosseum; and we take measure of the audience who reveled in, or opposed, these games. The authors also trace the strange afterlife of the monument--as fortress, shrine of martyrs, church, and glue factory. Why are we so fascinated with this arena of death?

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Product Details

Harvard University Press
Publication date:
Wonders of the World Series
Product dimensions:
4.70(w) x 7.30(h) x 0.80(d)

Table of Contents

  • Preface
  • 1. The Colosseum Now…
  • 2. …and Then
  • 3. The Killing Fields
  • 4. The People of the Colosseum
  • 5. Bricks and Mortar
  • 6. Life after Death
  • Making a Visit?
  • Further Reading
  • List of Illustrations
  • List of Figures
  • Acknowledgements
  • Index

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The Colosseum 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a high school sophomore who had to do a research project on a topic of my choosing. I chose the Colosseum as my topic and read this book as a source for my information. Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard, give a well detailed description of the Colosseum. The most exciting section in the book that I found was the most enjoyable was the chapter on the different gladiator stories and the things that connected to them. It was quite fascinating to learn that the audience determined the fate of the gladiators with a simple hand gesture. I found it very helpful for my assignment, but also found the actual content of the book to be very dull and confusing. I would not recommend this book to anyone who wants a lively read about the Colosseum for only enjoyment purposes. I would certainly recommend it to a student who wishes to do a paper on how different writers perceived the Colosseum, along with several historical facts.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is the perfect overview of one of the most iconic buildings in the world. Mary Beard, renowned for her accessible and insightful views on world history, collaborated with Keith Hopkins to create an erudite but very readable history of a building that simply took my breath away the first time I saw it live a few years ago. The Colosseum was recently named one of the 7 NEW Wonders of the World. It’s eye-catching and iconic series of white stone arches, uniformly built into multilayered tiers that diagonally slope where the building has decayed over the course of almost 2000 years, exudes ancient history and immediately invokes images of toga-festooned senators cheering on blood-soaked gladiatorial battles. Beard and Hopkins write, “the Colosseum has become for us the defining symbol of ancient Rome…” driven by “a combination of admiration, repulsion and a measure of insidious smugness. For it is an extraordinarily bravura feat of architecture and a marker of the indelibility of ancient Rome from the modern landscape…” The authors effectively combine over 30 pictures, drawings and maps with a blend of history, religion, architecture, opinionated analysis, and a fascinating look at the world of gladiators. The building itself was placed on the remains of Emperor Nero’s famed Golden House, a vast compound that he had built on the charred remains of a burned Rome. The Emperor Vespasian built the amphitheatre as a way to give something back to the people who’d suffered greatly under the rather unstable Nero. Originally known as The Flavian Amphitheatre (Flavian being the family name of Vespasian), the building opened under the reign of Vespasian’s son Titus, two years after the popular Vespasian died. The authors take great care to highlight the realities of the many myths surrounding the building. While it was likely that Christians were killed in the Colosseum, there exists no evidence that they were fed to the lions, nor evidence indicating they were killed en masse. Animal hunts were a highlight of the many multi-day events held in the building, but it’s highly unlikely that over 5000 animals were killed during the 100-day opening ceremonies. Following a 300-400 year run as the marquee sporting venue in the Roman empire, the building’s purpose varied dramatically until the mid-19th century when it was finally recognized for its historic, archeological, and touristic value. Popes chargeed a fee to ‘quarry’ its stone for use in other buildings throughout the city. Christian sects utilized the building off and on throughout the centuries, building a chapel, at one point, on the arena floor, and creating enough infrastructures in and around the building to support pilgrims traveling across Europe. The building had even become a botanists dream where it housed 418 different species of flora until the mid-19th century. Ancient Emperors, modern world leaders, and even celebrities have all claimed a connection to the ancient building. One of the most impressive images in the book is of Benito Mussolini riding horseback, with the Colosseum as a backdrop, during the inauguration of the Via del Impero. The building has held modern concerts, though the acoustics are thought to not be very good. Having visited the building personally, I also feel a connection to this world wonder. It feels a bit antiseptic. Tourists are corralled into queues and limited in where they can go. Gates, fences and other touches of modernity are subtle but preset and noticeable. But if you’re a wanderer, you can find more. You’ll find random assemblages of travertine stones - unclear whether they're from a more modern repair, an aborted renaissance "quarry", or simply ancient stone with no clear place in the archaeological puzzle. Look hard, and find ancient graffiti or inscriptions I'm a bit of an "archaeophile" I'll admit. But a visit to The Colosseum is simply too monumental to go underprepared. "The Colosseum" is a must read. I've dog-eared the pages of this book that I'll read to my family during our upcoming trip to the Eternal city. The book has just over 200 pages, but it's cut smaller than the average trade paperback. The writing is clear and concise, and full of easily consumed information.