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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 chock full 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 monumentas fortress, shrine of martyrs, church, and glue factory. Why are we so fascinated with this arena of death?
Keith Hopkins (1934–2004) was Professor of Ancient History at the University of Cambridge. He also wrote A World Full of Gods.
Mary Beard has a Chair of Classics at Cambridge and is a Fellow of Newnham College. She is classics editor of The Times Literary Supplement and author of the blog “A Don’s Life.” She is also a winner of the 2008 Wolfson History Prize.
Table of Contents
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?
List of Illustrations
List of Figures
What People are Saying About This
A wonderful book, worthy of its subject: horrifying, impressive, blood-soaked, occasionally very funny and always entertaining.
G. W. Bowersock
This lively book carries the reader painlessly through a complex record of legend and history. By the end the authors have touched authoritatively on architecture, mythological spectacle, imperial patronage, gladiators, sadism, early Christianity, and modern romantic impressions of the Colosseum. A delightful and instructive account. G. W. Bowersock, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton
Stripped of so much of its outer shell, the Colosseum reveals the extraordinary ingenuity of its functional design, comprising horizontal floors radiating from a hollow center and channelling the movements of crowds around and into its mass through vaulted passageways, or rising along steep staircases. Long admired by architects, an object of wonder during the Middle Ages and for the modern tourist, the very presence of the Colosseum in the center of Rome marks the power of the material past to grasp our imagination even in its present semi-ruinous state. How this has been accomplished is the well-told story of this book. Richard Brilliant, Columbia University