This huge structure was commenced by the Emperor Vespasian and finished by his son Titus, conqueror of the Jews. It was built to satisfy the Roman lust for the spectacular and the exciting, for bloodshed and for cruelty. Covering five acres of ground, the colossal bowl could accommodate eighty-five thousand of the populace of Rome. Built in the shape of an ellipse, and founded on eighty acres, it rises to the dizzy height of 160 feet.
The outside consists of four rows of columns, representing successive orders of architecture—Doric, Ionic, and Corinthian—and was encrusted with marble and decorated with statues. Inside, tiers of stone benches rose one above the other. Sixty-four exits, or vomitories, in a short time admitted or poured forth the blood-loving throngs; and to this day you can see the Roman numerals on fragments of the arches showing the number of the entrance corresponding to the ticket held by the patron. Huge canopies could be spread over the seats to protect from rain and sun.
Gushing fountains cooled and refreshed the air and aromatics diffused a pleasant odor to offset that of the wild beasts. The open space in the center was called the arena, from the Latin word for the sand with which it was carefully overlaid. Under the lowest tier of benches were the dens of the wild beasts, for which the whole earth had been ransacked, and side by side with them the gloomy caverns where the prisoners and martyrs spent their last hours before they were thrust forth into the blazing arena to fight with beasts.
Dark and somber, the colosseum is like the vast shadow of a departed world falling across the lace of our generation. It stands as a crowning indictment of the pagan civilization which reached its awful climax in these bloody spectacles. When the enormous show house was dedicated by the Emperor Titus in the year A.D. 80, ten years after the fall of Jerusalem, more than five thousand wild beasts were slain in the games. And thousands of prisoners had fallen in combat with one another or with the wild animals. That was the Roman estimate of the barbarian. All he was good for was to make a Roman holiday.