Fun facts about the Roman Colosseum for kids and curious adults

Colosseum Rome Italy

Fun facts about the Roman Colosseum. Historical facts and curiosities about the Colosseum for homeschooling, family trivia, travel planning.

Few ancient monuments spark the interest of children and adults as much as the Roman Colosseum does.

Huge, beautiful and full of stories sometimes so extreme they seem a work of fiction, rather than reality, the Colosseum offers incredible learning opportunities to anyone willing to listen to its long history.

For this article, we have researched and collated the most interesting facts about the Colosseum in Rome and some curiosities that will help this wonderd and the people who built it come to life.

Sources for this article are: guided tours of the Colosseum, Department of Classics, La Sapienza University of Rome

What is the Colosseum?

The Colosseum is a large ancient amphitheater in Rome, Italy.

It was built during the early days of the Roman Empire and it is still standing tall, albeit a little battered, in the center of modern Rome.

Why is the Roman Colosseum important?

The Colosseum is one of the most impressive buildings from ancient Rome and it is important for the information it holds about Ancient Rome and later times, which historians can still draw from excavations here.

It is the biggest amphitheater in the world and UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its outstanding artistic value and the historical information it holds.

Fun facts about the Colosseum for kids: questions and answers

These are the most curious and important facts about the Colosseum.

The Colosseum and the Via sacra as seen from the hill in front

Who built the Roman Colosseum?

Construction of the Colosseum started under Emperor Vespasian and finished under his son Titus. 

The two Emperors ruled over Rome between 69 and 81AD and belonged to the Flavian Dynasty.

The third Emperor from this family was Domitianiu, who reigned between 81 and 96 AD

When was the Rome Colosseum built? 

The Rome Colosseum was built between 75 and 80 AD.

In 80 ce it was officially opened by Emperor Titus however, historians have also identified several additions and finishing touches made under Titus’ successor, Domitianus.

What was the colosseum used for? 

The Colosseum was used as a theater and stadium.

People would gather there to see theatrical representations and gladiator games and also for less savory events such as capital executions.

How big is the colosseum? 

 The Colosseum 189mt long, 156mt large, over 48mt tall and occupies a surface of over 24,000 sqm!

How many people could the colosseum take? 

The Colosseum could take over 50,000 spectators

Colosseum top tier rome
The top floor of the Colosseum,visited with reserved entrance ticket

How many entrances did the Colosseum have?

80 The colosseum had 80 entrances, in the form of 80 arches at its bottom floor.

They were called vomitoria as they allowed for fast evacuation of the colosseum if needed.

What is the Colosseum made of?

The Colosseum is made of travertine (a type of marble popular in the area) tufo (a local stone) and concrete.

How did they make the Colosseum so high?

The Romans had wooden cranes with a counterweight to allow for heavy material to be lifted very high.

However, this didn’t mean building the Colosseum was easy: historians tell us it took 60,000 slaves to build it!

Why is it called Colosseum?

Interestingly, Colosseum is not the Colosseum’s official name!

The Colosseum wasn’t originally called like this.

Its official name was and still is ‘Flavian Amphitheater’, which means ‘amphitheater of the Flavians, the family of Emperors who commanded and oversaw its construction.

They named the theater after themselves to make sure people knew who to thank (and ho was I charge!) 

Amphitheater means that the colosseum is a theater with an oval form.

A standard theater is shaped like a C, with the seats for the audience on the round part of the C and the stage in front.

An amphitheater is like a double theater, with two Cs looking at each other and with the stage in the center ( ).

The name Colosseum started being used much later: when the Colosseum was built, it was beside a huge bronze statue of Emperor Nero, a statue so big, people referred to it as colossal.

Over the course of the decades, people would use that name to identify the location ‘I will meet you at the colossus’ we can imagine that saying, and this name stayed also after the statue was taken down.

The Colosseum is beside the Roman Forum.

Colosseum seen from the Campidoglio Hill

The colosseum stands over a former lake

Before the Colosseum, the area looked very different: it was an artificial lake, part of the gardens of Emperor Nero’s Domus Aurea.

After the death of Nero, the whole area was rebuilt: the lake got dried and the colosseum built on top. 

How much was a ticket for a show at the colosseum? 

The entrance to the Colosseum was free.

Each Ancient Roman family would receive their tickets and allocated seating: the best seats were given to the richest and most important families, especially those of senators and important political figures.

The best seat in the stadium was for the emperor.

It was at the best distance from the stage to see the show properly and it was in oriented in such a way that the sun would not be against him, hindering his sight.

Why are there holes in the Colosseum

During the course of its long life, the Colosseum wasn’t always used as a theater.

After the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Colosseum was largelyused as a source of materials.

Its marbles were taken and also many of the iron bars that were used to keep the massive stone blocks together.

Did animals fight in the colosseum?

One of the most popular types of shows held in the colosseum was animal fights, which the Romans called venationes (hunts).

The Romand went to all lengths to secure exotic, wild animals to impress the crowds such as lions, bears and bulls.

The animals were brought up to the arena by a lift

The animals were kept under the main stage while they waited for their turn to be in front of the public.

Once it was time for their appearance, they would be put on a lift operated by slaves.

You can still see the lift nowadays: a replica of it, not the original one, was recently rebuilt and it is no visible during a tour of the underground passages of the Colosseum.

The underground passages of the colosseum

Gladiators didn’t always fight to their death

Despite what you may have seen in the movies, the gladiators didn’t always fight to their death.

They were considered great entertainers and a lot of money would go into their training so that they could keep making the public happy.

When they got injured, they were brought to the gladiator hospital where the level of care was excellent

Did the Emperor really decide with the thumb down if they lived or died?

Emperors did not use to put their thumb down to send a gladiator to their death.

This wrong interpretation became popular in the XIX century when French painter J.L. Gerome represented the use in one of his paintings

However, the Romans did indeed use the thumb to express orders.

Thumb up or horizontal would mean death and the thumb inside the fist would mean the end of the fight.

Is it true the Colosseum was flooded to host naval battles?

While it seems the Colosseum was built to possibly hold naval battles, we do not currently have proof that they ever happened so for the moment at least, this seems to be more fiction than fact.

Colosseum or Coliseum spelling?

Sometimes you see the name of the Roman Colosseum spelled ‘Coliseum’. however, this is not fully correct.

‘Coliseum’ is a generic word for an outdoor stadium. The ancient amphitheater in Rome is spelled ‘Colosseum.

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