Roman Colosseum
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 The Roman Colosseum



The Roman Colosseum and the Fall of the Roman Empire

Lost in my Roman Empire reverie, Marla tapped me on the shoulder and brought me back to reality.  It was time to head over to the Colosseum a half mile away. This would be our last stop of the day.  Slowly but surely Sam, Marla and I trudged over.  We were getting tired, but we weren't going to stop now.

Besides, with something this amazing, we couldn't help but lured over. Wow!  What an enormous structure! I had no idea how vast it was until now. I guess that's one of the reasons you try to visit these places personally.

Today was more or less the one-year anniversary of the Colosseum being named a Wonder of the World.  On July 7, 2007, the Colosseum was voted as one of the New Seven Wonders of the World.

I have always been amused at the title "New Seven Wonders of the World". Let me tell you, as I stared at this monster, there wasn't anything "New" about the Colosseum at all!

But I suppose the word "New" separates it from the Seven "Ancient" Wonders of the World.

The Seven Ancient Wonders of the World included:

1. Great Pyramid of Giza
2. Hanging Gardens of Babylon
3. Statue of Zeus at Olympia
4. Temple of Artemis at Ephesus
5. Mausoleum of Maussollos at Halicarnassus
6. Colossus of Rhodes
7. Lighthouse of Alexandria

Here is a list of the New Seven Wonders.

1. Chichen Itza, Yucatán, Mexico
2. Christ the Redeemer, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
3. Colosseum, Rome, Italy
4. Great Wall of China  
5. Machu Picchu, Cuzco, Perú
6. Petra, Jordan
7. Taj Mahal Agra, India

As we walked up, we were immediately pegged as people who needed a tour guide. A handsome young man from Scotland approached us to ask if we wanted a guided tour. I wasn't sure whose eyes lit up more - my wife's or my daughter's - but I figured it would be nice to learn more about the history of this incredible structure from this charming lad named Ian.

The moment we committed,
I learned the personable young man was not going to be our guide.  Ian was just a recruiter.  He assured us that we would not be disappointed with "Roberto", the legendary guide of the Colosseum.  Then he led us to some lady who collected our 51 Euros. The disappointment on the faces of Marla and Sam was obvious. Actually I was a little sad too.  Ian was a nice friendly kid.

We were told by the lady to go sit down in the shade and wait for the next group to form.  We sat there on the grass all by ourselves wondering if we had just been scammed. Marla had read about the dangers of travel and was on the alert. Just then a policeman walked past the lady. She not only greeted him, but also engaged him in a conversation. That was reassuring.

The tour was on the level. Obviously other tourists found Ian, our young Scotsman, just as engaging as we did. Pretty soon there was a steady stream of new recruits. The kid was really good. Wading into the throngs, Ian picked off prospects off one by one. In the space of twenty minutes there were now 40 of us. As I sat, I wondered if Ian would being interested in a job going to Wild West to corral some Western dancers for the studio.

Now some guy with a dark tan wearing a pink shirt strode up. I told Marla that had to be our tour guide. No tourist would be caught dead wearing pink! He would be pick-pocketed in an instant. Sure enough, I was right. It was Roberto!  

Our guide introduced himself to the crowd and began to talk to us.  I would have taken his picture, but my camera had long since maxed out its memory card.  Oh well.

It turned out that Roberto, age 35, had a very strong personality. 
Roberto and I quickly developed a like-dislike rapport. On the one hand, he appreciated me because I was interested in what he had to say. I asked questions Roberto seemed to approve of plus I enjoyed answering his Trivia questions when I could.

On the other hand, Roberto and I conducted a running debate over Roman Numerals. Roberto said the Roman numeral for 4 is "IIII".  I said I was taught in school that the Roman numeral for 4 is "IV".  He said I was wrong. That didn't sit well with me. I have seen the "IV" symbol for 4 on too many occasions throughout my life to be dismissed.  At first I assumed he was playing a practical joke on me.  Then as I listened to his argument, I realized that we were both right. The "IIII" was the early symbol for 4, but "IV" became the popular contraction later on.

So I asked Roberto if we were both right.  He replied, "No, I am right and you are wrong." Nor did he smile. Too bad I didn't notice till later the "IV" plastered next to one of the Pope's names right there on the wall of the Colosseum. I would have been amused to hear Roberto explain that inconsistency.

No matter. I wasn't all that invested in the fight. I was more interested in figuring out why the guy was willing to embarrass some of his guests rather than encourage them. I wasn't the only one he embarrassed. He picked on two women who clearly did not appreciate his sexual jokes at their expense.  A third woman, a blond from Denmark, did not speak much English. She didn't even realize he was making fun of her.

One of Roberto's favorite lines was when he asked the group what was the modern equivalent of the heroic Roman Gladiators. Answer - Colosseum tour guides.  

Roberto spent an inordinate amount of time explaining the popularity of the brothel in a certain section of the Colosseum. We didn't care, but he continued anyway.  Nor did he miss a chance to comment on the genitalia of the various naked male sculptures to any woman who glanced.

Roberto also spent quite a bit of time showering the female members with unwanted attention. Twice he took unescorted women aside to give them private views of latrines and former prostitution chambers. It was about this point that Marla and I came to the same conclusion - he was advertising.  Roberto was obviously itching for a little Vidi Vici Veni of his own.  Maybe if talked about sex enough, he would get lucky with someone from this last group of the day.

It was actually painful to watch a good-looking guy like Roberto overplay his hand so badly. He thought he was being sexy, but in reality he was offending one woman after another with his comments.  Oh well.  In my opinion, Roberto had been doing this guide stuff too long. I think he was burned out.
 Maybe the heat and the constant Roman sun had taken its toll.

The Gladiators

That said, I can attest that Roberto definitely knew his stuff.

Once he finally got down to business, Roberto explained that the Colosseum was mainly used for gladiatorial contests and other public spectacles.  Capable of seating 50,000 spectators, the arena remained in use for nearly 500 years.

the traditional gladiatorial games, many other public spectacles were held there, including mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. 

Morituri Te Salutamus - We who are about to die salute you!What gladiators did was kill well and die well.

Gladiatorial games were immensely popular within the Roman Empire. It was a thrilling, intense high-stakes spectator sport. Although the practice seems abhorrent to our modern culture, as members of a relentlessly militaristic culture, Romans valued the art of killing in a way we simply don't understand.

The Gladiator Games were the symbol of the foundation of the Empire: Roman Fighting Ability!

Since the success of the Roman battle line often depended on the courage of individual soldiers in hand to hand combat, the ability of an ordinary citizen to kill single handedly was a skill that the entire empire depended on to survive. The greatest fighters were worshipped just as we admire our own modern athletes.

Christian Martyrs & the End of an Era

To my surprise, Roberto insisted that the Colosseum was not the place where the Christians were persecuted.  He said this brutal practice was conducted before the Colosseum was ever built.  His statement seemed to defy common sense, so I investigated his claim.  After finishing my research, I think Roberto was probably right, but I can't be sure. 

There is a lot of controversy surrounding this issue.  Christians have long regarded the Colosseum as a site of martyrdom. The Christians held that early believers had been thrown to the lions there.  However this is unlikely.  The majority of the Christian persecution was carried out by Nero, whose reign ended
before the Colosseum was ever built.

There are no records of religious martyrdom ever having taken place in the Colosseum.  Nevertheless, in 1749, Pope Benedict XIV endorsed as official Church policy the view that the Colosseum was a sacred site where early Christians had been martyred.  For example, Domitian was also accused of mass executions of Christians.  Domition took over right after his brother Titus finished building the Colosseum.  So maybe Christians were persecuted at the Colosseum after all, but definitely not on the same scale as Nero's horror.

Fortunately there was a bright side to this horrible story. The Christian martyrs who were brutally tortured to death amid the jeers of the Roman spectators did not die in vain.  The noble way they endured their suffering impressed a lot of people and won converts to Christianity.  Their suffering helped pave the way for the eventual development of the Catholic Church.

The Colosseum eventually fell into disuse for a variety of reasons. The main reason of course was major earthquakes and fire had taken their toll.  Plus stone robbers had done a lot of damage to the Colosseum as they redistributed the rocks to various other projects around Rome (for example, it was Roberto who suggested that Michelangelo pilfered many stones for his Sistine Chapel project).

Another reason the Colosseum fell into disuse was disease.  There were times when plague was so rampant in Rome that there weren't enough people still alive to fill the stadium.  This fact I did confirm and will discuss at great length in a moment.

In addition, the Gladiator tradition that had fueled the early excitement at the Colosseum began to fade as the pacifistic principles of Christianity began to take hold.  In other words, the thirst for blood had begun to wane. Constantine I issued an edict in AD 325, which briefly ended the games:

"In times in which peace relating to domestic affairs prevail, bloody demonstrations displease us. Therefore we order that there may be no more gladiator combats."

Despite Constantine's edict, eventually the games were resumed.  The last recorded games were held at the Colosseum as late as the 6th century.

Nero the Zero

Roberto said the true origin of the Colosseum began with the Roman Emperor Nero, 54-68 AD. This statement surprised me because Vespasian and his son Titus are the Emperors credited with building the Colosseum.  

Roberto made his case by telling some interesting anecdotes about Nero. He began by pointing out you don't have to be a Roman History scholar to know that Nero was easily the most despised Roman Emperor of all time.

Rumor has it that Nero's own mother Agrippina poisoned Emperor Claudius to promote her son to the throne. This was kind of extreme. What some mothers won't do to help their children get ahead!  And here I thought the all-time record for parental excess belonged to Wanda Holloway, the infamous Texas Cheerleader-Murdering Mom.  Well, Wanda couldn't hold a Roman candle to Agrippina!  

Considering his mother's unusual contribution, Nero turned out to be a most ungrateful son. Agrippina did have one bad habit - she was fond of meddling in Nero's love life. One day she went too far.  Agrippina objected to Nero's desire to marry an 'unacceptable' woman known as Poppaea, a regular on the Roman Orgy circuit. Agrippina considered her to be a wanton slut.  Furthermore Agrippina thought Nero was out of his mind to divorce a nice girl like his wife Octavia for this woman of dubious virtue who was also inconveniently married at the time.

Thoroughly enjoying his affair with his wanton slut, Nero thought otherwise.  Sick and tired of his mother lecturing him about his love life, Nero ordered his mother murdered!  Off with Mom's head!  He did feel a bit guilty afterwards, but eventually cheered up enough to start chasing that wicked woman Poppaea again.

However first Nero had to get rid of the unwanted wife Octavia. Nero tried exiling her, but that didn't work. She refused to stay gone. It is so embarrassing to be Emperor and have your unwanted wife around town shooting her mouth off at all the Orgy Talk Shows.  Shut the ..... up, woman!  So he had her executed too.  Later down the road he had Poppaea murdered as well.  Nero the Zero was definitely an inspiration to Henry the VIII.

The Power Elite in Rome didn't like Nero very much.  As was nearly always the case with the Roman emperors (but especially with this monster), plots were continuously in the making to overthrow Nero.  However, Nero was sly enough to avoid all the traps for a number of years. Every failed plot just made him more vicious.  Nero had a good solution to the problem - he executed his rivals all the time!  Now we know where Josef Stalin got his role model.  

Okay, that should be enough to convince you that Nero was not a nice man. The reason I discuss Nero at such length is that he was connected with the Colosseum in two very strange ways.


The Great Roman Fire 64 AD

The Colosseum was built in 72 AD.  Oddly enough, the story of the Colosseum began eight years earlier with the Great Fire of Rome in 64 A.D.  The fire started in the Circus Maximus before raging through the city for 9 days.  

Legend has it that Nero played the fiddle as he watched Rome burn through his window.  In truth Nero was actually in a seaside city known as Antium (Anzio) when it started, but returned to Rome when he heard the news.   Whether the fiddle story is true does not matter.  There is much evidence to suggest that Nero may have ordered the fire set deliberately.

Most people say Nero set the fire because he was out of his mind.  Our tour guide Roberto had his own theory.  He said Nero wanted to build a bigger house right next door to the Forum.  He was tired of those long commutes.
In addition, Nero had long wanted to make room for a grand new city that he had designed.  Naming it "Neropolis", Nero had previously built a replica of his vision for the new city before the fire even started.

However Nero's hands were tied because Emperors were not allowed to seize standing property.  But there was a loophole - Emperors could seize undeveloped land.  So Nero set fire to the very location where he wanted to build his home, and then seized the lands once they had been cleared by fire.

In other words, Nero was crazy, but crazy like a fox.

The nine day fire was incredibly destructive.  Ten of the fourteen regions into which the ancient city was divided were either ruined or destroyed.

As the city was being rebuilt, Nero decided to turn the whole valley below the Oppian Hill into a part of an immense new palace.  Known as the Golden House (Domus Aurea) thanks to its rich and costly decoration, this huge residential complex linked imperial possessions on the Esquiline and Palatine hills.

His home was so big that it
covered a quarter of the entire city of RomeThe intervening depression between the hills was flooded to form an artificial lake for the emperor's private park.

As you can see there is a lot of circumstantial evidence to support Roberto's theory.  For example, I noticed a passage in Wikipedia that confirmed Nero did indeed build his new home on the same land where the fire had burned. Very suspicious! I will share the passage with you.

"In the wake of the fire, Nero made a new urban development plan. Houses after the fire were spaced out, built in brick, and faced by porticos on wide roads.

Nero also built a new palace complex known as the Domus Aurea in an area cleared by the fire. This included lush artificial landscapes plus a 30-meter statue of himself, the Colossus of Nero. The size of this complex is debated (from 100 to 300 acres).

To find the necessary funds for the reconstruction, unpopular tributes were imposed on the provinces of the empire.

According to Tacitus, the population searched for a scapegoat and rumors held Nero responsible. To diffuse blame, Nero targeted a sect called the Christians. He ordered Christians to be thrown to dogs, while others were crucified and burned."

So we learn three things from this brief Wikipedia excerpt.

First, Nero did indeed rebuild his home in the section cleared by the fire.  Second, Nero erected a huge statue of himself and gave it the name Colossus of NeroThird, Nero used the Christians as his scapegoat for the fire.

Feeding the Christians to the Lions

Rome's rebuilding project did not begin until after the single darkest moment in Roman History (and there were plenty of dark moments, believe me).

After the fire ended, s
everal influential writers suggested that Nero was involved, causing rumors to spread throughout Rome almost as fast as the fire itself. As the bitterness grew, the populace threatened to swell into an angry mob that could conceivably rush the palace.

Nero may have been mad, but he wasn't crazy.  He needed to act fast.  Not only did he make his own supplies of food available to the hungry people, but he promised to personally fund the rebuilding of the city.  As people lined up for their food, t
o divert suspicion away from himself, Nero made sure they got the message -  the Christians had started the fire!

Nero had picked the perfect scapegoat.  The Christians were hardly causing much of a problem, but their weird "turn the other cheek" religion was regarded with great suspicion by the war-happy Romans. 
Nero had barely even noticed the new Christian religion until he needed to save his own skin.  But now that he put his sick mind to it,  Nero became the Anti-Christ.  Not only was did he kill the Apostles Peter and Paul, he became the first person to extensively persecute the Christians.

The stage was set for a public
persecution of innocent people that has never been surpassed.  Nero came up with the idea of feeding the Christians to the lions as well as other brutal forms of persecution. 

Many were killed by wild animals before crowds of spectators in the arena, while others were tied to posts, covered with flammable material, and used as human street lamps for Nero's gardens. Still others were crucified in public venues. 

It is difficult to imagine a more evil man.

Quo Vadis is a remarkable movie that starred Peter Ustinov as a thoroughly despicable Nero. The decadence and cruelty of the Romans during Nero's reign is shown on the screen in painful detail as the Christians are mauled by the lions.

Nero used the horrible carnage to distract the public. Unfortunately, his stunt worked. The Christians weren't popular to begin with.  The Roman populace was quite willing to transfer the blame for the fire to them, especially since they enjoyed the public display of brutal torture so much.

Four years after Rome burned, Nero was gone. The Senate turned on Nero and had him proclaimed a 'public enemy'. Nero committed suicide in 68 AD with the knowledge that he was about to be publicly flogged to death.  He was only 31. 

The Year of the Four Emperors

Nero left no heirs. His death created a massive power vacuum. The Year of the Four Emperors was a wild period in the history of the Roman Empire. In 69 AD, four different emperors ruled in short succession. These four emperors were Galba, Otho, Vitellius, and Vespasian.

Believe it or not, this same nonsense would be played out again two more times in Roman history.  Besides the Year of the Four Emperors (69), there was the Year of the Five Emperors (193) and the Year of the Six Emperors (238)

They came and went so fast you would think they were playing "Queen for Day".

The first three - Galba, Otho, and Vitellius - had reigns no longer than several months. But Vespasian was a keeper. He was credited with getting the Roman Empire back on track.

Vespasian got his start as a trusted aide of Nero. He was put in charge of the suppression of the Great Jewish Revolt (66 AD - 70 AD). Apparently the region of Judaea put up a very serious fight. However by 68 AD, the year of Nero's death, most of Judaea had been recovered. Only Jerusalem still remained to be taken.

During the rapid turnover of emperors following the death of Nero in 68 AD, Vespasian prepared his own bid for power. The legions of Egypt, Judaea, Syria and the Danube all declared for him.  Emboldened by this support, Vespasian sent his commander Primus ahead to secure Italy on his behalf. A major victory was achieved at the bloody Battle of Cremona. Primus took Rome in December 69 AD.

Quickly the Senate passed a law conferring the powers of emperor on Vespasian. He arrived in Rome in the late summer of 70 AD, having left his elder son Titus in charge of mopping up the operation in Judaea. Jerusalem was taken in August 70 AD and the Temple destroyed. The massive Judean revolt had finally been broken, but it hadn't been easy. The populace was thrown into slavery and strewn across the Empire to prevent any further revolts, an event known as the Jewish Diaspora.

Once Vespasian was in charge, his major objectives were to restore Rome's finances after Nero's reign, restore discipline in the army after the civil wars and ensure the succession of his son Titus. Vespasian was successful in all three.

Work on the Colosseum was begun in Rome in 72 AD.  The Great Fire of 64 AD had left Rome with only smaller arenas.  Thanks largely to Nero's practice of using bloodletting to pacify the masses, the Gladiators were at the height of their popularity. Vespasian took careful note and decided to begin a project that would take 8 years to complete.

So using the spoils from the recent conquest of Jerusalem, he decided to create a new arena in the center of Rome.  The arena would not only celebrate the conquest of Judea, it would be so large that practically the entire population could see the Gladiators perform. Not only were the Roman coffers flush with Judean gold, but Vespasian also had 15,000 Jewish slaves at his disposal.

Vespasian decided to put the Jewish slaves to use in this massive construction project. That's right, the Colosseum was built by Jewish slaves.  Personally, I imagine every single one of the slaves cursed every moment of their horrible fate. Their brave fighters had been conquered, their temple was destroyed, their women had been raped, many survivors had been crucified, and the rest were scattered across the world.  Now for eight long years the slaves were forced to build this monument intended to honor the glory of Rome's brutal destruction of their homeland.  I imagine that left a bitter taste.

I guess we don't have to wonder too hard why the Roman Empire was hated so much and by so many.

But where to build the new arena? Vespasian had an ingenious idea. Why not build it on top of the most unpopular real estate in the city?  You guessed it - the Colosseum was erected right where Nero's palatial home stood.

Even though the structure was only six years old, Nero's Golden House was torn down to make way.  No one minded a bit. Nero's lake was filled in and the land reused as the location for the Colosseum, then known as the Flavian Amphitheatre. Gladiatorial schools and other support buildings were built nearby on the former grounds of the Domus Aurea.

Vespasian's decision to build the Colosseum on the site of Nero's lake was seen as a very wise move. By returning to the people the area of the city that Nero had appropriated for his own use, Vespasian tapped into the huge reservoir of bitterness the people still felt towards their despised former leader.

Furthermore, thanks to Vespasian's use of this prime real estate just down the street from the Forum, the Colosseum had been constructed in the very center of the city where it stood as a widely-viewed symbol to Roman Glory.

There was a Roman tradition of celebrating great victories.  With this in mind, soon no monument in Rome was more revered than the Colosseum. It not only represented Roman power over the conquered Kingdom of Judaea, it also served as a measure of revenge towards Nero, the man who had burned Rome and disgraced the Empire.

These factors explain why even today the Colosseum stands as the most enduring symbol of all of the Roman Empire. Given this significance, the Colosseum is indeed most worthy of its status as one of the seven Wonders of the World.

The Fall of the Roman Empire

Oddly enough, although the Colosseum stood as the enduring symbol of Roman power, an argument can also be made that it contributed to the Fall of the Roman Empire as well.

Rome finally fell to German invaders in 476 AD, four hundred years after the Colosseum was built.  Historians list many reasons for the downfall, but most say the Empire was not conquered as much as it collapsed from within.

Much has been written about the spiritual decay.  That is an obvious place to start.  But since the Empire was rotten from the start, let's begin with a more subtle assassin - Disease.

A major cause behind the decline of the Empire was the constant presence of disease.  Disease haunted Rome like a silent predator.  

As a result, the population of Rome had wild fluctuations. The population of Ancient Rome was 130,000 in 508 BC. In 294 BC the populace that lived here was 262,321. But in 289 BC it was down to 27,200!  Since Rome was never attacked in those days, there could be only one explanation.

Two hundred years later in the time of Augustus Caesar, Rome became the first city to hit a population of one million in 5 BC. It would be more than eighteen centuries before the second such city, London, would reach that milestone in 1800.

One million people.  Yet as our guide Roberto pointed out, there were years when the Colosseum was not used at all because the population of Rome had fallen so greatly

plagues constantly beset the city.   Due overcrowding, poor sanitation, and generally poor nutrition, diseases were rampant among Rome’s urban masses whose life span was very short. Most people were not expected to live past 30!

For starters, food contamination was a major problem, making intestinal parasites a common malady. For example because of its proximity to the Tiber, the cattle market was routinely flooded and food was most likely contaminated on a fairly regular basis.

Another problem were the tightly-packed slums of Rome. 
Although the wealthy lived in beautiful clean homes, the poor of Rome lived in complete squalor.  

It is obvious the city had grown much too fast.  Advances in medicine did not even begin to keep pace with the rapid increase of population.  Consequently i
n the filthy streets of the city, disease found a perfect breeding ground in the rats and fleas that thrived in the unsanitary conditions. 

However, for the influential people of Rome, the slums were of little importance as they never visited such areas.  And yet the wealthy died at practically the same rate as the poor!

One curiosity was the extremely high death rate among the wealthy due to disease, a perpetual problem that constantly robbed the city of its political and economic leaders.  And yet the wealthy lived in spacious, clean homes distant from the Roman slums.  What could account for this death rate? 

Modern epidemiologists point their finger directly at two places.

The Roman baths are the first suspect in this murder mystery.  The sick and the healthy often bathed together. Doctors suggested their patients visit the baths for the therapeutic value. The ill apparently preferred to visit the baths at midday or at night when the general public did not frequent them. The Romans did not have disinfectant.  It is also likely that the bathing pools were only periodically emptied and cleaned. The picture that emerges is that the Roman baths were hardly the pristine, hygienic places that we imagine them to have been.

The second culprit in the murder mystery was the Colosseum itself. As long as the rich and the poor stayed apart, perhaps disease could have been contained.  But such was not the case.  As we have read, the most popular amusement in all of Rome was watching the gladiatorial combats in the Colosseum attended by the rich and poor alike.

People were in the stadium all day long.  One contest after another was staged in the course of a single day.  During the bloody battles below, the intake of alcohol was enormousAs the gladiators fought, vicious cries and curses were heard from the drunken audience. As sweaty people rubbed against each other, virus had the perfect opportunity to spread. 

In modern day sports, open blood is prohibited.  Not so in ancient Rome.  When
the ground became too soaked with blood, it was covered over with a fresh layer of sand and the performance went on.  But whatever disease was in the human blood or animal blood had been exposed to the air.

The Colosseum was a death trap in more ways than one. U
nbeknownst to the spectators, during the continuous interaction of people at the Colosseum, disease spread like wildfire.  As the wealthy rubbed elbows with the poor, money no longer mattered.  The close proximity allowed disease to pass from one person to the next.   

Social position meant nothing.  Poor and Rich alike shared the oxygen plus whatever airborne virus could be passed. 
No one was spared.  Rome had unwittingly built the largest disease incubator in history.

Spiritual decay and the loss of civic virtue was another factor in the Fall of Rome.  The Roman citizens gradually entrusted the role of defending the Empire to barbarian mercenaries who eventually turned on them. 

The Empire had come to depend on the enrollment of barbarians, in large numbers, in the army, and … it was necessary to render the service attractive to them by the prospect of power and wealth.  This was, of course, a consequence of the decline in military spirit, and of depopulation through disease, in the civilized Mediterranean countries.

Those morals and values that once kept together the Roman legions and thus the empire could not be maintained towards the end of the empire.  Crimes of violence made the streets of the larger cities unsafe. Even during Pax Romana there were 32,000 prostitutes in Rome.  Emperors like Nero and Caligula became infamous for wasting money on lavish parties where guests ate and drank until they became ill. The most popular amusement was watching the gladiatorial combats in the Colosseum.

The excesses of Rome also made people vulnerable to disease.
Emperors like Nero became infamous for wasting money on lavish parties where guests ate and drank until they became ill.  Orgies became the order of the day.  Unbeknownst to the revelers, the sex, food and alcohol weakened defense systems. The constant gluttony made people soft.  

Slowly but surely the unchecked excesses took its toll. Rome had become a nation of weaklings. The populace became so soft and effete they had to hire people to fight their battles for them.  Spiritual decay formed a direct link to physical disease.

The mighty Roman Empire had eroded from within.  And the Colosseum, symbol of Roman greatness, had played a direct role.  Surely the Gladiators who spilled their blood and gave their lives at the Colosseum had found a measure of revenge in the knowledge that the very people who cheered their death might easily be exposed to the cause of their own death as well.

Somewhere from their graves, the Jewish slaves forced to build the Colosseum against their will could take solace in the knowledge that the Colosseum, symbol of the invincibility of Rome, had secretly become a death trap that indirectly aided in the Fall of Rome.

And that, my friends, is known as Irony.

The Amphitheater Gets a New Name

As another amusing historical footnote, it seems our friend Nero the anti-Hero played a key role in renaming the Flavian Amphitheater to the Colosseum about a thousand years after it was built.

Although Nero's palatial estate Domus Aurea had been flattened to allow the building of the arena, Nero's 100-foot statue, the Colossus of Nero, was allowed to stand while the stadium was constructed.  Then for hundreds of years, the statue of Nero and the amphitheater coexisted side by side.

Sometime around 700 AD (roughly 600 years after the construction), an important Benedictine monk from England known as Bede, 672–735 AD, made a pilgrimage to the Vatican City.  When Bede was taken on a tour of Rome, he took note of the two giant structures, first Nero's statue and then the huge arena across the street.  Bede was deeply impressed.

Bede, who is the only Saint to ever come from Great Britain, later wrote this famous passage:

"As long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world."

Bede was clearly referring to the Colossus of Nero, not the Flavian Amphitheater.  However after Bede's visit, Nero's Colossus actually was deliberately torn down several years later in order to reuse its valuable bronze.  Once Nero's statue was out of sight, it was quickly forgotten.

Bede was the most influential writer of his era (700 AD). Consequently his reference to the Colossus was widely read. However there wasn't any "Colossus" any more. What was Bede referring to? No one outside of Rome knew Nero's statue had ever existed and only a very few people who lived in Rome knew about it either.

When people saw Bede's passage about the Colossus of Nero, which no longer existed, they got confused.  They assumed Bede must be referring to the enormous amphitheater instead.   People started to use the name 'Colossus' to refer to the arena, an easy mistake to make because the place was indeed colossal in its own right.

It took a few hundred years for the mistake to completely take hold, but the die was cast.  Documents from the year 1000 AD show the name "Colosseum" had been coined to refer to the amphitheatre.  The name transfer was complete.

One thousand years after his death, the ghost of Nero the Zero enjoyed the last laugh.  The enduring symbol of Rome had adopted the name of his statue.

The Roman Colosseum, one the new 7 Wonders of the World

The spectators had the choice of thumbs up or thumbs down,
but they very rarely spared the vanquished victim. 

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer 
was painted in 1883 by Jean Léon Gérôme. 

Nero and his Wicked Woman Poppaea.  He murdered her too.

Poor Nero was a little depressed after putting Mom to death

The Christian Martyrs' Last Prayer

The movie Quo Vadis was based on a Christian tale.  After a vision from Jesus, the Apostle Peter decided to return to Rome to comfort the Christians shortly before their terrible death at the hands of Nero.  Although this brave act cost Peter his life, the courage of the Christians as they faced a horrible death won the new religion many converts among the Roman spectators

Rome had serious problems with disease

The Roman Lifestyle had much to do with its eventual downfall

476 AD - The Fall of Rome to the Goths

This stamp shows the link between the
Colossus of Nero and the Colosseum

Russell Crowe as the Gladiator

A Christian martyr put to death by a bull,
which in turn was destroyed by a gladiator

This picture was taken from the HBO series Rome,
an excellent historic recreation of the Julius Caesar era
followed by the ascension of his nephew Augustus to power


A Bitter Footnote to Our Triumphant Day

As Marla, Sam and I left the Colosseum, the three of us were exhausted. Our journey had begun at 10 am and it was now 7 pm. We could barely stand up. Fortunately Rome has a marvelous public transportation system. We hopped on a Metro subway train and were whisked back to the hotel in 10 minutes. Nor did it cost much, just one Euro a piece.

I was so amazed at the efficiency of the Metro that I couldn't help but wonder why Houston constantly drags its heels on developing something similar. I am convinced Houston's prolonged love affair with trucks, cars and concrete is literally taking us down the wrong path.  But that's a story for another day.

Once we reached our hotel, we all collapsed, but at least we had a smile on our faces.  What a great day!

However, that night at dinner I was again reminded of my ever-present nemesis: Money.

If you remember we started the day with 287 Euros. During our adventures, we spent 36 Euros for the ill-fated gelato, 51 for the tour of the Colosseum, 3 for transportation in the morning bus and 3 for the evening Metro, plus 5 Euros for bottled water as we traipsed the city. That added up to 98 Euros. Notice we bought no Tee Shirts, no guide books, no post cards, no nothing. Souvenirs were a luxury we couldn't afford today.

That left my family with 189 Euros. The evening's meal was 38 Euros. That left us with 151 Euros to spend during the cruise that started tomorrow. I had no idea whether that would be enough, but surely 151 Euros would come close.

The next morning we prepared to take a shuttle from the hotel to the cruise ship. Our hotel had arranged this shuttle at a cost of 150 Euros. That seemed like a lot of money to me - $300 for a 45-minute taxi ride? However I was told there was a transportation strike in the city of Rome that had pushed the cost of transfer services such as our shuttle sky high.  I frowned, but I accept the cost without verbal protest.  That didn't mean I had to like it though.

Then I got the bad news - I would not be allowed to charge the cost. The driver needed to be paid in Euros. What!? As the lady at the desk explained, the shuttle driver was an independent agent. The hotel itself made no money off the transaction. The hotel had simply made the arrangements. I would have to pay the driver 150 Euros in cash.  What choice did I have?

During the trip to Civitavecchia, the port of Rome, I seethed.  I had been completely cleaned out.   After shelling out the precious money, my family now began a 7-cruise with 1 lousy Euro between us.







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