Coliseum Design Still Best Today

Posted by April Freund on Aug 2, 2016 12:30:00 PM

I had the privilege of making a trip to Italy a couple of years ago and the ancient feel of buildings and other structures was very much in full display.  One would think it would be there only for historic exposure and aesthetic purposes but a tour of the Coliseum revealed something very different. 

Over two thousand years ago the engineers of Rome, Italy were creating ground breaking processes for moving the masses into and out of large venues where as many as 60,000 spectators would gather.   Their designs are still in use in coliseums and stadiums today.  

The story is told that the previous Emperor had created a lot of bad blood with the masses by overtaxing them to allow him to build unbelievable palaces for his own pleasure.  The new Emperor knew he had to quickly create good will to stem the tide of unrest and the feel of unfairness.  He brilliantly decided that to give them something free and entertaining was going to be his best chance.

Hence the development of the Gladiator “show”.  The set-up of the Gladiator teams themselves is very akin to our modern novice to professional sports careers even today.  The young gladiators (little leaguers) competed to be picked, traded and promoted up the chain to have more time in the shows.  Contrary to popular belief, it was not often that any of them were actually killed during the shows.  They were slaves and when they proved their value the owners often traded them for more money etc., not unlike our professional teams today.  Some of them became so valuable they were able to “buy” their freedom.  

The engineering design was amazing starting from the terra cotta ticket with a gate, section, row and seat etched into it.  Every citizen of Rome was invited to attend.  Of course, a caste system was used to determine the level and vantage level of your seat.  The Senate sat closest, then the important males of Rome and then the women were assigned the higher seating with the less desirable views.  

The whole show was a day-long event and there were many side shows before, in between and after the actual fighting.  It is not unlike pre-game, half time and post-game entertainment. One of the most popular items was the surprise display of wild animals that magically appeared.  Since there wasn’t photography and newspapers, magazines and of course the internet wasn’t available it displayed live animals that looked like mythical creatures to many of the spectators.  Can you imagine seeing a tiger, wild boar, elephant or other exotic creatures with never having been exposed or even heard of such a thing?  

The animals magically appeared via a complicated lift system design that was powered by slave labor.  They basically designed a system of lifts and pulleys to raise platforms that were adjacent to the cages of these animals. When the cue was given the animal was released from their cage onto a platform that immediately popped them up through the stage platform to the surprise, delight and awe of the crowd.   The lift system design was the precursor to the design used by elevator companies today.  

So the next time you go to a fun sporting event, realize the whole people moving process was designed over 2,000 years ago and has certainly stood the test of time!

Topics: Insider

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