I love old stuff. An old tool or some artifact found on the Gettysburg battle field can hold my attention for hours. If I walk by a building in Philadelphia and notice it was built in 1870 I get Goosebumps.
Imagine my delight walking around Rome. I mean, we’re talking old! The numerous massive monuments, the ruins that appear every other block and most impressively, The Coliseum. Wow!
I was like a kid in a candy store. Wide eyed, we walked around Rome, snapping pictures faster than a runway photographer. Everywhere I looked a photo op appeared.
Walking toward The Coliseum, it’s much photographed façade seemed to rise from the ground. Once inside, I was speechless, just an amazing site.
We took advantage of one of the many tours available to the thousands of gawkers there, and it was well worth it, very interesting and educational.
Whenever I would think of The Coliseum in the past, I would picture man eating lions in battle with, well, men. Gladiators facing off against one another, fighting to the death. The emperor, or king, or whatever title the current big cheese held, would sit in his seat, giving the thumbs up or thumbs down signal, deciding the fate of a beaten warrior.
If my tour guide was correct, all of that is not really accurate. The Coliseum was the stage for professional fighters of their time. They were the equivalent of today’s World Wrestling Federation.
The Gladiators were sent to “Camps” to hone their skills. The outcome of each fight was predetermined. It was a money making endeavor, like the WWF.
The most popular guy, the Hulk Hogan of the Gladiators was the guy who attracted thousands of people to stream in to the Coliseum to spend money. Surely he wouldn’t be killed off. That’s just bad business. His particular fight, or match, would go one of two ways. He could possibly fight against an opponent and win out right, of he could fight an exciting death defying match with an unknown Gladiator, and get his butt kicked. The match might end with his opponent standing over him with his sword poised for the kill. The crowd would be going crazy as the Gladiators looked to the King who is sitting in the stands, awaiting a sign. Thumbs up and the beaten man lives to fight another day, thumbs down, and the beaten man will die by the sword, on the spot.
Our tour guide informed us, it was always thumbs up. Why would the King want to kill off the very reason people flock to the Coliseum and spend their hard earned dollars? The minutes waiting for the Kings signal would send the fans into a frenzy, like Philadelphia Phillies fans with 2 out in the 9th, only to be disappointed at the inevitable thumbs up sign that was given sparing the warriors life. It sure did make for great theater. What a show it must have been.
As for those man eating lions? It wasn’t like I imagined. I always pictured big strong well fed lions prancing the the outer edges of the ring, staring at a quivering emaciated prisoner who stood in the center of the ring, who was counting the minutes left before a certain death. WRONG!
The lions were kept locked up under the floor of the Coliseum. This unseen space was like a city unto itself, with upwards of 500 people working below, on fight day. The lions were caged for days at a time, before their scheduled bout with a particular prisoner, in complete darkness. When the curtain went up, so to speak, the lion would be raised up from the darkness below amid screams from the crowd, and thrust into the bright sunshine of the day, causing him to be blinded. He was also tethered on a leash, so he could only maneuver a few feet this way and that. So basically the prisoner would be fighting a blind, tethered, scared lion. The crowd would watch, fascinated, as the man would attack and kill the wild beast.
As the helpless lion lay bleeding on the Coliseum floor, marking the end of the days festivities, I picture the people rising as one, heading for the exits. I wonder if some people would leave just before the last act of the show, trying to beat the traffic home?
Those Roman streets at rush hour can be a killer.