Welcome to Rome. One of the most decorated and historically saturated cities on the entire planet. Home to an ancient empire and some of the oldest ruins known today. Of everything that could be seen in Rome, one must-see is the Colosseum. Yesterday, we got to experience a tour through the Colosseum that made me question several perceptions I had about it and make me wonder about the differences between Roman society and the society we are surround by today.
First of all, the structural design and engineering that supports and has allowed the Colosseum to stand for 2000 years is astounding. By using an arch design, the weight on top of each of the arches is better distributed across a wider area to prevent any excessive weight in one part. While the Romans did not invent the arch, their use of concrete allowed them to build higher than the societies we know before them. Additionally, Roman engineers and architects calculated how to construct the Colosseum to have significant wind movement. In the summer, Rome’s temperature in combination with 50,000 people crammed into a stadium would cause for extremely uncomfortable events if the Romans had not specifically planned for air movement. The arches, wind movement, and overall construction of the Colosseum are impressive by themselves, but even more impressive after understanding that the construction was built 2000 years ago and how closely many stadiums today resemble what the Romans accomplished.
It turns out that I had several misconceptions about the events that actually went on in the Colosseum as well. In addition the the “fight to the death” events with the “thumb up” or “thumb down” that I might have pictured in my mind (thanks modern cinema), the professional Gladiators actually didn’t die as often as expected. Our wonderful tour guide explained that only 1 in 6 died. Okay, I admit that 1 in 6 is still not great odds, but those odds are certainly better than 50/50 or worse. The tour guide explained that the Roman government invests into these fighters so it would be a waste if it paid to train the gladiators only for most of them to die.
Even if they didn’t die every time, how were people okay with watching people kill others for fun? I had always wondered how Roman society could have differed from the society I know today when many aspects, such as the cities and wonderfully constructed buildings, are surprisingly similar to today. After some reflection, is it really any different? Maybe we don’t have a large arena to view people fight to the death, but that doesn’t change the fact that violence is still a huge part of society, whether it be in war or murder in the streets of Chicago. In fact, stating that we do not view violence as a form of entertainment might be misleading in itself. Flipping on the TV or going to any movie, I can see the entertainment world is filled with murder, war, and justice. The Hunger Games, Criminal Minds, and thousands of other TV shows and movies base their plot around these themes that must be ingrained into humans because they have been entertaining us for thousands of years.
It is amazing how far we have come, yet so little has changed.