Gladiator fights, exotic animals, rowdy spectators in togas. These are some of the images that the Roman Colosseum may conjure up in your mind.
But last year, archaeologists tackled the sewer networks beneath the infamous amphitheater to learn more about what a day there is really like.
Colosseum construction works began between 70 and 72 ADunder the reign of the emperor Vespasian, and the Flavians completed it about 80 AD. (This is where the wonder of the world gets its alternate name: the Flavian Amphitheater.) It is said to be open with 100 days of games.
Soaring to coarse 159 feet high and measuring 620 feet long by 512 feet wide, the arena could seat more than 50,000 spectators. Believe it or not, that’s almost the same capacity as Yankee Stadium in New York.
It remained in use for nearly 500 years and today is known as one of the world’s greatest historical attractions, with over six million people visit the site each year.
Around 523 AD, however, the Colosseum fell into disuse as a means of entertainment — preserving its secrets over time and giving archaeologists the unique opportunity to uncover them using wire-controlled robots nearly 1,500 years later.
Archeology reconstructs the past
To uncover these clues, archaeologists explored about 230 feet of the Colosseum’s sewers in a year-long study.
What they found offers some hints at what the average ancient Roman’s day trip to the Colosseum involved: Seeds of figs, grapes, blackberries and melons were present, as well as olives and some types of nuts. Archaeologists believe that these were probably common snacks during spectacles – possibly the equivalent of munching on popcorn at the cinema in our era.
They also found playing dice made of bone, along with pieces of clothing and over 50 coins. The latter, including dozens of bronze coins from the later Roman period, were probably dropped by hapless onlookers. According to reports, one rare coin in particular dates from 170-171 AD and was minted in honor of the emperor Marcus Aurelius 10th year in power.
Alfonsina Russo, director of the Colosseum Archaeological Park, said Reuters that these finds offer insight into “the experience and habits of those who came to this place during the long days devoted to performances.”
A dog in a fight
Archaeologists also found bone fragments from some of the animals that fought in the arena; bears, lions and leopards among them. Meanwhile, remains of a a small dog found in the garbage they are believed to have belonged to a species similar to the modern dachshund.
Hunters and trappers brought animals from the far reaches of the vast Roman Empire and beyond to amaze audiences who were eager to catch a glimpse of never-before-seen beasts. These animals were often pitted against each other and also fought with gladiators in hunting battles.
And if you — like audiences of the past — yearn to know more, you’re in luck: investigations into the Colosseum’s sewers are ongoing and may yet reveal more secrets about the daily lives of spectators at its ancient games.