Social Changes Reflected by Architecture

In Rome two buildings typify the social changes that occurred in the centuries after the Death of Christ. The first is the Colosseum.


The Colosseum was started in 72 AD and completed in 9 years, built by 60,000 Jewish slaves and funded by the spoils of war. When completed it held 55,000 spectators, who could be moved in or out of the Stadium in 20 minutes . They were admitted for free and fed while watching the performances for nothing. At this time of Empire, social stability was paid for with bread and circuses and the blood of the 400,000 people who died in the 390 years it was open for entertainment.

Photographs taken inside the stadium do not give any idea of the huge scale of the building, but the cross section with human figures gives a better perspective.

The second building is the Temple of Mars, now known as the Parthenon.

Built in the century before Christ it was a place to worship many Gods (that is the meaning of the word Parthenon in Greek) but especially Mars and Venus. When most of the ancient buildings in Rome were destroyed, this one survived because it was donated to the Church in 609 AD, stripped of the ancient idols and rededicated as a Church. It continues to function as a working church today, services were being held, amongst hundreds of tourists, when the image was taken.

There are only two sources of natural light in the building -through the opening of the massive Bronze doors and through the oculus (hole) in the centre of the dome which allows light to make striking patterns on the walls and floors of porphyry, granite and yellow marbles.



2 thoughts on “Social Changes Reflected by Architecture

  1. The Flavian Amphitheater
    Emperor Vespasian, founder of the Flavian Dynasty, started construction of the Colosseum in 72 AD. It was completed in 80 AD, the year after Vespasian’s death.
    The huge amphitheater was built on the site of an artificial lake, part of Nero’s huge park in the center of Rome which also included the Golden House (Domus Aurea) and the nearby Colossus statue. This giant statue of Nero gave the building its current name.

    The Building

    The Colosseum in Imperial Rome
    The elliptical building is immense, measuring 188m by 156m and reaching a height of more than 48 meters (159 ft). The magnificent structure was clad in marble and 160 larger-than-life statues graced the arches on the upper floors.

    The Colosseum could accommodate some 55,000 spectators who entered the building through no less than 80 entrances. Above the ground are four stories, the upper story contained seating for lower classes and women.

    The Colosseum today
    The lowest story was preserved for prominent citizens. Below the ground were rooms with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to appear in the middle of the arena.

    The Colosseum was covered with an enormous awning known as the velarium. This protected the spectators from the sun. It was attached to large poles on top of the Colosseum and anchored to the ground by large ropes. A team of some 1,000 men was used to install the awning.

    Bread and circuses
    Emperors used the Colosseum to entertain the public with free games. Those games were a symbol of prestige and power and they were a way for an emperor to increase his popularity.

    Inside the Colosseum
    Games were held for a whole day or even several days in a row. They usually started with comical acts and displays of exotic animals and ended with fights to the death between animals and gladiators or between gladiators. These fighters were usually slaves, prisoners of war or condemned criminals. Sometimes free Romans and even emperors took part in the action.

    Night view of
    the Colosseum
    Hundred-day games were held by Titus, Vespasian’s successor, to mark the inauguration of the building in 80 AD. In the process, some 9,000 wild animals were slaughtered.

    The Ruins
    The southern side of the Colosseum was felled by an earthquake in 847. Parts of the building – including the marble cladding – were later used for the construction of other landmark buildings such as the St. Peter’s Basilica and Palazzo Farnese.

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