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The Colosseum

ANALYSIS

Football fans at Wembley on Saturday afternoon will be sitting inside a structure very similar to Rome's Colosseum, which was built in the second century.

Historians believe the Romans were among the first to think about stadium safety and crowd control when they designed the 50,000 capacity Colosseum. Corridors under the stands were wide enough to prevent crushes as often unruly crowds made their way to and from their seats in the 80 seating sections. Vomitoria - access points between areas under the stands and the seating - were also used, as they are in today's modern stadia.

When in use the Colosseum had marble seats in the more prestigious lower tiers and timber seats in the upper ones. Its 48m high, 600m long outer wall is an arcade similar to those in Roman aqueducts. Columns from succeeding levels rest on those below, transferring loads directly to the mass concrete foundations, made with a blended cement containing lime, volcanic ash and brick dust.

Radial arcades also carried loads from the sloping stands, with the arches providing space underneath for crowds to move about and souvenir sellers to ply their trade.

The structure is considered remarkable for its size rather than its design. Other amphitheatres such as the nearby

Marcellus Theatre had already pioneered concepts like the arcade exterior wall, but on a smaller scale. Later, smaller, arenas at Nimes and Arles in southern France also followed the design concept.

Political considerations were behind the Colosseum's construction. Rome's leaders built it as an entertainment venue in an attempt to limit dissent among the local population. Gladatorial contests had become popular in other parts of the Roman Empire but the city itself did not have anywhere to hold them.

Events were staged for free, initially as funeral rites. Wealthy Romans used them as vehicles for sacrifices as part of the ceremony, and the scale of each event was taken as a sign of affluence. They brought together people from across the social spectrum, just like this weekend's FA Cup final.

Gladiators fought to the death. Prisoners were confronted with wild animals, or simply slaughtered in the 84m long, 52.5m wide arena which was covered in sand to soak up the blood. Pressure to vary the entertainment also led to the development of a system of flooding the arena behind its 4.5m high perimeter wall so that naval displays could be staged.

Underneath, there was a maze of passages and rooms to house gladiators, prisoners and wild animals. These had to be designed so that people and wild animals did not come into contact until they were supposed to. There were also lifts to carry animals, including lions and even elephants, up to arena level.

andyb@construct.emap.co.uk

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