Inside the Roman Colosseum.

Red-painted numbers helped Romans find their seats in the Colosseum

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Archaeologists have discovered that the carved seat numbers in the Roman Colosseum had been painted red to make the seats easier to see, assuring orderly, trouble-free seating of the crowd--who then watched naval warfare, public executions, animals eating people alive and people tearing each other apart with various weapons.

The red paint was found during recent restoration of the ancient Colosseum to repair damage it has sustained since the Middle Ages, says a story in . Seat numbers were carved in the travertine stone and then painted red to make it easier for 50,000 spectators to find their seats. With so many people it was necessary for an efficient, orderly seating process.

The largest amphitheater in the Roman Empire measured 620 by 513 feet (190 by 155 meters). It was a free-standing structure constructed of stone and concrete. All other Roman amphitheaters were built into hillsides for support. The Emperor Vespasian ordered it built on the site of Nero’s burned palace around 70 to 72 A.D. His son, Emperor Titus, was in power when work on the Colosseum was completed in 80 A.D. 

The Colosseum in Rome, once home to the most brutal games in history.

The Colosseum in Rome, once home to the most brutal games in history. Picture Source: BigStockPhoto

Titus dedicated the Colosseum with 100 days of games, feasts, public executions and naval battles for which the arena was temporarily flooded.

The morning it opened, the crowd saw more than 10,000 animals, including wolves, crocodiles, giraffes and hippopotami. They were paraded before the crowd, some dressed as famous people.

Gladiatorial contests began in the afternoon. The fights started off semi-fake, like modern professional wrestling matches , with blunt swords or wooden training swords. But soon the matches turned brutal, and the fighters often sustained horrendous injuries. Occasionally, sponsors would pay extra to stage a fight to the death. The crowd drank watered down wine and ate lunch during the games.

The carnage was so awful prisoners killed themselves before they were scheduled to fight. says one German prisoner choked himself to death with a sponge. Another story says 29 Saxons strangled one another, though it’s uncertain how the 29 th committed suicide. People killed in the games included prisoners of war and criminals.

Some species of animals were nearly wiped out during the spectacles. Numbers of lions, jaguars, tigers and North African elephants dropped precipitously. Hippopotami disappeared from the Nile River.

French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme depicted gladiators fighting beasts in a 1902 painting.

French painter Jean-Léon Gérôme depicted gladiators fighting beasts in a 1902 painting. ( Wikimedia Commons image )

Spectacles in which many thousands were killed by man and beast at various venues around the Roman Empire continued until they were banned in the fifth century. Forty years later the Roman Empire fell.

The Colosseum had 80 entrances, two  reserved for dignitaries, including the emperor and other officials and the Vestal Virgins, one for dead gladiators and wild beasts, and one for gladiators parading into the arena.

The Colosseum had over 80 entrances.

The Colosseum had over 80 entrances. Picture Source: BigStockPhoto explained the system:

The numbered entrance gates were the first step of a complex crowd control system which allowed tens of thousands of spectators to smoothly enter the amphitheater and quickly find their seat.
The 50,000 spectators had a ticket that said which numbered gate arch they were supposed to enter. Inside the arena, there were other numbers to help people access their seats, which were assigned according to social class, the monument director Rossella Rea said.

Rea said the paint was an “exceptional finding.” Scholars did not believe the paint, composed of clay minerals and iron oxide, would survive the centuries.

In later years, Romans lived in the Colosseum. From the ninth century until at least 1349, when an earthquake damaged it, people used the structure as a condominium. An excavation in 2014 found terracotta sewer pipes, a wall foundation and potsherds presumably used by people who lived in the Colosseum, says .

Excavations among the Colosseum ruins revealed that people had lived there years after it had stopped being used for gladiatorial battles.

Excavations among the Colosseum ruins revealed that people had lived there years after it had stopped being used for gladiatorial battles. Picture Source: BigStockPhoto

The Italian government is spending $33 million in recent restoration efforts of the Colosseum, which has been damaged by earthquakes, lightning, vandalism and weather in its 2,000-year history. Restoration efforts have been underway since the 1990s.

Stone was even quarried from the structure for use in other projects, including the Palazia Venezio, defensive works along the Tiber River and the cathedrals of St. Peter and St. John Lateran.  Popes from the 1700s tried to preserve the Colosseum, believing it was a site sacred to Christians. But scholars dispute whether early Christians were martyred there, says a article .


There is a 2003 BBC docu-drama titled, 'Colosseum', that tells the true story of a gladiator from his selection at a quarry, through his training to finally gaining his freedom during the 100 days of games when the arena opened. It is quite well done and very worth the watch.

“In the days of the Colosseum, the games were held below. I fear the moment in time when the games are held above, when the fans become the players, when the spectators become the combatants.” – sonofsaf agsaf dot org

Usher, Please show me to seat MMXXLVII

Listverse? As a reference? And to think some people complain whenever Wikipedia is used as evidence.

ancient-origins's picture

I think you will find that the main source provided is Discovery News, and the author simply added a little 'tidbit' of information from Listverse. It certainly wasn't used for evidence.


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