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'Gladiator' Emperor’s Colosseum

Archaeologist Discover 'Gladiator' Emperor’s Own Colosseum

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Archaeologists have uncovered an ancient structure in Genzano, Italy, which is thought to be a mini-colosseum that belonged to the Roman emperor Commodus depicted in the Hollywood film ‘Gladiator’.

The archaeologists from Montclair State University in New Jersey discovered the ancient building in a village southeast of Rome which overlooks Lake Nemi while excavating thermal baths in an old estate known as the Villa of Antonines.  Based historical references and artefacts, the site is believed to have been the property of the Antonine Dynasty (138–193), which begun with the reign of Antoninus Pius and included emperors Marcus Aurelius, Lucius Verus and Commodus.

The large oval structure measuring 200 feet by 130 feet with curved walls and marble floors is believed to have been the opulent setting in which Commodus practiced for his first semi-public appearances as a killer of animals and a gladiator, earning him the nickname ‘the Roman Hercules’.

Commodus, son of Marcus Aurelius, ruled Rome from 180 A.D until 192 A.D., delighted in showing off his strength and agility in grisly gladiatorial combats at Rome’s Colosseum in which he was known for slicing off body parts of his opponents and for ego-filled antics in battles against bears, tigers, elephants and other animals. 

The ‘mini-collosseum’ found by the archaeologists could seat more than 1,300 people and featured underground tunnels and chambers, an imperial box and richly decorated marbles with mosaic tesserae, suggesting that Commodus might have enjoyed more elaborate shows in his private arena.  According to the archaeologists, several large blocks of worked peperino stone would have helped support an awning system (velarium) to shade spectators from the sun, just like at the Colosseum in Rome.

In the Oscar-winning film “Gladiator,” Commodus, played by Joaquin Phoenix, fought to the death in the Colosseum in Rome with fictional army general Russell Crowe. The real Commodus, however, was strangled to death in his bath by a wrestler by the directions of his mistress, Marcia and Quintus Aemilius Laetus, prefect of the guard. At last, Rome was rid of the cruel and depraved tyrant of Emperor Commodus.

By April Holloway

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April Holloway is a Co-Owner, Editor and Writer of Ancient Origins. For privacy reasons, she has previously written on Ancient Origins under the pen name April Holloway, but is now choosing to use her real name, Joanna Gillan.

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