By Mary Beard and Keith Hopkins
Published in March 2011
Thibault’s Score: 4/5
Mary Beard is one of my favorite historians, and she never disappoints. The Colosseum is a short history of the famous monument in Rome. The book is concise and to the point, containing no fluff whatsoever.
I expected the book to start with a history of the colosseum in chronological order from its construction to the present. Instead, Beard starts with a focus on the 19th century when the monument first gained international fame. The history of the colosseum in the Middle Ages and early modern era is almost more interesting than the history of the monument during antiquity.
The colosseum was popularized by Lord Byron, and became a popular attraction among the Victorians. It immediately became filled with tourists and the scammers who inevitably accompany them.
The colosseum was built by emperor Titus around 80 AD. It would be used to host a wide variety of games until the late 6th century, at which point it fell into disrepair. While the most well known games were gladiatorial, the gladiator matches were infrequent. Historians now believe that gladiators only fought in the arena ten days per year. More common, would be other games of bloodsport, mostly involving animal hunts. Other nonviolent shows may also have been held in the arena.
During the Middle Ages, the colosseum became a giant quarry. The denizens of Rome used it as a source of raw material to build their homes. In the 16th century, the pope attempted to convert it into a cloth factory to rehabilitate former prostitutes. The scheme fails, with the colosseum instead being used to create a much smaller glue factory.
Finally, in the 17th and 18th centuries, it became a Christian pilgrim site. Christian visitors would go there to pray in the name of the martyrs who they supposed had died there. This led to a partial restoration of the colosseum, based mostly off of the imagination of the pope and Roman municipal government. As a result, much of the building you can see today actually is less than 200 years old.
This is a must read for anyone who plans to visit the monument.
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