As the most famed site in the Eternal City, the Colosseum acts as the symbol of Rome. This brilliantly battered and bruised amphitheater pierces through the modernity of the 21st century, its ancient revelations gifting us an insight into the workings of the Roman Empire.
This was a society of clearly intended levels of social standings. Although these were not always obliged to, the findings of who sat where in the Colosseum give us an invaluable opportunity to peer into the supposed social classes of the Roman peoples simply by determining their seating positions during the games or shows.
So, whilst the true action was taking place on the sands below, taking an alternate view instead of the stands above can prove to unveil stories just as exciting as the gladiatorial battles.
Who sat in the Imperial box?
Modern estimates put the capacity of the Colosseum at 50,000, while the Codex-Calendar of 354 estimated 87,000 spectators. Either way, it is no surprise that out of these thousands of Romans it would be the Emperor who received the best view in the house.
Located on the northern side of the Flavian Amphitheater’s short axis, it made sense that the Emperor would receive the most luxurious treatment at the events that were funded from the Roman Empire’s own purse strings. In fact, pay attention even today when entering this area of the Colosseum and one can see the remains of intricate decorations in the gangways. Of course, not only would the Emperor’s view have been unrivaled but his all-encompassing experience as lavish as possible.
Following the fall of the Roman Empire, the city of the Caesars became the Rome of the popes and the Colosseum was subject to Christian attention. Restored and repaired by several popes, the northern side of the amphitheater now hosts a Christian cross dedicated to the martyrs of the faith who perished within the circular walls. A plaque below reads:
“The amphitheater, one consecrated to triumphs, entertainments, and the impious worship of pagan gods, is now dedicated to the sufferings of the martyrs purified from impious superstitions.”
Elsewhere in the Ima Cavea (Auditorium)
As the ruling body of Rome, the members of the senate were given special treatment across many walks of life, with the Colosseum being no exception to this. Out of the entire arena, how we know who sat where in this particular section of the Colosseum is the easiest to define. Why? Well, the senators engraved their own marble seats with their names, thus personalizing their individual spots to watch the action unfurl below.
The senators enjoyed such a magnificent view that there was in fact the need for high walls and protections, ensuring that none of the games’ protagonists, both beasts and men alike, could escape the center of the action and harm these prestigious members of the audience.
Who else joined the senators in this first rung of social elites you ask? Certainly, we know that the Vestal Virgins, the priestesses of Vesta, were sat in a box on the south side. However, the true make-up of the crowd would almost undoubtedly have shifted from event to event, with special guests and traveling diplomats gifted some of the better seats in this great amphitheater.
Travertine steps and social ladders
In an ironic juxtaposition, it is clear that the lower we delve down the social classes of Roman society, the higher we must climb up the steep travertine steps of the Flavian Amphitheater.
Scanning above the senators, we first reach the non-senatorial nobles or knights. Sat in the maenianum primum, the seats of these men represent their position in general society: not quite the cream of the crop, but allowed greater privileges than your ordinary citizen. These general Roman citizens (plebeians) were housed in the sections above, with wealthier attendants taking up their place in the lower section (immum) and poorer peoples in the upper section (summum).
A building to pacify the poor
The Colosseum, in its timing, location, and design, screams of carefully constructed distraction. Inaugurated in 80 AD, the opening of the amphitheater couldn’t come fast enough for Emperor Titus, who was desperate to divert attention away from numerous atrocities such as the eruption of Vesuvius, Great Fire of Rome, and a deadly plague.
The positioning of the Colosseum is poignant in this respect also. Built upon the site of Emperor Nero’s incredible man-made lake of Domus Aurea, it sent a message to the population: where there once stood a symbol of tyranny there was now a monument for the people of Rome, no matter what their social status.
It is for this reason that entry to the Colosseum for many was free. Armed with numbered pottery shards as tickets, even women and slaves could attend the events. It was here, in the section added under the reign of Emperor Domitian, that spectators would be crammed into either standing terraces or sat upon steep wooden benches.
See the stands for yourself
Walks Inside Rome has hosted local, authentic, and informative tours of the Colosseum and its historic stands since 1999. Our guides with expertise in art, history, archeology, and food bring to life your immersive experience of one of Rome’s greatest monuments.
For our full collection of tours and offers take a look at our website, while you can either book directly online or contact us via email. We look forward to hearing from you so as to craft your individual experience of the Eternal City!