ORIGIN: amphitheatrum, Lat.; amphitheatre, Fr.

An amphitheatre is is an open-air venue used for entertainment, performances, and sports. The term derives from the ancient Greek ἀμφιθέατρον.


An amphitheater, was a place for the exhibition of public shows of combatants, wild beasts, and naval engagements, and was entirely surrounded with seats for the spectators; whereas, in those for dramatic performances, the seats were arranged in a semicircle facing the stage. An amphitheater is therefore frequently described as a double theatre, consisting of two such semicircles, or halves, joined together, the spaces allotted to their orchestras becoming the inner enclosure, or area, termed the arena. The form, however, of the ancient amphitheaters was not a circle, but invariably an ellipse.

Nimes amphitheater

A wall, or a strongly boarded enclosure, surrounded the arena and, in a projecting box, termed the podium, were seated the emperor, (whose pavilion was called the suggestum), senators, and magistrates. It stood low, and was secured from the animals by nets, spikes, round and movable rollers of wood, and sometimes by fosses full of water, termed euripes. The seats were arranged like those of the Roman theatres, one above another; fourteen rows in the rear of the podium being allotted to the equites, and the remainder to the public spectators. The vomitorii, or entrances, were numbered, to shew the places appropriated to each district of inhabitants, and led to passages termed scala, or scalaria, by which an ascent was gained to the seats. The amphitheatre had no roof; but in hot or rainy weather it was covered by an awning, called the velarium. It was at first temporary, and composed of two semicircular theatres of wood, which, the dramatic diversions being finished, turned round on pivots and hinges, and united; thus surrounding the arena in which the gladiators fought.

Arles arena

Gladiatorial shows and combats of wild beasts (venationeej were first exhibited in the forum and the circus; and it appears that the ancient custom was still preserved till the time of Julius Caesar. The first building in the form of an amphitheater is said to have been erected by C. Scribonius Curio, one of Caesar’s partisans; but the account which is given of this building sounds rather fabulous. It is said to have consisted of two wooden theatres, made to revolve on pivots, in such a manner that they could, by means of windlasses and machinery, be turned round face to face, so as to form one building. Soon after Caesar himself erected, in the Campus Martius, a stationary amphitheater, made of wood; to which building the name of amphitheatrum was for the first time given The ’first stone amphitheater was built by Statilius Taurus, in the Campus Martius, at the desire of Augustus. This was the only stone amphitheater at Rome till the time of Vespasian. One was commenced by Caligula, but was not continued by Claudius. The one erected by Nero in the Campus Martius was only a temporary building, made of wood. The amphitheater of Statilius Taurus was burnt in the fire of Rome in the time of Nero; and hence, as a new one was needed,

 amphitheater coliseum rome

Vespasian commenced the celebrated Amphitheatium FIavium in the middle of the city, in the valley between the Caelian, the Esquiline, and the Velia, on the spot originally occupied by the lake or large pond attached to Nero’s palace. Vespasian did not live to finish it. It was dedicated by Titus in A. D. 80, but was not completely finished till the reign of Domitian. This immense edifice, which is even yet comparatively entire, covered nearly six acres of ground, and was capable of containing about 87,000 spectators. It is called at the present day the Coliseum. The interior of an amphitheater was divided into three parts, the arena, podium, and gradus. The clear open space in the center of the amphitheater was called the arena, because it was covered with sand, or sawdust, to prevent the gladiators from slipping, and to absorb the blood. The size of the arena was not always the same in proportion to the size of the amphitheater, but its average proportion was one third of the shorter diameter of the building. The arena was surrounded by a wall distinguished by the name of podium; although such appellation, perhaps, rather belongs to merely the upper part of it, forming the parapet, or balcony, before the first or lowermost seats, nearest to the arena. The arena, therefore, was no more than an open oval court, surrounded by a wall about fifteen feet high ; a height considered necessary, in order to render the spectators perfectly secure from the attacks of wild beasts. There were four principal entrances leading into the arena; two at the ends of each axis or diameter of it, to which as many passages led directly from the exterior of the building; besides secondary ones, intervening between them, and commu-nicating with the corridors beneath the seats on the podium. The wall or enclosure of the arena la supposed to have been faced with marble, more or less sumptuous; besides which, there appears to have been, in some

The remains of at least 230 amphitheatres have been found widely scattered areas of the Roman Empire. See the list here

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