Christians never battled lions in the Colosseum. The Colosseum became one of the most visible landmarks in the world thanks to that notorious Italian villain Mussolini. Paul McCartney gave a concert in the Colosseum.
We took a tour of the Colosseum in Rome and I learned some interesting things from our guide Elizabeth, a knowledgeable young woman with a PHD in archeology. She told me current economic times aren’t great for archeologists so she needs to supplement her income from ‘dig’ contracts by giving tours. Although it’s too bad she can’t pursue her profession full time its great for visitors to Rome to have such a well informed guide.
Elizabeth cleared up some misconceptions I had about the Colosseum. One of these was that Christians battled lions there. The Colosseum, which was built largely with the labor of thousands of Jewish slaves brought to Rome by the emperor Titus after he destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, was certainly an arena for death. The wildlife of northern Africa was significantly depleted by the three hundred years of savage sport staged in the Colosseum, featuring animals and gladiators fighting to satisfy the blood lust of the up to 80,000 fans in the audience. However, our guide Elizabeth made it clear there is no historical proof for the exciting tales of early Christians being thrown to the lions in the Colosseum. Historians now believe those stories were invented to glamorize the suffering of early Christians at the hands of the Romans. Despite the fact there are no written records of Christians being martyred in the Colosseum it remains a holy site for the Catholic church and every Good Friday the Pope leads the stations of the cross procession at the Colosseum, commemorating the fourteen stages of Christ’s passion.
Elizabeth also told us the fascist dictator Mussolini despite his villainous reputation was responsible for the restoration and protection of many of Rome’s archeological sites including the Colosseum. Mussolini wanted to return Italy to its former greatness at the height of the Roman Empire so he designated substantial government funds for the excavation and preservation of the Colosseum, the Forum, the Pantheon and other important ancient landmarks. He staged quite a number of rallies in the Colosseum to stir up nationalistic pride and Italian patriotism among his people. Mussolini was eventually murdered by Italian partisans and hung upside down for public viewing since he was considered such a disgrace to his own nation. He’s not a celebrated hero in Italian history but had he not led the country from 1922-1943 I might not have toured the Colosseum.
Thousands of people visit the Colosseum every year but care must taken to balance the need for income from tourists with the need to preserve and maintain what is left of the structure. Consequently the Colosseum is no longer the site of huge public events but occasionally special concerts are still held there. Our guide Elizabeth said a few years ago four hundred people paid close to $2000 each to attend a charity concert Paul McCartney gave inside the Colosseum. Later he staged a free show just outside the Colosseum for 300,000 fans. The money generated from ticket sales and television rights was donated to various charities including one for landmines removal and another to rescue artifacts ransacked from museums in Iraq.
I learned the Colosseum has been the site of many historic spectacles in the last 2000 years including rock concerts, papal processions, fascist rallies and gory battles. It’s intriguing to think about what else archeologists might discover happened there and what future events might take place in this famous building.