The Amphitheater at Pompeii may at first seem like any other roman amphitheater, but it is in fact very unique. It was built around 80 B.C., soon after Pompeii had officially become a Roman colony. Quinctius Valgus and Marcius Porcius, two local officials built the amphitheater at their own private expense. We know this because there is an inscription crediting them with the construction. It can seat around 20,000 people in three tiers. It served not only the people of Pompeii but also surrounding towns. In its time, it was not called an amphitheatrum, for that word was not being used yet. It was called a spectacular. Now why is it so special? This amphitheater is the earliest known permanent stone amphitheater in the Roman world. Before this, they were built from wood. The next stone amphitheater built was the Colosseum, in Rome, more than a century later. The well-preserved amphitheater has given many insights into Roman gladiator culture.
The amphitheater is in the southeast part of Pompeii, in the outskirts with very few other buildings near it. It is situated in a corner of two town walls to take advantage of existing structures for support. Because the arena in the center of the amphitheater was below the ground level of the time, they dug about six meters (19.68 feet) down. This created a lot of extra dirt that was piled against the city walls and used to support half of the seating area. There are six stairways in the amphitheater, two double-sided stairways on the west side and two simple stairways on the north and south sides. The amphitheater’s design is seen by some modern crowd control specialists as near optimal. Its washroom, located in the neighboring palaestra (training field) has also been cited as an inspiration for better bathroom design in modern stadiums. The arena is shaped like an oval and surrounded by a parapet (any low protective wall or barrier at the edge of a balcony, roof, bridge, or the like) that is more than two meters (6.56 feet) high. This was wall or barrier was originally painted with scenes of animal hunts and gladiator fights. There was also a large training field right next to the amphitheater.
There were bloody shows between gladiators and animals were what people came to see. There were not shows in the winter and the hottest parts of summer. A canopy of black flax material covered the seating area in the summer to protect the audience from the burning sun. Another thing I found interesting about this amphitheater is the deadly brawl between the people of Pompeii and the visiting people of Nuceria that occurred there. It resulted in the ban of events in the amphitheater for 10 years. Below is a illustration of the brawl.
"About this time [AD 59] there was a serious fight between the inhabitants of two Roman settlements, Nuceria and Pompeii. It arose out of a trifling incident at a gladiatorial show...During an exchange of taunts—characteristic of these disorderly country towns—abuse led to stone-throwing, and then swords were drawn. The people of Pompeii, where the show was held, came off best. Many wounded and mutilated Nucerians were taken to the capital. Many bereavements, too, were suffered by parents and children. The emperor instructed the senate to investigate the affair. The senate passed it to the consuls. When they reported back, the senate debarred Pompeii from holding any similar gathering for ten years. Illegal associations in the town were dissolved; and the sponsor of the show and his fellow-instigators of the disorders were exiled."
~Tacitus, Annals (XIV.17)
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