Amphitheaters, with their gladiators, executions, and macabre contests, have fascinated people for millennia. They have featured in countless novels, books, and video games. One of the best-preserved and possibly the oldest extant amphitheaters is found at Pompeii. Join us on a journey through history as we uncover the secrets of Pompeii Amphitheater.
Pompeii’s Rich History and the Birth of the Amphitheater
Pompeii, originally an Oscan settlement formed from five villages, underwent a transformative journey through different rulers. The Greeks from Cumae took control, followed by Etruscan occupation. In the 3rd century BC, the Samnite mountain tribes conquered the area. However, it wasn’t long before the Romans emerged victorious in the Samnite Wars, leading to Pompeii becoming a Roman colony and undergoing a process of Romanization.
Between 80 and 70 BC, two local notables undertook a remarkable endeavor – the construction of the Pompeii amphitheater. Their aim was to benefit the local community and gain political support. This early amphitheater became a hub for gladiatorial games, setting the stage for the development of these contests across the vast Roman empire. Additionally, it hosted bloody tournaments involving animals and even criminal executions to entertain the crowds.
A Glimpse into Architectural Marvel
The structural design of the amphitheater in Pompeii offers invaluable insights into the evolution of such monuments. Its influence extended beyond Pompeii, shaping the development of other amphitheaters in the Roman provinces and in Rome itself.
This elliptical stone structure spans an impressive 445 by 341 feet (136 by 104 meters). Originally based on a theater design, it was ingeniously adapted to host games and contests. The term “amphitheater” derives from the ancient Greek “amphitheatron,” with “amphi” meaning ‘on both sides’ and “theatron” meaning ‘place for viewing’.
Situated in a natural depression, the amphitheater is supported on one side by an embankment. The tiered seating, known as “cavea,” was divided into three parts to accommodate different social classes. While much of the upper tier is now covered in grass, it still bears witness to the events of the past. The local elite enjoyed the closest view of the action.
Visitors can explore the original accessways to the amphitheater. On either side of the circular arena, two tunnels once provided access for rival gladiators and the release of animals. Walking through these tunnels, you can almost hear the echoes of the brutal games that took place here.
A Colossal Gathering Place
In its heyday, this amphitheater could accommodate up to 20,000 spectators, a significant portion of the region’s population. It stands as a testament to the engineering prowess of its time. Unlike later amphitheaters, it lacks an underground section with tunnels, showcasing the unique design of Pompeii’s ancient amphitheater.
Plan Your Visit to Pompeii
If you’re eager to witness this ancient marvel for yourself, you’ll find the amphitheater as part of the archaeological park in Pompeii, located on the east side, close to the House of Foro Boario. Public transportation and accommodations are plentiful. Consider purchasing a day pass, granting you access to the 44-hectare archaeological park. We recommend setting aside a full day for your visit to fully immerse yourself in Pompeii’s rich history.
Pompeii’s ancient amphitheater stands as a captivating relic of the past, offering a window into the gladiatorial games and contests that once enthralled its audiences. As you explore its well-preserved structure, you can’t help but feel a connection to the events that unfolded here centuries ago.