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The Colosseum

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The Colosseum
By Filippo Coarelli, Gian Luca Gregori, Leonardo Lombardi, Silvia Orlandi, Rossella Rea, and Cinzia Vismara. Edited by Ada Gabucci and Translated by Mary Becker. (Los Angeles, The J. Paul Getty Museum: 2001. Pg 248, illustrated.) ISBN: 0-89236-648-6.

Reviewed by Rochelle Caviness - February 11, 2002

The Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, best known simply as The Colosseum, is one of the most enduring legacies of the Rome Empire. It not only represents a phenomenal work of architecture, but is also represents the splendor, the breadth, and cruelty that was Imperial Rome at its zenith. It also provides us with insights into the social, economic, and religious attitudes of the Romans, and the political system that conceived of, and brought to reality, such a monumental, pubic work's project.

In The Colosseum, edited by Ada Gabucci, the Colosseum is studied in exacting detail. This detail spans the spectrum from its architectural particularities and how it affected the demographics of the Roman city. This work also explores the function of the Colosseum, and the many uses it was to put to, including its uses as a stadium in which gladiatorial games where held. It also discusses the nature of the gladiatorial games, and other events carried out at the Colosseum, such as animal hunts, staged animal acts, capital punishment, torture, and the martyrdom of Christians in the arena. The text also describes what a normal day's program would have been. Considerable detail is also given concerning the associated infrastructure that was necessary to ensure the smooth running of the Colosseum. This volume also explores the uses to which the Colosseum was put to, after the fall of the Roman Empire.

This volume is divided into six main sections,
  1. The Colosseum in the Urban and Demographic Context of Imperial Rome.
  2. The World of the Gladiators.
  3. The Gladiators.
  4. The Architecture and Function of the Colosseum.
  5. The Colosseum through the Centuries.
  6. The Water System of the Colosseum
The essays that make up the bulk of the text in these sections were written by Filippo Coarelli, Gian Luca Gregori, Leonardo Lombardi, Silvia Orlandi, Rossella Rea, and Cinzia Vismara. These are all respected scholars, who specialities cover the fields of art, architecture and antiquities. These essays were originally written in Italian, and were translated into English by Mary Becker. Her translation is fluid, accurate, and the narrative invigorating. Throughout, this volume is accented by the addition of 'text boxes' which highlight information on related subjects or which provided additional information about the material under discussion. As well, this volume is copiously illustrated, containing almost 300 illustrations, including photographs, maps, and architectural drawings. It also includes pictures of coins and other artistic works, such as oil paintings, watercolors, and sketches that depict scenes from the Colosseum.

The Colosseum is an outstanding work that provides a comprehensive overview on a monumental piece of architecture and all its varied meanings. This work is suitable for scholars and students alike. The book is unable to convey the sheer size and grandeur of the structure, for to appreciate this aspect you really need to see, and tour, the Colosseum in person. However, in all other regards, this work is exceptional. It not only provides a lucid account of the history and structure of the Colosseum, but it also explores its background, purpose, and impact.

Related Reviews:

Rome, by Ada Gabucci.
Volume II in the Dictionaries of Civilization series, this volume provides a detailed overview of Ancient Roman history and culture.

Gladiators at Pompeii, by Luciana Jacobelli.
A brief overview of the history of gladiatorial competitions, and the men, and women, who competed in them. Special emphasis is given to the gladiators of Pompeii and the material evidence about the spectacles that have been uncovered at Pompeii.

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