Roman amphitheatre

The Amphitheatre of Pompeii, one of the earliest known Roman amphitheatres, in the 1800s.

Roman amphitheatres are amphitheatres – large, circular or oval open-air venues with raised seating – built by the ancient Romans. They were used for events such as gladiator combats, venationes (animal slayings) and executions. About 230 Roman amphitheatres have been found across the area of the Roman Empire. Early amphitheatres date from the republican period,[1] though they became more monumental during the imperial era.[2]

Amphitheatres are distinguished from circuses, hippodromes, which were usually rectangular and built mainly for racing events and stadia, built for athletics. But several of these terms have at times been used for one and the same venue. The word amphitheatrum means "theatre all around". Thus an amphitheatre is distinguished from the traditional semicircular Roman theatres by being circular or oval in shape.[3]

Components

The Roman amphitheatre consists of three main parts; the cavea, the arena, and the vomitorium. The seating area is called the cavea (enclosure). Cavea is formed of concentric rows of stands which are either supported by arches built into the framework of the building, or simply dug out of the hillside or built up using excavated material extracted during the excavation of the fighting area (the arena).

The cavea is traditionally organised in three horizontal sections, corresponding to the social class of the spectators:[4]

  • The ima cavea is the lowest part of the cavea and the one directly surrounding the arena. It was usually reserved for the upper echelons of society.
  • The media cavea directly follows the ima cavea and was open to the general public, though mostly reserved for men.
  • The summa cavea is the highest section and was usually open to women and children.

Similarly the front row was called the prima cavea and the last row was called the cavea ultima. The cavea was further divided vertically into cunei. A cuneus (Latin for wedge; plural, cunei) was a wedge-shaped division separated by the scalae or stairways.

The arched entrances both at the arena level and within the cavea are called the vomitoria (Latin "to spew forth"; singular, vomitorium) and were designed to allow rapid dispersal of large crowds.

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