More popular still were the circus, the stadium, and the amphitheater. Rome had several stadiums, used chiefly for athletic contests. Horse or chariot races, and some spectacles, were presented at the Circus Flaminius in the Field of Mars, or, more usually, at the Circus Maximus as rebuilt by Caesar between the Palatine and Aventine hills. This was an immense ellipse 2200 feet long and 705 feet wide, with wooden seats on three sides for 180,000 spectators. We may judge the wealth of Rome by noting that Trajan rebuilt these seats in marble.
By comparison the Colosseum was a modest structure, seating only 50,000. Its plan was not new; the cities of Greek Italy had long since had amphitheaters; Curio, as we have seen, composed one in 53 B.C.; Caesar built another in 46, Statilius Taurus another in 29 B.C. The Flavian Amphitheater, as Rome called the Colosseum, was begun by Vespasian and finished by Titus (A.D. 80); the architect’s name is unknown. Vespasian chose as its site the lake in the gardens of Nero’s Golden House, between the Caelian and Palatine hills. It was constructed of travertine stone in an ellipse 1790 feet around. Its
external wall rose 157 feet and was divided into three stories, the first partly supported by Tuscan-Doric, the second by Ionic, the third by Corinthian, columns, with an arch in each intercolumnar space. The main corridors were roofed with barrel vaults, sometimes crossed in the style of medieval cloisters. The interior was also divided into three tiers, each upheld by arches, divided into concentric rings of boxes or seats, and cut by stairways into cunei, “wedges.” The aspect of the interior today is that of a mass of masonry into which some giant artisan has cut the arches, passages, and seats. Statues and other decorations adorned the whole, and many rows of seats were in marble. There were eighty entrances, two of them reserved for the emperor and his suite; these entrances and the exits ( vomitoria ) could empty the gigantic bowl in a few minutes. The arena, 287 by 180 feet, was surrounded by a fifteen-foot wall topped with an iron grating to protect brutes from beasts. The Colosseum is not a beautiful building, and its very immensity reveals a certain coarseness, as well as grandeur, in the Roman character. It is only the most imposing of all the ruins left by the classic world. The Romans built like giants; it would have been too much to ask that they should finish like jewelers.
Roman art had taken over in eclectic confusion the Attic, Asiatic, and Alexandrian styles- restraint, immensity, and elegance; it never quite combined them into that organic unity which is one requisite of beauty. There is something Oriental in the crude strength of the typically Roman buildings; they are awe-inspiring rather than beautiful; even Hadrian’s Pantheon is a structural marvel rather than an artistic whole. Except in certain moments, as in the Augustan reliefs and the glass, we must not look here for delicacy of feeling or refinement of execution; we must expect an engineer’s art that seeks the perfection of stability, economy, and use, a parvenu’s infatuation with immensity and ornament, a soldier’s insistence on realism, a warrior’s art of overwhelming force. The Romans did not finish like jewelers because conquerors do not become jewelers. They finished like conquerors.