The construction of the Coliseum started in 72 AD under the emperor Vespasian and was completed in 80 AD under the rule of Titus. More modifications were made during Domitian's reign from 81-96 AD. The name "Amphitheatrum Flavium" comes from both Vespasian's and Titus's family name.
The Coliseum is capable of seating 50,000 spectators and was used for gladiatorial contests and public spectacles such as mock sea battles, animal hunts, executions, re-enactments of famous battles, and dramas based on Classical mythology. The building stopped being used for entertainment in the early medieval era. It was later reused for purposes like housing, workshops, quarters for a religious order, a fortress, a quarry, and a Christian shrine.
Today the Coliseum is partially ruined because of damage caused by devastating earthquakes and stone-robbers. The Coliseum is an iconic symbol of Imperial Rome. It is one of Rome's most popular tourist attractions and still has close connections with the Roman Catholic Church.
The Coliseum is also shown on the Italian version of the five-cent euro coin. Unlike earlier Greek theatres that were built into hillsides, the Coliseum is an entirely freestanding structure. It is elliptical in plan and is 189 meters long, and 156 meters wide, with a base area of 6 acres and the height of the outer wall is 48 meters tall. The perimeter originally measured 545 meters. The central arena is an oval 87 meters long and 55 meters wide, surrounded by a wall 5 meters high.
The outer wall is estimated to have required over 100,000 cubic meters of travertine stone. As I stated before the Coliseum has suffered extensive damage over the centuries, with large segments collapsing because of earthquakes. The north side of the perimeter wall is still standing but the triangular brick wedges at each end are modern additions.
The Coliseum’s huge crowd capacity made it essential that the Coliseum could be filled or evacuated quickly. Spectators were given tickets in the form of numbered pottery shards, which directed them to the appropriate section and row. They accessed their seats by using passageways that opened into a tier of seats. These passageways helped disperse people in and out of their seats within only a few minutes. According to the Codex-Calendar of 354, the Coliseum could fit 87,000 people, although modern estimates put the figure at around 50,000. Back then, the Coliseum was used to host gladiatorial shows as well as a variety of other events. The “menora” or gladiator shows, had a strong religious element but were also demonstrations of power, and were extremely popular with the people. Another popular type of show was the animal hunt, or “venatio”. This show used a variety of wild animals including rhinoceros, hippopotamuses, elephants, giraffes, aurochs, wisents, Barbary lions, panthers, leopards, bears, Caspian tigers, crocodiles and ostriches.