Following Nero’s forced suicide in 68 CE, Rome plunged into a year of civil war as four generals vied against each other for power and Vespasian emerged victorious. After the year of warfare, Vespasian sought to establish stability both in Rome and throughout the empire. He and the sons who succeeded him ruled Rome for twenty-seven years. Vespasian was succeeded by his son Titus, whose reigned was short; Titus was deified upon his death. Domitian, Titus' younger brother, succeeded Titus as emperor and reigned until his assassination in 96 CE. Despite being a relatively popular emperor with the people, Domitian had few friends in the Senate. His memory was condemned formally through damnatio memoriae.
Upon his succession, Vespasian began a vast building program in Rome that was continued by Titus and Domitian. It was a cunning political scheme to garner support from the people of Rome. Vespasian transformed land that had been appropriated by Nero into public buildings for leisure and entertainment such as the Baths of Titus and the Flavian Amphitheatre (Figure 1). Nero's private lake was drained and became the foundations for the Flavian Amphitheater, the first permanent amphitheater built in the city of Rome. Before this time, gladiatorial contests in the city were held in temporary wooden arenas. The amphitheater became known as the Colosseum for its size, but in reference to a colossal golden statue of Nero that stood nearby, which Vespasian had reworked into an image of the sun god, Sol.
The building of the amphitheater began under Vespasian in 72 CE, and was completed under Titus in 80 CE. Titus inaugurated the amphitheater with a series of gladiatorial games and events that lasted for one hundred days. During his reign, Domitian remodeled parts of the amphitheater to enlarge the seating capacity to hold 50,000 spectators and added a hypogeum beneath the arena, for storage and to transport animals and people to the arena floor. Not only was the Colosseum home to gladiatorial events; because it had been built over Nero’s private lake, could be flooded to stage mock naval battles.
Like all Roman amphitheaters, the Colosseum is a free-standing structure, whose shape comes from the combination of two semi-spherical theaters. The Colosseum exists in part as a result of improvements in concrete and the strength and stability of Roman engineering based on the repetitive form of the arch. The concrete structure was faced in travertine and marble.
The exterior of the Colosseum is divided into four bands, representing four interior arcades. The arcades were carefully designed to allow tens of thousands of spectators to enter and exit within minutes. Attached to the uppermost band are over two hundred corbels which supported the velarium, or a retractable awning to protect spectators from sun and rain. The top band is also pierced by a number of small windows, between which are engaged Corinthian pilasters. The three bands below are notable for the series of arches that visually break up the massive façade. The arches on the ground level served as numbered entrances, while those of the two middle levels framed statues of gods, goddesses, and mythical and historical heroes. Between the arches on all three levels are a series of engaged columns: Tuscan ordered columns on the base, Ionic columns on the second level, Corinthian columns on the third, and finally Corinthian pilasters at the upper most band. The order follows a standard sequence where the sturdiest and strongest order is shown on bottom level, since it appears to support the weight of the structure, and the lightest order at the top. However, despite this illusion the engaged columns and pilasters were merely decorative.
Arch of Titus
Following his brother’s death, Domitian erected a triumphal arch over the Via Sacra, on a rise as the road enters the Republican Forum. The Arch of Titus honors the deified Titus and celebrates his victory over Judea in 70 CE. The arch follows typical standard forms for a triumphal arch, with an honorific inscription in the attic, winged Victories in the spandrels, engaged columns, and more sculpture which is now lost. Inside the archway at the center of the ceiling is a relief panel of the apotheosis of Titus. Two remarkable relief panels decorate the interior sides of the archway and commemorate Titus’ victory in Judea.
The southern panel inside the arch depicts the sacking of Jerusalem (Figure 2). The scene shows Roman soldiers carrying the menorah, the sacred candelabrum, and other spoils from the Temple of Jerusalem. The opposite northern panel depicts Titus’ triumphal procession in Rome, awarded in 71 CE (Figure 3). In this panel, Titus rides through Rome on a chariot pulled by four horses. Behind him a winged Victory figure crowns Titus with a laurel wreath and Titus is accompanied by personifications of Honor and Valor. This is one of the first examples in Roman art of humans and divinities, as Titus was deified upon his death, mingling together in one scene. While today these panels are damaged and often dirty, they would have originally been painted and decorated with metal attachments and gilding. The panels on the Arch of Titus are depicted in deep relief showing a change in technical style from the shallow relief seen on the Ara Pacis Augustae.