Monday, January 30, 2012


Hello My Friend and Welcome.
Do you teach Sunday school or other religious education classes? If so, here’s a surefire way to have some fun and grab everyone’s attention.  First, pose a question along the lines of: “I’ll describe a scene and you tell me where it’s taking place. We have thousands of Jewish slaves laboring in the hot sun under cruel taskmasters. They’re lugging massive blocks of stone to build a monument that immortalizes their oppressor.”

Hands shoot up around the room. At least half the class has seen Cecile B DeMille’s The Ten Commandments and, though they didn’t know the answer to that one about Elijah and Elisha, they’ve got this one nailed. “It’s the Jews in Egypt,” they shout.

Now it’s time to spring the trap. “Wrong! This scene is taking place in Rome and those Jewish slaves are building the Flavian Amphitheater.” You’re met with blank stares. Since no one’s ever heard of the Flavian Amphitheater, you now call it by its more common name: The Roman Coliseum.

Titus Flavius Vespasianus, known as Vespasian, was the ninth Roman Emperor and founder of the short-lived Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Roman Empire between 69 and 96 AD.  It encompassed the reigns of Vespasian (69–79), and his two sons Titus (79–81) and Domitian (81–96).  Vespasian was Governor of Syria when the great Jewish revolt began in 66. He led the forces against the Jews for three years before becoming Emperor. Heading to Rome, he left his son, Titus, in charge. Titus directed the siege and eventual destruction of Jerusalem. He returned to Rome triumphant with over 20,000 Jewish slaves who were put to work constructing the new Amphitheater that came to be known as the Coliseum. 

Vespasian began construction in 72 AD and the building was completed in 80 AD, a year after his death. The huge amphitheater was built on the site of what had been an artificial lake. The lake was part of the park Nero constructed after the great fire of Rome. It also included his Domus Aurea, or Golden House, and a statue of Nero as the Colossus. The proximity of this giant statue of Nero gave the Flavian Amphitheater its popular name. 

The building is immense, forming a 616 by 512 foot ellipse and rising to a height of more than 150 feet. The Coliseum accommodated up to 75,000 spectators who entered the building through no less than 80 entrances. The seating consisted of four levels. Just as in modern stadiums, the lowest section was reserved for the Emperor, his retinue and other prominent citizens. The upper levels accommodated the lower classes with special sections designated for men and for women. Below ground was a labyrinth of rooms and corridors with mechanical devices and cages containing wild animals. The cages could be hoisted, enabling the animals to suddenly appear in the middle of the arena. 

Predating our domed stadiums by nearly 2,000 years, the Coliseum was covered with an enormous awning known as the velarium. This not only protected the spectators from the sun, it focused light on the arena. It was supported by large poles attached along the top rim and anchored to the ground by large ropes. A team of 1,000 men was required to rig and extend the awning. 

A hundred days of games were held by Vespasian’s successor, Titus, to mark the inauguration of the building in AD 80. In the process, some 9,000 wild animals were slaughtered. The south side of the Coliseum collapsed during an earthquake in 847 leaving it as we see it today. Parts of the building, including its marble façade, were removed and re-used for the construction of other buildings in Rome, including the St. Peter's Basilica.

Next time we’ll continue our Foods of the First Century posts with a look at vegetables.

Until then, we wish you Peace and Blessings.
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Here's a video about the Roman Colisuem you may enjoy:

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