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Hypogeum

Roman Colosseum

'The Roman Colosseum'

What was the Hypogeum?
What was the Hypogeum? Definition: The word Hypogeum literally means "underground" from the Greek words hypo (meaning under) and gaia (meaning earth). The Hypogeum of the Colosseum refers to the vast network of rooms, cells, tunnels and passages under the Roman Colosseum.

History of the Hypogeum
The History of the hypogeum started after the Colosseum was initially built by the Emperor Vespasian and then finished by his elder son the Emperor Titusin 80AD.

It was his younger son, the Emperor Domitianwho built the hypogeum. The addition of the Hypogeum meant that any water battles at the Colosseum would not have been possible.

Description of the Hypogeum
The entire base or area of the Roman Colosseum measured 6 acres. The hypogeum was easily able to accommodate a vast a series of underground tunnels, passages and chambers used to house animals, stage props and the slaves who had to work there. The hypogeum consisted of two-level subterranean network of tunnels, shafts, mechanical devices  and 32 animal pens. The tunnels led to other buildings outside the structure of the Colosseum. The animal pens housed the variety of animals required for the contests and shows of the day. The vertical shafts contained lifts operated by ropes and pulleys which led directly to the arena providing instant access for fast changes to scenery, animals and occasionally convicts and gladiators. There were 36 trap doors in Arena allowing for elaborate special effects. The atmosphere and smell beneath the Colosseum must have been terrible. The noise would have echoed the screams of the crowd, the roars of the animals and shouts of terror and agony from the hideous executions and tortures of the arena. The Hypogeum would have had little natural light so lamps would have burnt continuously, the heat in the Hypogeum must have been almost unbearable. The stench and the the excrement of the animals and the stench of blood and death would have filled every part of the Hypogeum. Both above and beneath the Colosseum must have been "hell on earth".

Who worked in the Hypogeum?
There were many people who worked in the stifling heat of the Hypogeum. The animal keepers, Bestiarii and trainers, and some other gladiators who were hoisted into the stadium to surprise the audience, there were stage-hands who manipulated the props and the scenery used in the arena of the Colosseum. And there were the slaves. There were a variety of tasks which had to be completed by the slaves. Releasing the animals from their cages, using burning torches to frighten the animals and ensuring they exited through the correct passages and hoists to reach the arena of the Colosseum.

Hypogeum - Mechanical Devices
The Hypogeum would have contained a substantial quantity of machinery and equipment. Elevators and pulleys raised and lowered scenery and props, as well as lifting animals to the surface of the arena for release. The elevators that brought animals from the underground passageways to the arena worked by a system of counterbalancing of weight. There is also evidence for the existence of major hydraulic mechanisms making it was possible to flood the arena rapidly via a connection to an aqueduct. The engineers of Ancient Rome would have directed considerable energy towards creating fabulous special effects at the Colosseum. The Colosseum demanded fast changes to shows, contests and scenery.

The Romans had to be entertained throughout the whole day, and some of the games lasted for over 100 days. The events of each day were planned to the strictest timing. Something different had to be seen at all times. There were constant changes of events from hunting to circus acts and from executions to gladiatorial fights. Roman engineers would have had to work to provide an efficient network of winches and the capstans to hoist heavy wild animals from the hypogeum to the main arena. For hoisting the largest animals such as elephants and hippopotamus the Roman engineers created mechanical devices called hegmata which were strong hinged platforms which could also be hoisted up to the arena.

The hypogeum was restructured on numerous occasions to ensure that the latest Roman technology was provided to provide the latest and most spectacular games. No money was spared and at least 12 different phases of construction can be seen in the hypogeum ruins. Man-power was clearly not a problem in Ancient Rome. Teams of slaves would be trained to use the machinery and equipment and to pull in unison to ensure animals, men and scenery were lifted into the arena.

Hypogeum Tunnels
The hypogeum was connected by underground tunnels to a number of points outside the Colosseum. The Roman Colosseum was the centre of a complex consisting of various buildings and industries necessary to  'running' the horrific activities of the arena. There were various underground tunnels that connected the Roman Colosseum to the surrounding buildings.  The Tunnels Under the Colosseumled to the Gladiator Schools, or barracks and stables, the Spoliariumwhere the dead bodies of gladiators were stripped of armor and weaponry and the Armamentarium where the weapons were stored, the Imperial Palace and the various storerooms

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