Seating at the Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

'The Roman Colosseum'

History, Facts and Information about Seating at the Colosseum
The admission to the Colosseum was free but everyone had to have a ticket. The Colosseum had something that resembled a seating chart. Each ticket was marked with a seat number, a tier number and a sector number which indicated the correct entrance gate. There was no wood used in the seating area of the Colosseum.

The seating at the Colosseum consisted of concrete barrel vaulting which held the marble seating that was eventually installed. The seats were made of marble, numbered with lines inscribed on the marble showing the limits of each seat. People sat on wooden planks placed on the marble seats, but the elite were more comfortable: the senators had cushions at first, then chairs (folding stools) called curules (sella curulis). Cushions were accorded to the equites (knights). Marble diagrams with the seating arrangements marked on them were set in the walls by the entrances.

Tickets to the Colosseum

Seating at the Colosseum - the Entrance Gates
There were 76 entrance gate arches in the Roman Colosseum, which were used by the general public. There were also four special un-numbered gates which were the Grand Entrances. The public entrances were numbered providing easy access to the allocated seats. The numbers were set in stone above each of the public entrances, for example the Roman NumeralsXXXVIII referred to Gate number 38. The special, un-numbered gates, were used by the magistrates, emperor, wealthy patricians, senators, visiting dignitaries and the Vestal Virgins. The emperor could also access the Colosseum via a richly decorated tunnel which started at the Imperial Palace.  Colosseum Entrances and Exits.

Seating at the Colosseum - The Auditorium (the Cavea)
The auditorium or seating area of the Colosseum was called the cavea which surrounded the central arena. The arena was the area of the Colosseum where the events were held and was separated from the seating areas by a massive wall, faced with marble. A large ditch (euripi) providing even more protection. The cavea was divided into four tiers. Each tier was divided into sections (called the maeniana) by curved passages and low walls (called the praecinctiones), and were subdivided into wedges (called the cunei) accessed via the steps and aisles from the Vomitoria. Each row (gradus) of seats was numbered, permitting each individual seat to be exactly designated by its gradus, cuneus, and number.

Seating at the Colosseum - Social Structure
The Seating at the Colosseum was divided into four main sections containing wedges of seating stretching up and back from the edge of the arena (see the above plan). The areas of seating reflected the social status of the occupant in Roman society. The Patriciansand Plebeianswere originally the only two classes of Romans but then the Equitesor Knights were added. The Equites belonged to the social class that was just below the level of senator,  they had control over administration and finance. Where a person sat in the Colosseum and the style of dress worn marked out immediately to fellow Roman citizens precisely their position in Roman social hierarchy. In c20 BC the Emperor Augustus introduced an edict called the Lex Iulia Theatralis which stipulated the seating arrangement of all the different classes in public places like theatres, amphitheatres and circuses. These rules were enforced all over the Empire and at the same time he also banned women from public spectacles (although this was relaxed later).

Seating at the Colosseum - Tiers of Seating
Each of the four sectors had tiers of seating:

  • The first tier, called the Podium (meaning place of honor), was reserved for the most important Romans - the Emperor, the Vestal Virgins, the important priests and members of the Roman Governmentincluding the Roman Senators. The Podium was like a flat platform, or terrace, measuring 15ft wide

  • 2nd Tier - Maenianum primum:  This seating was reserved for the non-senatorial noble class called the Equites, or knights consisting of fourteen rows of stone or marble seats

  • 3rd Tier was originally reserved for ordinary Roman citizens, the plebeians. Seating was then divided into two sections:

    • Maenianum secundum imum - the better, lower seats for the wealthy plebeians

    • Maenianum secundum summum - the upper seats for the poor plebeians

  • 4th Tier - Maenianum summum in ligneis: Consisted of steep wooden seats which were set up in the gallery running around the very top wall of the amphitheatre which were added during the reign of Domitian

    • This would seat common women

    • Slaves were strictly forbidden from the Colosseum

  • Standing Room - there was standing room in the top tier and in the aisles

  • Some groups were banned from the Colosseum including actors, gravediggers and former gladiators

Seating at the Colosseum - The Podium
The podium was a flat marble platform, or terrace, which spanned around the first tier of the arena. The Podium was about 15ft wide. Special boxes were provided at the north and south ends respectively of the podium for the Emperor and the Vestal Virgins. These seats provided the best views of the arena. Seats on the podium were reserved for the most elite Romans including the emperor and royal family, nobles, senators, important priests or visiting dignitaries. The names of some senators can still be seen carved into the stonework of the Colosseum. The senators were allowed to bring their own chairs which they moved about at will. These chairs were in fact stools called curule chairs 'sella curulis'. A curule chair was a stool supported on a cross-frame. The curule chair was traditionally made of ivory with curved legs which formed a wide 'X'. It had no back. It was a stool with low arms. The curule chair could be folded and therefore used as an easily transportable seat.  The podium was spacious and wide enough to take three curule chairs.

Seating at the Colosseum - The Imperial Box, where the Emperor was seated
One of the most repeated question of those visiting the Colosseum is "Where did the emperor sit? The emperor took up a very visible and prominent position which was located on the podium at the centre of the narrower side of the arena on the north side. There is now a cross to remember the Christians that died in the arena. The Roman Emperors sat where the cross is now placed. The elevated imperial box was erected on a platform called the pulvinar which had stairs on one side. The Imperial box was raised above the podium on a dais. There were four columns, each surmounted by a statue of victory which supported a canopy, or awning, over it. The Royal Box was accessed via a tunnel which led to the Imperial palace. The elevated Imperial Box, from which the emperor watched the games, was called the 'cubiculum'. A cubiculum usually referred to a bedroom in a Roman house but it was also applied to the Imperial box as the emperors could recline in the cubicula, instead of sitting on a curule chair (sella curulis). The emperor sat or reclined on a bisellium which was a richly ornamented chair or seat of honor at the games. The bisellium was so called because there was room for two people to sit on, although only one person ever sat there - the Emperor. A total of 42 Roman Emperors witnessed the carnage at the Roman Colosseum.

Specially Reserved Seating at the Colosseum
Some people and institutions that had places specially assigned in the cavea of the Colosseum. These include the tribunes, the religious sector including the Pontifices, the children from the families of the nobility and their teachers.

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