Tickets to the Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

'The Roman Colosseum'

History, Facts and Information about Tickets to the Colosseum
The content of this article provides interesting history, facts and information about the ancient tickets to the Colosseum. For modern day tickets please see Visiting the Roman Colosseum. This article addresses the method of obtaining tickets to the Ancient Roman Colosseum. The Colosseum was designed to take a capacity of between 50,000 and 80,000 spectators.

The admission to the Colosseum was completely free but everyone had to have a ticket - tickets assisted in crowd control. An exciting event would attract all of the million people who lived in Ancient Rome - without tickets there would have been chaos. Outside the Colosseum there was a barrier consisting of chains between 160 bollards to keep people out before the opening of the games. The Colosseum had something that resembled a seating chart. Each ticket was marked with was marked with a seat number, a tier number and a sector number which indicated the correct entrance gate. It was therefore imperative to ensure that the massive crowds who flocked to the Colosseum were seated quickly and efficiently.

Tickets to the Colosseum were Free
The Tickets to the Colosseum were completely free to the Ancient Romans. However, they did have to be acquired in advance or face standing in line on the day of the games and perhaps obtaining a ticket for standing room only. The areas of seating reflected the social status of the Romans. There were four tiers of seating. The closer you were to the action in the arena, the higher was your status in Rome. If you were a 'Pleb' there was no way that you would have access to the first and second tiers which were strictly reserved for the most important people of Rome. Different classes of people would be recognised by their clothing and who they arrived with. The Emperor, his family, noble Patricians, senators, politicians, magistrates and visiting dignitaries.

Tickets to the Colosseum - the Seating arrangements
There were 80 entrances to the Colosseum which enabled people to be seated quickly and efficiently. Marble diagrams with the seating arrangements marked on them were set in the walls by the entrances. The seats were made of marble, numbered with lines inscribed on the marble showing the defined 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. There would have been the equivalent to a ticket collector at each of the entrances. Soldiers from the cohort of the Praetorian Guardwould have policed the event together with the vigiles (a type of police) and sorted out any trouble makers.

Colosseum Entrances and Exits
Seating at the Colosseum

Tickets to the Colosseum - the Tessara
The Tessara was the name of the Roman equivalent to a ticket to the Colosseum. To enter, the spectators had to produce to the designatores, the ushers, a tessera which was an invitation or ticket to the games. The Tessara, or ticket, was marked with a seat number, a tier number and a sector number which indicated the correct entrance gate. Above the doors of the Colosseum are numbers corresponding to those stamped into a tessera, or ticket.

  • Cuneus - Sector (Latin for "wedge"; plural, cunei) is also the architectural term applied to the wedge-shaped divisions of the Roman theatre separated by the scalae or stairways)

  • Gradus - Row (meaning the rows of marble seats)

  • Locus - Seat (meaning defined place or location)

The tessara, or tickets, would therefore be stamped with numbers similar to the following example:   

  • CVN II - Sector number 2

  • GRADIV - Row number 4

  • LOCXII - Seat number 12

The Tessara was not marked with a date or time. It is therefore reasonable to assume that a set, or specific number, of Tessara were produced for individual festivals of gladiatorial games. It is also reasonable to assume that only one tessara or ticket was produced for each seat for the whole duration of one specific festival of games. After this time the tessara would be discarded. The games started in the early morning, around 8 a.m. and continued non-stop until sunset.

Description of the Tessara (pl. tesserae) - Tickets to the Colosseum
Originally small disks of clay shards (pottery) were used to stamp seating details to be used as the tickets or tessara. The small disks were about the size of a cent. Small disks made of bone were also used for this purpose.

Distribution of the Tickets to the Colosseum
The tickets to the Colosseum were free but everyone had to have a ticket or invitation to gain entry. The Romans had an excellent distribution system. The tessara, we assume, were produced by the ticket makers for each set of games. These were then distributed to the Roman citizens via a variety of different routes. The tickets were distributed to institutions, companies, organisations, corporations, associations and fellowships etc. who distributed them to the Roman citizens. The games were extremely popular and as there were never enough  tickets to go round there was, no doubt, a black market operating which sold tickets.

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