Tunnels under the Colosseum

Roman Colosseum

'The Roman Colosseum'

History, Facts and Information about Tunnels under the Colosseum

The bloody arena was the centre of a complex consisting of various buildings and industries necessary to  'running' the horrific activities of the Roman Colosseum. There were various underground tunnels that connected the Roman Colosseum to the surrounding buildings.

Tunnels under the Colosseum
Facts and information regarding the Tunnels under the Colosseum is somewhat limited as although five such tunnels have been discovered only four tunnels have been explored. The known tunnels were built and connected different parts of the arena to the following buildings:

  • The Ludus Magnus the great Gladiator School which connected to the Gate of Life in the Colosseum where the gladiators would have made their entry

    • The Ludus Magnus was located in a building just outside the Colosseum and the building next to it was the  the Bestiaries School (Ludus matutinus)

    • The Bestiaries School (Ludus matutinus) would have had stables and compounds where the animals were kept

    • It would therefore be likely that the animal fighters and the wild animals would have also gained access to the Colosseum through the same tunnel but the exit would led to the Hypogeum

  • The Spoliariumwhich connected to the Gate of Death in the Colosseum where dead bodies were dragged and stripped of their armor and weapons. The Armamentarium was where the gladiator's arms and weapons were stored.

  • The Imperial Palace  - a special entrance tunnel for the Emperor called the "Passaggio di Commodo"

  • The Summum Choragium, where the props used in the shows were stored

The Gate of Life where the entries were made, and through which successful gladiators exited, would have taken the gladiators back to their barracks and it is likely that this tunnel also led to the Saniarium. The Saniarium was where the wounded gladiators were taken for medical attention.

Tunnels under the Colosseum - To the Gladiator Schools or Barracks
The tunnel under the main axis directly connected the Ludus Magnus (the Great Gladiator school) with the arena under the East Entrance / Exit: The eastern entrance / exit gate was located between arches XIX (Gate 19) and XX (Gate 20) of the Colosseum. This entrance had direct access via a tunnel to the arena which was entered via the gate known as the Gate of Life for the procession of gladiators who paraded before the Emperor and the spectators prior to the beginning of the "games". There were four Gladiator schools, or barracks, which were all located in buildings just outside the Roman Colosseum: Great School (Ludus Magnus), the Bestiaries School (Ludus matutinus) and stables, the Gallic School (Ludus Gallicus) and the Dacian School (Ludus Dacicus).

Tunnels under the Colosseum - To the Spoliarium and Armamentarium
Another tunnel under the western entrance / exit gate was located between arches LVII (Gate 57) and LVIII (Gate 58) of the Colosseum. This entrance had direct access via a tunnel to the arena which was entered through the gate known as "Libitinarian" Gate - the Gate of Death. This name derives from Libitina who was the goddess of funerals. Dead gladiators and animals were carried away through this exit and down this tunnel. It is possible that this tunnel led to the Spoliarium, a room beneath or close to the arena, where the dead bodies of the gladiators were stripped of weapons and armor. Dead bodies of the animals and gladiators would be disposed of from this location. The Armamentarium would have been located near the Spoliarium, possibly within the gladiator schools, and this was where the gladiator's arms and weapons were stored.

Tunnels under the Colosseum - To the Imperial Palace
A tunnel called the  "Passaggio di Commodo" connected the Colosseum to the imperial palace on the side of the Celian Hill. The name relates to the Emperor Commodus, who had the tunnel excavated. This tunnel befits such a passageway used by an emperor. There were skylights to receive natural illumination and the walls were decorated with beautiful frescoes, mosaic and marble. (This passage has never been completely explored).

Tunnels under the Colosseum - To the Colosseum Storerooms
A fourth tunnel led to the Summum Choragium, where the machinery, scenarios and costumes of the shows were prepared

Tunnels under the Colosseum
The Tunnels under the Colosseum made total sense. Unwilling gladiators might attempt to escape their fate in the arena if they were allowed to access the Roman Colosseum along the roads of Rome. The gladiators might also have been mobbed by their adoring fans. There was also a chance that a contrived injury might befall a gladiator in view of the vast sums of money spent on gambling and betting on the outcome of gladiatorial fights. It would make sense that there was direct access to the Spoliarium. Armor and weapons were expensive and required returning to the relevant lanista. And the dead bodies of animals, prisoners and gladiators had to be disposed of fairly quickly. The access tunnel built by Commodus also makes perfect sense given his penchant for performing in the arena. There is no way that he would have wanted to enter with the gladiators through the Gate of Life. His entrance would have been special. And finally it would give away the secrets of the Colosseum if the crowd were allowed to see the movement of machinery and scenery. These props would have appeared in the arena as if by magic.

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