Its original name, Flavian Amphitheater, commemorated the name of Vespasian who commissioned the building in 72 AD and inaugurated it by sacrificing 5000 animals. At least until 523 AD ( under Theodosius’s reign ), fights between gladiators and wild beasts were held here periodically. There is no historical evidence that Christians were martyred in the arena. Later the amphitheater was consecrated to the Christian martyrs and this saved it from destruction, even if many stones of the facade were used for the construction of Saint Peter’s.
The ellipse of the Coliseum is a magnificent work of architectural engineering. Its measurements are 188 meters on the greater axis and 156 meters on the minor axis. The facade is 48.5 meters high. The 80 arches served as an entrance to the 55000 spectators it could accommodate. The exterior travertine-covered wall is divided into three orders of engaged columns: Doric, Ionic ( in the middle ), and Corinthian.
The so-called velarium, or awning, was placed ( held by poles and ropes ) over the top of the building, to shelter the spectators. Elephants, lions, hippopotamuses but most of all, men, that is gladiators ( chosen among slaves, prisoners, or criminals ), fought and died here for the vile joy of the common people.