The Colosseum

The ethnocentrism in Rome is prevalent in almost every aspect of the city. This concept struck me the most while exploring the history of Rome through different art pieces and architecture. The power represented in the Colosseum is what tied it all together. It is easy for this ancient structure to become a cliché: a crumbling view of a past world, but seeing it as a symbol of individualism and identity changes the image and the cliché.

In lecture we spoke of Nero’s fall and the chaos that followed suit. Vespasian, the general who inevitably take’s Nero’s place, has the Colosseum built as a gift to the city: a symbol of identity in a “new” Rome. I see this gift as a gift of strength and power being restored to the citizens after years of tyranny and civil war. The Colosseum represents a new foundation for the citizens and it does this in two main ways: First, through its physical presence and second, through the organization within its walls.

This new foundation was a structure of grandeur, each physical aspect bringing something new to the viewer’s eyes. Today it is possible to see the transformation of columns as the change in order from the base, to the top level. Doric columns surround the Vomitorium and hold the foundation. These have simple capitals but give the foundation strength and a uniform impression of stability. As we move up, the columns become more intricate, moving from Doric, to Ionic and finally or Corinthian. This progression of embellishments draws the eyes upward, allowing the viewer to move from a simple view of the building to something more complex. As we saw in lecture, the arches on the second and third level were once filled with statues, showing again, the progression of complexity from the bottom up. This forces the viewer to explore the entirety of the building. If one section of the building were the same as every other section, there would be no internal instinct to explore and appreciate the other areas of the building, resulting in the immense power of such a large structure falling short. The physical presence of the Colosseum gave pride and unity to a crumbling citizenry by representing such strength and complexity.

Why was this pride and unity so important to the citizens? According to lecture and to Hooper, unity was something the country of Italy lacked, but what cities and neighborhoods within the country thrived on. Hooper spoke in depth on the differences between individual cities and the complete polarity of lifestyles, specifically between towns in the north and towns in the south. This became clear when we spoke in lecture about the ethnocentricity of Italians. People identify more within their family, their neighborhood, and their town than they identify with the country as a whole.   This is represented in the many Italian dialects and the separate customs and identities. Although each city was different from the other, they all shared one common aspect, the importance of citizenship. This importance of citizenship and how it incorporates into the ethnocentrism of Rome is apparent in the organization within the complex walls of the Coliseum.

In lecture we discussed the seating separation. The Podium Space, or first level around the arena, was reserved for the most important citizens of Rome, placing the Emperor at the northernmost point by the cross. The second level was reserved for the senatorial class and the third level was the everyday citizen seating. If visitors came, there were no seats reserved for them within the walls. The only “stranieros”, or foreigners, within the walls were those on the stage fighting or killed for entertainment. This organization shows this deep-rooted identity within the pure notion of citizenship. Each person in the crowd wore purple, red, or white, representing their status within the citizenry, further connecting themselves within smaller spheres of identity. In a country where one’s identity was one’s city, the Colosseum reveals itself as an even greater gift than just strength represented by its physical presence.

I had my preconceived notions of the Coliseum: a cliché perception of an ancient structure where atrocities and Christian killings took place for entertainment, but after experiencing the Colosseum and painting it into the art piece that is Roman history, I am now able to appreciate it in new ways. The Colosseum was a gift. It provided pride in its massive presence and unity of citizenship within its walls. It is a lasting representation of the importance of ethnocentric ideals in the past and today.

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