It was built to entertain the ruthless masses of the Roman Empire. The mighty Coliseum stood in the heart of Rome and played host to the gladiatorial games that would end up costing the lives of thousands upon thousands of contestants.
But the death toll rose even more when the Coliseum was used to kill followers of Jesus.
Though its full glory has been diminished by earthquakes and thieves, the Coliseum can still be visited today. Archaeologists believe the mighty structure could hold between 65,000 and 80,000 people in its prime. Emperors, generals, and city officials often used the amphitheater to stage incredibly elaborate – and brutal – contests. Historic battles could be reenacted (with very real losers, of course), exotic animals could be hunted, gladiators could kill for glory, and the floor could even be flooded to allow “sea battles” to be waged.
Near the turn of the first century, Rome’s emperors found another use for the massive structure: persecuting and killing Christians. Followers of Jesus would be led onto the sandy floors of the arena only to be killed by gladiators, wild animals, or sometimes, even the will of the hostile crowd. The actual body count will probably never be known, but historians believe that thousands of Christians died in the arena before the murder was outlawed three hundred years later in 404 AD.
Persecuted and killed, Christians were ultimately the victorious ones, though. In fact, to this day, visitors at the Coliseum can find a huge cross erected at one end of the arena testifying to the brutality Christians endured…and overcame. Will Durant has written:
There is no greater drama in human record than the sight of a few Christians, scorned or oppressed by a succession of emperors, bearing all trials with a fiery tenancy, multiplying quietly, building order while their enemies generated chaos, fighting the sword with the word, brutality with hope, and at last defeating the strongest state that history has ever known. Caesar and Christ had met in the arena, and Christ had won.
Caesar and Christ: A History of Roman Civilization and of Christianity by Will Durant. Simon and Schuster, 1972, Page 652.
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(Resource cataloged by David R Smith)