We’ve all seen the famous Roman Colosseum either in a photograph, movie, or in person.
The larger-than-life amphitheater in Rome is visited by more than 4.5 million tourists a year who are anxious to envisage themselves as Russell Crowe in the movie Gladiator. I know I did when I stepped foot in the two thousand year old amphitheater in the spring of 2001.
The construction of the Colosseum started around 72 AD while Vespasian was emperor, it was semi-completed in 80 AD when Titus, his son, was ruling the massive Roman Empire. The Colosseum was originally named the Amphitheatrum Flavium after both Vespasian and Titus whose family name was Flavius.
Just prior to the construction of the Colosseum, the newly crowned Emperor Vespasian commissioned his son, Titus, to squelch the Jewish rebellion that was growing in Judea c.68/69 AD. By 70 AD Titus marched confidently into Jerusalem with the Roman Twelfth Legion. This Roman force conquered Jerusalem and slaughtered 1.1 million people according to Josephus, and destroyed much of the city and Temple along with it.
We know for certain Roman soldiers carried away much of the sacred Temple treasures, it’s documented in writings and even carved in stone. A massive arch, called the Arch of Titus, built in 82 AD, is donned with carvings of Titus’ many victories and stands just outside the Colosseum. One of the largest carvings on the inside of the arch depicts the Roman soldiers carrying away Temple treasures, one treasure in particular is the Menorah.
Historians know for certain that Roman Empire was in poor financial condition because of Emperor Nero’s (Vespasian’s predecessor) ridiculously lavish spending and the devastating fire that destroyed much of Rome in 64 BC.
So how did Vespasian and Titus afford to build the Colosseum?
As you enter the Colosseum from the main entrance on the west side a large inscription is chiseled into the archway above. Archeologist have been examining this archway inscription, scrutinizing the embedded holes that once held a raised text. Many argue the marks in the archway inscription says,
“The Emperor Titus Caesar Vespasian Augustus ordered the new amphitheatre to be made from the (proceeds from the sale of the) booty.”
The mention of the word “booty” (MANVBIS in Latin) was what gave scholars the clue on who helped finance the amphitheater. As mentioned earlier, sitting just outside the Colosseum is the Arch of Titus showing the spoils or “booty” from Titus’ sack of Jerusalem.
The sheer proximity of the Arch of Titus and date when building began led many archeologists and scholars to believe the gold and sacred Temple treasures from Jerusalem were brought to Rome, then sold, and the proceeds from the sale of those artifacts helped fund the Colosseum that is still standing today. Quite interesting!