The Colosseum took nine years to build and was inaugurated in AD 80 by Titus. In AD 438 Valentinian III abolished the gladiatorial games and in 523 the last staged hunt was held in the Colosseum. At this point the Colosseum had been badly damaged by two earthquakes and been hit by lightning and set on fire twice, and thus fell into further decay by centuries of abuse and neglect. During the 443 years of glory the Colosseum experienced during Rome’s reign, it was home to some of the fiercest sporting events known to man. The earliest of the spectacles were the gladiatorial games, in which gladiators would fight to the death. An event that became extremely popular in the later years of the empire was the hunts, in which a staged hunt of a variety of animals would take place. Arguably the most spectacular of all the events that took place at the Colosseum was the naumachiae, an event in which the Colosseum would be flooded and naval battles would take place.
The gladiators were typically slaves, prisoners of war, or criminals that had been condemned to death. On rare occasion free men could enlist as gladiators because of a love for danger and excitement or because they needed the enlistment bonus that was given to pay off debts. The gladiatorial fights were the most popular of all the games and went on in Rome for over 500 years. The fights could be between as little as two gladiators fighting one on one, or they could be as big as a few hundred men reenacting famous historical battles.
The “Hunts” as they are known, were battle between man and beast. This was an opportunity to show off the wild animals from all the corners of the Roman Empire. They brought in lions, tigers, bulls, beers, deer, elephants and many other species all for the sake of entertainment. The would stage the Colosseum as a scene depicting some region of the empire and then have the hunters chase down and kill the beasts before them. In earlier times it was common practice to chain the animals up making it easier for the hunters to win, however, by the time the Colosseum was reaching the pinnacle of its popularity the animals were left unchained and the hunts became much bloodier and deadly for the men involved, which were also slaves, criminals, and prisoners of war.
The naumachiae were reproductions of famous naval battles that were held in the Colosseum for only the first five years of its existence. The reenactments would be of battles such as the Greeks defeating the Persians at Salamina, or the Corcyreans destroying the Corinthian fleet. Flooding the entire basin of the Colosseum took a lot of time, manpower, and money, which is why the naumachiae was not a very common event. The basin of the Colosseum had to be flooded to at least 5 feet deep in order to float the full size naval boats that were used in the battles. The crews of the boats, which were also the warriors in the battles, were once again slaves, criminals, and prisoners of war. These battles could last as long as 2-3 days and end up leaving hundreds dead.