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Description of the Amphitheatre (Reg II, Ins 6)

The amphitheatre lies to the south of the Via dell'Abbondanza near the Sarno Gate. It was completed in 80BC, having been commissioned by two magistrates, C. Quintus Valgus and M. Porcius (these two magistrates also commissioned the Small Theatre, or Odeon). A 3D view of the amphitheatre is available to view, courtesy of the Soprintendenza Archeologica di Pompei.

An impressive structure, the amphitheatre measures approximately 135 x 104 metres and could hold about 20,000 people. It is the earliest surviving permanent amphitheatre in Italy, and is therefore particularly important in providing a picture of this type of typically Roman architecture.
A third narrow corridor (C) (pictured opposite) led from the arena floor to the front of the building between the central double stairways.

The arena itself was eliptical and surrounded by a parapet more than two metres high, originally painted with scenes of the hunt and contests. The ima cavea was for persons of rank and was divided into sectors; the central part of the first four rows consisted of four wide platforms for the bisellia, those on the east reserved for decurions and those on the west for the duoviri and the sponsors of the games. The media and summa cavea were divided into cunei by flights of stairs.

On the outside of the upper parapet two rows of stone rings held poles used to support the large linen velarium which protected spectators from the elements.
The amphitheatre was used exclusively for sports, gladiatorial contests and spectacles involving wild beasts and drew crowds from the neighbouring area. Posters advertising the games and illustrating the programme appear frequently on the walls of Pompeii. The spectacles were passionately participated in by the crowds and various gladiators became highly popular, as witnessed by the inscriptions.

As with some sports today, support could be fanatical. During one particular gladiatorial contest in AD59, fighting broke out in the crowd between factions from the colonies of Pompeii and Nuceria. According to the historian Tacitus (Annals XIV, 17):

'it arose at a show arranged by Livineius Regulus. During the exchange of taunts abuse led to stone throwing, and then swords were drawn. Many Nucerians were taken home wounded and mutilated; many bereavements, too, were suffered by parents and children... Livineius and others held responsible for the disorders were exiled.'

Because of the violence the Senate prohibited Pompeii from holding similar events for a period of ten years but this measure was revoked three years later after the earthquake of AD62.
The amphitheatre is sited in the most easterly corner of the city, presumably because the area was still free of buildings at the time and because the earth fill against the city walls could be used to support the eastern part of the cavea.
The arena was excavated about six metres deep below the existing ground level and the spoil was then used as landfill to create the western side of the earthworks. The earthworks were supported on all sides by a continuous sustaining wall which followed the elliptical shape of the arena, although it contained a larger area, running under the seating of the media cavea. Outside this wall a second containing wall was built with buttresses and blind arches to form the exterior of the building.
Public access to the amphitheatre was rather rudimentary. Four stairways (E) (two double and two single) were built against the exterior wall to provide access to the summa cavea. Access to the media and ima cavea was by way of two corridors (D) which led to the crypta, an annular passageway (pictured left) which followed the line of the inner sustaining wall under the media cavea. A double staircase system then sorted out those whose seats were in the media cavea from the more important magistrates who occupied the privileged seats of the ima cavea.
From either end of the amphitheatre on the main north-south axis, two corridors ((A) and (B)) led into the arena - the southern one is bent at right angles because of the proximity of the city wall. Rooms (F) off these corridors possibly served as a place where wounded fighters were assisted or where the bodies of those slain were laid.
Inscriptions inform us that the two niches on either side of the north corridor (bottom right) housed statues of Caius Cuspius Pansa and his son (of the same name). They both held important civic offices, including those of duoviri and were honoured for having restored the amphitheatre after the earthquake of AD62.


The Most Common Types of Gladiator *

 Name Description
 BestiariiOriginally these fighters were criminals rather than gladiators and were armed with a spear or knife to fight beasts, with a high probability of death. Latterly, the Bestiarii became highly trained fighters, specializing in combat against various types of exotic, imported beasts.
 DimachaeriThe Dimachaeri were armed with two short swords, one in each hand.
 EquitesThese gladiators were riders with a spear and sword (gladius) and were dressed in a full tunic, with a manica (arm-guard) for protection. They generally fought other Equites.
 EssedariiThe Essedarii were Celtic-style charioteers, who were probably first brought to Rome from Britain by Caesar.
 HoplomachiBased on the Greek hoplites, they wore a helmet with a stylized griffin on the crest. They carried a spear in the Hoplite style with a small round shield and were often paired with Murmillones or Thracians.
 LaqueriiThe Laquerii were armed with a rope and noose.
 MurmillonesThe Murmillones used a sword (gladius) and oblong Gallic shield. They wore a helmet with a stylized fish on the crest (the mormylos or sea fish), as well as an arm guard (manica). They were often paired with Hoplomachi, Thracians or Retiarii.
 RetiariiThese gladiators were armed with a trident, dagger and net, protected by a larger manica extending to the shoulder and left side of the chest. Occasionally a metal shoulder shield, or galerus, was added to protect the neck and lower face. They fought Secutores or Murmillones.
 SamnitesThe Samnites, an early type of heavily-armed fighter that disappeared in the early imperial period, carried a rectangular shield, helmet and short sword.
 SecutoresThe Secutores had similar equipment to the Murmillo - a shield, helmet and gladius. They were the usual opponents of Retiarii.
 ThraciansThe Thracians was equipped with a broad-rimmed helmet that enclosed the entire head, a small round or square-shaped shield, and two thigh-length greaves. Their weapon was the Thracian curved sword, or the sica. They commonly fought murmillones or hoplomachi.

* A list like this is an attempt to impose some sort of order on the wide diversity of surviving evidence. How exactly each type of gladiator was equipped, what role they took in the fighting and how they differed over the centuries throughout the expanse of the Empire is very hard to determine.

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