Cover: The Colosseum, from Harvard University PressCover: The Colosseum in PAPERBACK

The Colosseum

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$20.00 • £16.95 • €18.00

ISBN 9780674060319

Publication Date: 05/31/2011


224 pages

31 halftones, 3 line illustrations

Wonders of the World

North America only

Gives a sprightly, entertaining account of this archetypal building in all its various incarnations, from the ‘killing fields’ of antiquity to the pilgrim’s goal of the sixteenth century, the botanist’s paradise of the nineteenth, and the archaeologist’s puzzle of today—four different construction crews worked on separate quarters of the building, with conspicuously differing results.—Ingrid Rowland, The New York Review of Books

A lure for travelers since the days of the Grand Tours, this majestic ruin in Rome was, of course, the scene of murderous spectacles in ancient times. The writers, a pair of British academics, recount the origin of the Colosseum on the site of a private lake in Nero’s palace, reveal how it was built and operated and draw on archaeology and classical writings to detail the lives of the gladiators. The magnificent, crumbling building still holds pride of place in the Eternal City, and this book provides a readable and informed introduction.—David Armstrong, The San Francisco Chronicle

Racy and occasionally confrontational… This book revels in the accretions of detail and myth. The improbable animal fights; the unfeasibility of flooding the arena to stage mock sea-battles; the claims of Christianity to the place, with a crucifix and 200 days’ indulgence accruing in memory of the early Christians who (probably) didn’t get torn to pieces by the lions who (probably) weren’t there in the first place; the thunder of footsteps on the wooden floor, deafening those in the undercroft with its winches and ramps and the stink and racket of animals and fighting men; the heat in the arena despite the probable shade offered by great cantilevered canvas awnings: first-class scholarship and an engagingly demotic style bring all this into sharp focus.—Michael Bywater, The Independent

It has been, and continues to be, the object of myth as well as the defining symbol of ancient Rome; a romantic ruin to ongoing popular tourist attraction. Filmmakers, too, from Cecil B. DeMille to Ridley Scott, have used it for their own creative impulses. Although work on the building started in AD 72, it did not officially open until AD 80. Authors and classical historians Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard explain how it was built—and at what cost.—June Sawyers, The Chicago Tribune

Keith Hopkins and Mary Beard, eminent classical historians, have written a superb new cultural history of the Colosseum. As well as documenting the variety of flowers that once grew wild among the ruins, they offer pithy and occasionally hilarious accounts of the three million tourists who descend on the monument each year.—Ian Thomson, The Evening Standard

The book covers a wide variety of topics, including—to give but a few examples—the life of a gladiator, which was distinctly unglamorous, the exclusion of women from vast areas of the auditorium, the means by which wild animals were brought to Rome, the duration of the ‘shows’ (123 days for a Trajan bloodbath, according to one observer), the splendid flora (420 species in 1855, although now diminished by weedkiller), and practical tips for any visitor. The book is a great read.—John McBratney, The Irish Times

This architectural icon of the classical world probably has been the subject of more myths and half-truths than any other building surviving from antiquity… This slim book, which would fit into a pocketbook or a knapsack, would make a worthy travel companion for anyone visiting Rome because it sheds so much light on ‘what is likely to seem at best a confusing mass of masonry, at worst a jumble of dilapidated stone and rubble.’—Spencer Rumsey, Newsday

It is a work of scholarship written with the general reader in mind. The scholarship is worn lightly, and the book is a pleasure to read. It sums up all that is known, and makes it clear that much must remain conjectural. Anyone visiting Rome and making the obligatory sightseeing tour of the Colosseum will do well to read it in advance and keep it to hand; enjoyment will be much enhanced.—Allan Massie, The Spectator

In her concise portrait Beard shines a torch into the dark recesses of the building’s long history and illuminates a gladiator here, a fresco there, a medieval bullfight there… Here there is a sophisticated interpretation of the Colosseum’s meaning and a survey of nineteenth- and twentieth-century responses to the Colosseum, with quotations from Byron, Mark Twain, Henry James and Hitler.—Debra Aaronson Lawless, New England Classical Journal

A fascinating account for the Rome-bound traveler as well as the fan of European history.—George Cohen, Booklist

Brisk and illuminating, with much surprising information.Kirkus Reviews

[Hopkins and Beard] succeed remarkably in dispelling many of the myths surrounding the Colosseum… Lively writing brings the Colosseum and its denizens to life in great detail.—Rita Simmons, Library Journal

This lively book carries the reader painlessly through a complex record of legend and history. By the end the authors have touched authoritatively on architecture, mythological spectacle, imperial patronage, gladiators, sadism, early Christianity, and modern romantic impressions of the Colosseum. A delightful and instructive account.—G. W. Bowersock, Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton

Stripped of so much of its outer shell, the Colosseum reveals the extraordinary ingenuity of its functional design, comprising horizontal floors radiating from a hollow center and channeling the movements of crowds around and into its mass through vaulted passageways, or rising along steep staircases. Long admired by architects, an object of wonder during the Middle Ages and for the modern tourist, the very presence of the Colosseum in the center of Rome marks the power of the material past to grasp our imagination even in its present semi-ruinous state. How this has been accomplished is the well-told story of this book.—Richard Brilliant, Columbia University

Stirring stuff! This is a welcome and well-written book—scholarly but accessible and level-headed. It reassesses the myths, politely debunks many misconceptions about what we know—and what we don’t know—to put the fabulous monument in context from its founding to the present. The practical notes for modern visitors made me yearn to be there in Rome again.—Lindsey Davis, author of the Falco series of ancient Roman mysteries

A wonderful book, worthy of its subject: horrifying, impressive, blood-soaked, occasionally very funny and always entertaining.—Robert Harris

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