During the days of the ancient Roman Empire, gladiators and wild animals, including lions, leopards, bears, wolves, ostriches, and deer, fought in the Colosseum for the entertainment of the emperor, members of the court, and the public. Behind the scenes, great organization was required to transport gladiators and animals to the arena for contests.
Twenty-eight manually operated elevators carried gladiators and animals to the Colosseum. The elevators were operated by teams of eight men each. Another two or three were needed to keep the ropes in check. That meant that over 200 people were tasked with transporting gladiators and animals to the Colosseum for fights.
The elevators operated out of sight in an underground labyrinth. They used a system of winches, ropes, and pulleys to transport gladiators and cages with wild animals to the arena. Once they reached the surface, trap doors would open and fighters and the animals would be released.
One elevator and its trap door have been restored and set up under the Amphitheater the way it would have looked during ancient Roman times. The restoration project took 15 months. The elevator is made entirely of wood. It is about eight meters high and five meters wide and weighs over three tons.
Providence Pictures, an American company, approached the Archaeological Superintendency of Rome and proposed creating a documentary on how the circuses at the Roman Colosseum worked. The project included restoring one of the elevators and paying all associated costs. The Superintendency accepted the idea and proposed making the machinery permanent so it could be viewed by visitors.
The documentary by director Gary Glassman is called “Colosseum: Roman Death Trap.” It was produced and distributed in the United States and will soon be available in Italy. The elevator was presented by Culture Minister Dario Franceschini on June 5 and was opened to the public a few days later.