Wednesday, July 11, 2012

How Roman engineers could have flooded the Colosseum

The Colosseum is perhaps the most dramatic of the many ancient monuments in the city of Rome, continuing to capture the imagination of succeeding generations. Stories of naval battles reenacted in water-filled arenas, known as naumachiae, also continue to capture the imagination, and it is a recurring question as to whether the Colosseum could have been used for such spectacles. This paper sets out to address the practicalities that might have been involved from the perspective of hydraulic engineering.

Naumachiae are widely attested in ancient Rome (see for example Coleman) and there are references in the classical literature which appear to indicate that such water spectacles were mounted in the Colosseum. Martial and Cassius Dio make reference to this at the Colosseum's opening in 80 AD, whilst Suetonius writes that the emperor Domitian arranged mock sea battles in the amphitheatre around 85 AD.