In June, our family traveled to Italy. Our last stop was in Rome. I wrote some reflections about our visit to the Roman Colosseum. To be honest, I was a bit spooked out as I walked through the door where the gladiators entered. Our tour guide (who was excellent) told us about the floor.
They filled it with sand because of how much blood was spilled. The morning was for hunting. They would have archers hunt down exotic animals. In the early afternoon were public executions. Hungry, starved and disoriented lions were released to kill the helpless criminals. In the afternoon were the gladiators.
The Colosseum was given by the Emperor Octavian to the people of Rome a gift. No admission fees were necessary. It was his way to rule. As our guide reminded us, “Powerful people have learned to give food and spectacle to the people to prevent uprising.” Blair leaned over to me and said, “That’s what the Hunger Games are all about.” I haven’t read them.
The Colosseum is the #1 tourist attraction in Rome. As we walked the grounds, I kept asking myself why. Do people flock to this site because of its architecture? As crazy as it sounds, as I walked around, it had the feel and atmosphere of a football stadium. But I felt strangely drawn to imagine what the gladiator must have felt and a bit guilty for imagining his doom. Many of them were captured soldiers from Roman wars.
I thought about the common Roman citizen who made plans all month for the event, cheered at the sight of blood and death and then went home to say goodnight to his children.
There’s something awful and evil about our fallen human nature drawn to violence and spectacle. It’s why we love murder mysteries and why we feel the need for conflict to make life interesting. It’s one of those curious mysteries of human nature.
As we neared the end of our tour, our guide asked if we wanted to get a picture. We gathered with the full view of the Colosseum behind us. I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in it. I felt a bit awkward about smiling for a picture in such a place.
One of the more redemptive moments was to witness a Christian cross in the middle of the stadium. It stood as a monument to Christian martyrs. It’s likely there were no Christians killed in the Colosseum. During the persecution of Christians under the Emperor Nero, the Colosseum had not yet been built. The sign of the cross was to be a sign that the Christian message is one of peace. During the same century the Colosseum was built, this same Roman government crucified Jesus in Jerusalem.
Jesus called us Christians to a different life. As we walked out of the wide entry doors of the gladiators, I kept thinking about Jesus’ words, “the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it. For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13, 14)