Roman sewers, a day at the Colosseum. Among animals, fruit, and coins

Lorenzo Magnani
Lorenzo Magnani
Read Time: 3'
In the sewers beneath the Colosseum, an archaeological team has uncovered artifacts that tell what a day at the Colosseum was like for an ancient Roman
Bones of bears, lions, leopards, and dachshund dogs. Fig seeds, grapes, cherries, and blackberries. Plus, lots of coins. That's the loot that a team of archaeologists unearthed after exploring the complex drainage system under the Flavian Amphitheater, better known to the world as the Colosseum. In other words, a human picture of what it was like to witness a day in the legendary arena has emerged from the sewers.

The scouting of the Colosseum's sewers began in January 2022, at the initiative of a team of archaeologists - led by Martina Almonte, Federica Rinaldi, and Barbara Nazzaro - working with the nonprofit association Roma Sotterranea. Using wire-guided robots, the group intended to learn more about the hydraulic systems that Colosseum officials had devised to flood the tunnels and produce water shows. Instead, what emerged from the muddy drains were "the habits of those who went to the Colosseum during the long days devoted to the shows," as pointed out by Colosseum Archaeological Park director Alfonsina Russo herself, whom last month presented what was found to the Curia Julia of the Roman Forum.

Inspecting the obstructed and out-of-use south collector more or less since 523, A.D.-when the Colosseum ceased to be an amphitheater and then became a kind of condominium, fortress, hospital, and even spinning mill researchers, unearthed seeds of peach, fig, grape, blackberry, and cherry, probably discarded under the stands as the average audience of 65,000 snacked during performances. Also resurfaced were gambling dice, items of personal use such as a worked bone pin, clothing items such as studs, shoe pegs, and leather fragments, and 53 late-age coins, all in bronze except for a rare sestertius in oricalcus, a coin minted around 170-171 AD to honor the 10th anniversary of Marcus Aurelius' rise to power.

Finally, the protagonists of a day at the Colosseum could not be absent from the roll call of the great animals, the gladiators' most terrible challengers. However, not only the bones of bears and big cats forced to fight in the arena were found in the sewers, but also smaller animals, including dachshunds, which were most likely used for venationes, and hunting parties with which the ancient Romans entertained themselves. There was no shortage of historical surprises, either. "We discovered that the southern collector discharged water from the Colosseum outside into a very ancient sewer, dating back to the Republican period and then reused first by Emperor Nero and then by the Flavian emperors," Federica Rinaldi told Artnet. "This discovery is significant because it explains the efficiency of Roman engineering in reusing existing infrastructure."
A graduate in Finance and International Markets from the Catholic University of Milan, on the editorial staff of We Wealth, he writes about markets, with an eye also on private markets. He also covers pleasure assets, particularly watches, wines, and vintage motorcycles.


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