An amphitheater is an open-air venue, oval or circular in shape, used for entertainment, performances, and sports (think sports stadium today, not to be confused with a Roman theater which is semicircular). The term derives from the ancient Greek ἀμφιθέατρον (amphitheatron), from ἀμφί (amphi), meaning “on both sides” or “around” and θέατρον (théātron), meaning “place for viewing”.
Originally built from the Imperial era 27 BCE on throughout the Roman Empire, the remains of at least 230 amphitheaters have been found. The largest amphitheater ever is the Colosseum or Coliseum, also known as the Flavian Amphitheater in Rome, just east of the Roman Forum and is considered one of the greatest works of Roman architecture and engineering. Construction of the Colosseum began under the rule of the Emperor Vespasian in around 70 CE and was completed in 80 CE under his son and heir Titus, funded by the treasures taken from the Jewish Temple when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. Like many Roman building projects, for example, aqueducts and bridges, it has stone masonry cladding on a concrete core. It is estimated that the Colosseum could seat more than 50,000 spectators. The 43.3 meter dome of the Pantheon was also formed of unreinforced concrete.
In Israel you can visit 3 amphitheaters left behind by the Romans.
- At Caesarea-Maritima Herod built a hippodrome for chariot races on the sea coast beside his Promontory Palace. In the 2nd century, the hippodrome was shortened to form an amphitheater. Built of kurkar stones I estimate that it held about 4000 spectators. Below is a view of the eastern side with the VIP seating area.
- On the northwestern outskirts of Beit Guvrin, called Eleutheropolis, in the 2nd century the Romans built an amphitheater [31.6082°N 34.8939°E] for Roman troops stationed in the region after the suppression of the Bar Kochba revolt. It had a walled arena of packed earth, with subterranean galleries. The arena was decorated with frescoes and surrounded by a series of connected barrel vaults, which formed a long, circular corridor that supported the stone seats above it. Click on the image for a larger view.
- South of the Roman civic center at Beit Shean, the Romans built an amphitheater [32.498508°N 35.501446°E] on the western part of an existing hippodrome of which very little is known. The structure was an oval, 102 x 67 meters, of limestone blocks on a foundation of basalt. There were 10-12 rows of seats that would have held 5000-7000 spectators. Below is a panorama of the amphitheater at Beit Shean. I took 3 photos standing inside the amphitheater and 3 outside on the edge and stitched them together using Photoshop. Click on the images for a larger view.
Gladiatorial munera began to disappear from public life during the 3rd century, due to economic pressure, philosophical disapproval and opposition by the increasingly predominant new religion of Christianity. Spectacles involving animals, venationes, became costlier and rarer until in the 6th century they ended. Today all that is left are the remains of the structures.
- Caesarea-Maritima – Herod’s Promontory Palace