The Colosseum Underground
Below the Arena Floor lies the Colosseum Underground; a labyrinthian network of tunnels, used to store men and beasts before they were lifted onto the Arena floor to fight in the bloody games. When the first archaeological team examined the Underground (or Hypogeum, as it is known in Latin) in 1996, the leader of the team, Heinz-Jürgen Beste, described the scale of its structures and the intricacy of its mechanics as ‘horrifying in its complexity’.
Thanks to the work of that German and Italian archaeological team, many of the secrets of the Colosseum Underground were revealed to us. Most of what we know about the mechanisms of the Colosseum Underground is thanks to Beste and his team.
Now we know how animals were lifted on to the arena floor – with a combination of mechanisms which would have lifted lions, elephants, bears and more, up through trapdoors in cages, only to be released when they were on the Arena floor. You can even tell from which parts of the underground different animals would have been kept – some machinery is too small for elephants or rhinos, for example.
The Ancient Roman public were hungry for blood-sports. Most of them subsisted entirely off state funding, in the form of feasts, because the job market was entirely dominated by slave labor. To stop the masses from revolting, games were held in the Colosseum regularly – once, 100 days of games were held in a row. The appetite for novelty meant that the Colosseum underground would have always been packed with men and strange beasts from far-flung locations.