Killer Beast Elevator Returns to Colosseum after 1,500 Years
A replica of the lift system used to hoist and release deadly wild animals onto the Colosseum’s floor has been unveiled inside Rome’s ancient amphitheater.
The Colosseum was not only ancient Rome’s largest amphitheater, it was perhaps the empire’s goriest slaughterhouse. For approximately 450 years after its completion in A.D. 80, the Colosseum—officially known as the Flavian Amphitheatre—hosted Roman blood sports such as gladiators fighting to the death, crucifixions and even mock sea battles in which hundreds of prisoners of war were killed or drowned.
Another popular Roman pastime was to release wild animals into the Colosseum to fight with each other or human combatants in front of 50,000 cheering fans. Specially trained warriors known as “venatores” and “bestiarii” staged elaborate hunts of a menagerie of exotic beasts culled from the far ends of the Roman Empire such as lions, tigers, panthers, bears, wolves, boars, crocodiles and even elephants captured in north Africa.
The Romans caged the fierce animals inside the Colosseum’s torch-lit labyrinth of chambers and passageways, known as the hypogeum, underneath the arena’s wooden floor, which was covered with sand to soak up the blood of combatants. A sophisticated system of 28 lifts, powered by slaves, hoisted the caged animals 24 feet up to the Colosseum’s floor where the lid of the cage and a trap door opened simultaneously to allow the animal to run up a ramp into the amphitheater to the roar of the crowd. When closed, the trap door could support the weight of gladiators and animals above. In addition to wild animals, the elevators could have been used to lift props and pieces of scenery for Roman productions.
The elevator system is powered by eight men on two decks who turn a huge wooden shaft connected by a series of ropes, pulleys and lead weights to a wooden cage capable of holding more than 600 pounds. The manpower slowly raises the cage to the arena floor where the trap door opens.