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Swords and armour at the Colosseum

New show brings gladiatorial games to life

02 April, 17:43
Swords and armour at the Colosseum (ANSA) - Rome, April 2 - An array of colourful and deadly-looking helmets, swords, daggers and shields has gone on display at the Colosseum, bringing to life the gladiatorial games of ancient times. The exhibition features around 30 gladiatorial artefacts unearthed at the archaeological site of Pompeii but the focus will be on helping visitors understand what the arena and its fighters really looked like 2,000 years ago. "This is not an exhibition in the traditional sense of the term but rather an array of modern objects alongside ancient finds," explained Colosseum Director Rossella Rea. The event includes just nine display cases but is the work of years of work by expert Silvano Mattesini.

Mattesini not only examined surviving weapons, he also studied the accounts of ancient authors and hundreds of different artistic representations: frescos, reliefs, mosaics, graffiti, statues and everyday household objects, such as plates and vases. He then took his detailed reconstructions to metalworkers, tailors and carpenters who helped transform his research into real-life objects. The end result is a dazzling array of materials and metals: headgear with bright orange and yellow plumes, showy silk tunics and gleaming armour.

"The reconstructions are designed to help visitors understand the difference between the finds that have survived until the present day and what the public would have actually seen during the games," said Rea. "It is particularly important to remember that the size of the Colosseum meant only those in the front rows had a clear view of what was going on. "The rest could see only moving colours and light: helmet plumes, the flash of weapons and the reflection of armour under the sun". Early accounts suggest gladiatorial contests developed from displays of hand-to-hand combat at funerary games in Rome. The first written record by Valerius Maximus describes games staged by the two sons of Brutus Pera in honour of their dead father in 264 BC. Over the next few centuries, the games became a fixture of social and political life, funded by the rich and powerful to help win popularity. Work on the Colosseum started under Vespasian and was inaugurated in 80 AD. The author Dio Cassius recounts that over 9,000 wild animals were killed during the inaugural games, which went on for weeks. The latest exhibition at the Colosseum is the second it has devoted to gladiators in recent years, riding a wave of renewed interest sparked by the Russell Crowe-Ridley Scott 2000 blockbuster and the hit TV historical drama series Rome. Entitled Gladiatores, the show will remain on display until October 2.

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