Second century AD mosaic of gladiators in the Colosseum
History of Rome

Updated on December 27th 2023

Death in the Colosseum


The Colosseum

Duration: 10:13

The powerful and extremely wealthy Vespasian, who acquired the title of Caesar more by stealth, ordered the construction of the Colosseum in 70 AD. He was determined to win the favor of Rome’s mob by giving them the greatest stadium in the world, lavished with the greatest games ever imagined by man.

The Colosseum built by Vespasian
The Colosseum built by Vespasian

However, Vespasian is dead in 79 AD and he is succeeded by his son, Titus Caesar Vespasianus (30 December 39 AD – 13 September 81 AD) who ruled as the Roman emperor from 79 AD to 81 AD.

Titus Flavius, son of Vespasian
Titus Flavius, son of Vespasian

Titus was very much his own man and a battle-hardened war hero, who was a worthy successor to his father. In memory of his father, Titus oversees the finishing of the Colosseum and with his architects and engineers prepares to give Rome the inaugural games of the Colosseum that lasted for more than a hundred days in 80 AD. The scale of these games was mind boggling and included fights involving a variety of wild and tame animals. These included every known big cat like lions and tigers, as well as elephants, and giraffes, bears, bulls, and hippopotamuses. Some five thousand animals were slaughtered for entertainment during these games.

Wholesale slaughter of animals in the Colosseum
Wholesale slaughter of animals in the Colosseum

Of course, the highlight of any game and what drove the crowd wild were the gladiatorial battles, interspersed with truly brutal public executions. It was the good fortune of Titus to have two of the greatest gladiators in the history of the Empire, to put in his father’s arena to entertain the Roman mob during the inaugural games he choreographed to win favor with the crowd.

Death awaits you in the Colosseum
Death awaits you in the Colosseum

Their names were Priscus and Verus; gladiators of the highest order whose business was delivering death to those that challenged them. Titus pitched these two killing machines against one another and what followed was their famous drawn-out battle in the Colosseum that enthralled the crowd. The deadly battle between Priscus and Verus was immortalized by the Roman poet Martial, who described the unconventional fight in his work ‘On the Public Shows of Domitian,’ the only descriptive “on the spot” writing of a gladiatorial fight we have on record that has come down to us today, intact.

Verus and Priscus entering the Colosseum
Verus and Priscus entering the Colosseum

Martial, upon returning home after his day in the Colosseum as a spectator wrote:

As Priscus and Verus each drew out the contest and the struggle between the pair long stood equal, shouts loud and often sought discharge for the combatants. But Titus obeyed his own law (the law was that the bout continues without shield until a finger be raised). What he could do, he did, often giving lavish presents. But an end to the even fight was found: equal they fought, equal they yielded. To both Titus sent wooden swords and to both palms. Thus, valor and skill had their reward. This has happened under no prince but you, Titus: two fought and both won.

Death was made to wait that day as both Priscus and Verus survived and were given life and their freedom by a grateful Caesar who read the crowd well.

For the next three hundred years however, Death extracted a sickening “butchers bill” from the Colosseum.

Death found a home in the Colosseum
Death found a home in the Colosseum


Piazza del Colosseo, 1, 00184 Roma RM, Italy


Buying Colosseum tickets from the official Colosseum Website

What you need to know, and you really do!

Colosseum tickets are sold by a company called Coopculture: Their website is and covers many cultural sites all over Italy.

They are the only ticket provider and make all the entrance rules. Everyone else that you see on the internet announcing themselves as the “official Colosseum site” is a reseller and is bound by the same rules set by Coopculture. The other booking sites are effectively middle men, and you will be charged a lot more for tickets to the Colosseum if you purchase your tickets through them.


This story was originally published on September 28th 2023

About Peter Kilby

Peter Kilby is an artist, writer, story-teller, journalist and avid traveller who lived and worked in Italy from 1987 to 2018. He created Perfect Traveller to bring the world of Italian art and history closer to you and in a way that is entertaining and informative; together with great travel tips. Getting off the beaten track in Italy is always an adventure and he invites you to join him in discovering an Italy that will surprise and amaze you.

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