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A Comparison and Contrast Between the Pantheon and the Coliseum

The Roman Empire has been credited with a lot of history regarding its people, events and most importantly architecture. In terms of architecture, Rome’s historical credit is attributed in part to two great buildings, the Pantheon and the Coliseum.. Architecture in Rome, was not only limited to buildings, but also included roads, great walls, forts and baths. This two buildings ensure that hundreds of visitors arrive in Rome every day. The building, Pantheon, was constructed in AD 118 at a site, which two buildings built had earlier burnt down. On the other hand, in the year 80 AD, Coliseum was built on a site housing an artificial lake. Building of the enormous Pantheon structure was under the orders of Emperor Hadrin. Flavian Amphitheater is a different name used to refer to the Coliseum, whose construction was under the orders of Emperor Vespasian. Looking at the time the emperors gave orders for constructions of the two buildings, it is evident that the Coliseum was built earlier than the Pantheon, and both buildings count over 1,900 years of their existence. Pantheon was built in the shape of a dome with the aim of being a temple. Coliseum was built in a shape that resembles an arena, and in most instances, it served the purpose of accommodating people during public entertainments and free games. The Coliseum suffered an incident in which part of it was destroyed by an earth quake, but to this day, the two buildings are still in existence serving as historical sites. Architecturally speaking, the two buildings the Pantheon and the Coliseum, can be compared and contrasted. Culture, traditions, and religious beliefs of the Roman Empire affected the architectural construction of the Pantheon and the Coliseum.

Ancient Rome’s culture, tradition and religious belief were marked with the building of structures, which were novel at that time. Ancient Rome was an architectural culture, expressed in the many buildings of churches, temples, streets, forts, markets, theaters, villas and large walls. The structures were used for entertainment and religious purposes. Culture in ancient Rome entailed entertainments and games, which featured gladiators or slaves, fighting and the only way to win was to kill the opponent while spectators watched. In ancient Rome, tradition was practiced through worshiping gods in the buildings constructed as temples. Additionally, religious belief in ancient Rome was practiced through Christians worshiping their God in temples.

A Comparison and Contrast Between the Pantheon and the Coliseum

The Coliseum

Cultural, Traditional and Religious Influence on the Coliseum

The political class of Rome took advantage of Rome’s culture to construct the Coliseum in order to distract its citizens from politics. This was due to the fact that ancient Rome’s cultural practices were marked with a lot of entertainment and games. The Coliseum, which is an enormous structure, was built with the intention of providing an entertainment zone for Rome’s citizen at that time. Its construction was also political, in that it distracted the citizen of Rome from focusing on the political struggle at that time. The arena could accommodate more than 50,000 people in its four stories during entertainment sessions. This ampitheater was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian credited to have been the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled ancient Rome the entire time the Coliseum was under construction. Rome’s architectural culture was exemplified when Emperor Vespasian annihilated an artificial lake, which was constructed during Emperor Nero’s reign and replaced it with the Coliseum (Coarelli & Gabucci, 2001 p207).

The culture in ancient Rome, all along was also practiced through having many days and nights dedicated to celebrations and festivities. The celebrations were marked with slaughtering animals, drinking and organizing games to be watched by crowds of people. Large crowds would gather in Rome for the festivities. This situation influenced the idea of constructing a big arena, which could accommodate these people during the festivities. Although, arenas existed at that time for chariot races and small gladiator fights, they could not hold the huge number of people in Rome. The Coliseum was constructed to host over 50,000 people at a time during the cultural season of ancient Rome’s festivities.  The culture of carrying out celebrations for many days and nights in ancient Rome, affected the architectural designs of the Coliseum in that, it was designed with many entry and exit points. The idea of having many entries and exists was to host the thousands of citizens who would influx in the arena to be part of entertainment and games as spectators (Mann & Racz, 2006, p23).

The culture in ancient Rome also influenced the architecture of the Coliseum in terms of constructing an “Emperor’s box” at the centre of the structure. This box served as the position in which the emperor would sit with his companions while giving the direction a fight would take or the fate of the gladiators (Mann & Racz, 2006, p24).

The culture of fighting animals such as lions, tigers, elephants and crocodiles was also common. This influenced the construction of the Coliseum in terms of designing the underground parts with sections that could lock in or let out the ferocious animals at will. The animals would be let out into the arena to fight with a human being. The animal fights made the architectures construct the arena in a manner, which could be secure and safe by putting up walls that the animals could not jump to reach the areas where people sat (Mann & Racz, 2006, p30).

In ancient Rome, culture called for weighing people’s importance through their social classes. This in turn, influenced the construction of the Coliseum in that sitting positions, in the arena, were arranged according to the individual’s social class. For instance, the emperor was the most important personal in ancient Rome and thus his position in the arena was in the centre next to where the games were being performed. Senators and other citizens from the upper classes sat on the back, but the same level as the emperor. On the upper stories sat people such as noble men, knights, and wealthy men. The other upper stories were left for poor citizens to sit. The entry and exit points were also built according to social classes (Coarelli & Gabucci, 2001 p208).

The tradition of the upper class citizens desiring to have themselves entertained is also a factor that influenced the construction of the Coliseum. The upper class citizens were wealthy and idle and in the process desired a lot of entertainment. This desire was satisfied by the construction of the Coliseum, which provided these wealthy citizens with entertainment. This act influenced the architectural design of Coliseum in that the sitting positions were designed in a manner that the ruling class, the upper class and the lower class had separate sitting positions (Mann & Racz, 2006, p37).

The Pantheon  

Cultural, Traditional and Religious Influence on the Pantheon

The Pantheon is best known as one of the huge dorms still in existence after it was constructed almost 2000 years ago. Emperor Hadrian is the ruler from ancient Rome credited with the reconstruction of the Pantheon in the year 118 AD. He had the intention of bringing into reality a building, which could host in one place the different gods worshipped by the people of ancient Rome.  Pantheon also hosted foreign gods, which Hadrian; a frequent traveler had come across during his numerous foreign visits. He had the characteristic of respecting foreign religions, and this further demonstrates the inclusion of foreign gods in Pantheon. Hadrian’s reign, influenced the culture of ancient Rome in that people began to worship a wider range of gods, they were not only limited to Roman gods. The fact that ancient Rome was worshipping local and foreign gods, inspired Emperor Hadrian to construct a building, which could house all the gods, and at the same time have unity as an empire (MacDonald, 2002, p54).

Tradition in ancient Rome focused on the appreciation of nature and more specifically the solar system. This is evident when looking at the buildings architectural design; the enormous interior exemplifies the natural structure of the heavens. The interior of Pantheon is a symbol of the heavens as it is seen from the earth’s perspective that is the dome shape. Ancient Rome tradition in relation to the solar system further influences the architectural design of Pantheon through the inclusion of the oculus better known as the great eye. The central point of Pantheon, which symbolizes the sun, is what is referred to the oculus.  The oculus was structure was designed technically to symbolize the unique power that the sun has on giving light and life (MacDonald, 2002, p45).

Pantheon’s construction was influenced by ancient Rome’s traditions and religious beliefs. As the building’s name suggest, it was built with the objective of making it a place where all the gods of ancient Rome could be housed and worshipped.  People from ancient Rome can be termed as being very traditional and religious when it comes to worshipping the superior beings. Their tradition of worshiping numerous pagan gods influenced the architectural construction of a temple, which could house all the pagan gods. The strong relation between Pantheon’s construction and religion is seen when pagan worshiped was stopped and thereafter it was left for Christian worshippers (MacDonald, 2002, p49).

Culturally speaking, ancient Rome was very powerful and wealthy, and as a result, it endeavored on conquering Europe and its environs. Rome embarked on showing its power and wealth by constructing buildings, roads, monuments and walls, which further exemplified its strong architectural culture. Before the long existence of Pantheon, two other temples had been built on the same site, but were, unfortunately, burnt down. Its construction featured the inclusion of huge marble columns and thick walls made of bricks. The hope of acquiring rewards from gods through traditional worshipping of pagan gods influenced the architectures who designed Pantheon to construct it in a very magnificent way, which honored the gods (Kirk, 2005, p17).

It was a tradition at that time for buildings to be constructed through employing the arch technology. Pantheon creation featured the arch technology as it is seen in its dome shape structure. Culture in ancient Rome during the conquering ages featured great inventions and advancements of knowledge. This came as a result of the Romans learning from other cultures that they had conquered, this influenced their architecture since they got more knowledge on how to build in a better way. The culture of conquering other regions of the world, exposed to the Romans to important materials, which could be used during constructions of a technically shaped and enormous building such as Pantheon (Kirk, 2005, p17).


Ancient Rome was marked with a lot of features, which evidently expressed its early civilization. Most importantly, the civilization was in terms of the culture, traditions and religion, which were practiced by its citizens. Architectural constructions marked the ancient Roman Empire on a large scale. Large roads, great walls, markets, temples, monuments and luxurious baths were common features in the ancient Rome. In particular, the enormous and historical buildings the Pantheon and the Coliseum made ancient Rome a popular Empire. The architectural construction of these two buildings was greatly influenced by the culture, traditions and religion practices of citizens in ancient Rome. The construction of the Pantheon was commissioned by the Emperor Hadrian, while the Coliseum was commissioned by the Emperor Vespasian. Constructions of the two buildings compared in that the Emperors dedicated the buildings to their subjects. The Coliseum was constructed with the objective of providing a venue that would serve the purpose of entertaining the citizens with sports and games. On the Other hand, the Pantheon was constructed with the objective of providing a sanctuary in which people would pray to their different gods. The construction of the Pantheon was in AD 118 while the construction of the Coliseum was in AD 80. The Coliseum featured bloody games fought by gladiators till their deaths. Other games included fights between humans and animals such as lions, elephants, leopards, crocodiles and tigers. A lot of lives were lost in the arena of Coliseum.  The temple, Pantheon, hosted both local gods from ancient Rome and foreign gods. People would go worshipping the god of their choice in the Pantheon.

  • Coarelli F, Gabucci A,. The Colosseum. London: J. Paul Getty Museum, 2001.
  • Kirk T. The Architecture of Modern Italy: The challenge of tradition, 1750-1900. London: Princeton Architectural Press, 2005.
  • MacDonald W. The Pantheon: design, meaning, and progeny. New York: Harvard University     Press, 2002.
  • Mann E, Racz M,. The Roman Colosseum: The Story of the World’s Most Famous Stadium and Its Deadly Games. New York: Mikaya Press, 2006.

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