Jean-Léon Gérôme, "Pollice Verso (Thumbs Down)" (1872) (via Wikimedia Commons)

As gladiators fought each other to the final breath and animals suffered violent deaths on Rome’s Colosseum floor, Ancient Roman spectators were likely … snacking.

From January through August, archaeologist Martina Almonte led an excavation organized by the Parco del Colosseo into the sewer and water systems underneath the ancient amphitheater. Almonte and her team uncovered the remnants of meat, vegetables, olives, nuts, stone fruits, and yes, pizza.

“Pistachios. Good choice,” wrote Stephanie Britt Little in response to archaeologist Jo Ball’s photograph of the spectators’ food, which she posted on Twitter.

“Eating peaches and watching gladiators kill each other,” wrote another Twitter user. “What a joy!”

The Colosseum had an extensive network of underground tunnels. Some passageways housed animals before they were lifted into the arena, others drained rain runoff and waste, and some may have been used to flood the arena for mock navy battles, although the recent dig was unable to verify whether or not those actually occurred. Romans stopped using the water drainage system around 523 CE, but centuries later, when the Colosseum’s marble was pillaged for new construction projects, rubble and debris fell over the passageways and essentially froze their contents in time.

The team also found second-century coins which were likely distributed by Emperor Marcus Aurelius as a means of propaganda. The coins were made with orichalcum, a yellow copper ore chosen in order to impress recipients with its shine.

“We can imagine the shiny coins being thrown into the crowd, and one of them falling into the sand of the arena and then being swept away along with the blood of men and animals,” said archaeologist Francesca Ceci in a press release, adding that although the theory is only a hypothesis, it is a convincing one.

Some of the project’s other findings, however, were more sinister. The team uncovered the bones of bears, lions, leopards, and dogs that were forced to either fight each other or serve as the targets of hunting spectacles.

“[The findings] show us, more than 1,500 years later, the fascination and madness of those games and those days,” Ceci said.

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Elaine Velie

Elaine Velie is a writer from New Hampshire living in Brooklyn. She studied Art History and Russian at Middlebury College and is interested in art's role in history, culture, and politics.

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