Sunday, 18 November 2018
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Prayers for the wolf in the lift

The Romans loved the games: thousands crowded into the Colosseum on days when entertainment was on offer, to watch animals fighting and gladiatorial contests.

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There was great interest in the lift in the Colosseum and it can be vistied even today. (Deutsches Archäologisches Institut / Beste)

The emperors went to enormous expense to this end: hundreds of animals were brought from all parts of the empire for celebrations lasting several days: elephants and bears, deer and antelope, wild boars and wolves. Until recently it was mystery how the animals and combatants entered the arena.

According to ancient sources, they seemed to come out of nowhere. "We academics have long suspected that were lifts in the basement of the Colosseum, with which the animals were conveyed upwards,” explained Dr Heinz-Jürgen Beste, construction researcher at the German Archaeological Institute in Rome.

Researchers interpret vertical grooves in the walls and stone depressions on the floor to be unmistakeable signs. There are indications of lifts at 28 points in the Colosseum, which were probably driven and hoisted upwards using rope pulleys – to underneath the arena surface. The animals covered the final metres via inclined ramps.

Difficult action

Handwerk"We have produced computer simulations and 1:10 models,” Beste added. The safety engineer of the Colosseum, Umberto Baruffaldi, was in favour of reconstructing a lift in the original size in wood and making it operational at the right point.

The TV channel Arte accompanied the academics involved and documented the construction and installation of the lift in the series "Eternal monuments.” In it one can see how the lift floated down into the interior of the arena from a crane and slowly sank between two walls. A difficult action that could only succeed in perfectly calm conditions and with great skill on the part of the crane operator. Experts were convinced that the gods had heard Baruffaldi’s prayers.

The fortunate test passenger – an injured wolf brought up in an animal sanctuary – was a wolf, in honour of the legend of the foundation of Rome by Romulus and Remus, who were suckled by a wolf. Drawn upwards by the force exerted by eight strong men from the basement of the Colosseum in the lift, it trotted happily through the arena - of course without dying in an ancient animal spectacle.

Bettina Heimsoeth

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