How did the Colosseum Get its Name?

Archaeology Rome

The History of the Name "Colosseum" May Surpsise You!

The Colosseum is an iconic symbol of Rome, both past and present, is a UNESCO world heritage site, and one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. Although centuries old and famous world-wide, most people take for granted that it is called the Colosseum, or Colosseo in Italian, but that wasn't always the case. So how did the Colosseum get its name?


The Flavian Amphitheater

The original name of the Colosseum that you may here at times even today was the "Amphitheatrum Flavium," or "Flavian Amphitheater." It's a little less catchy, but the origin of this name is pretty straightforward: it was commissioned and built by emperors of the Flavian Dynasty.
So how did we go from "Flavian Amphitheater" to "Colosseum?" Is it simply derived from its colossal size? The Colosseum is the biggest Roman amphitheater in the world, but you might be surprised to hear that the name comes from a statue that once stood nearby.


The Colossus of Nero

The Colossus of Nero was an enormous 30 meter tall bronze statue, and was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world. Only ruins of the pedestal remain today.
The famous epigram by Venerable Bede, "as long as the Colossus stands, so shall Rome; when the Colossus falls, Rome shall fall; when Rome falls, so falls the world," is often misquoted to refer to the Colosseum. In reality he is talking about the Colossus of Nero. It would sound much more romantic for tourists in Rome today if he had been talking about the Colosseum. Since the Colossus of Nero did in fact fall, it looks like Bede knew his stuff when it came to falling statues and falling empires.


Colosseum or Coliseum?

You would think that after 2,000 years we would be clear on the name of this iconic structure, but even today there is some confusion about its spelling. The two common spellings are "Coliseum" and "Colosseum," and technically both are correct. Although there are exceptions, as a general rule think "Coliseum" with a capital C for the famous amphitheater in Rome, and coliseum with a lowercase c when referring to amphitheaters in general.

So: the Colosseum is a coliseum. Of course, any other spelling you see - colisseum, colloseum, collosseum, colisium, collesium, colusium, and the list goes on and on - is just plain wrong. But no worries, once you come to Rome and see it in person, you will never mispell it again!