Legend has it that the fearsome Roman Emperor Commodus fancied himself a gladiator, once slaughtering 100 lions in a single day. Now researchers say they may have found the wannabe warrior's personal "Colosseum" on an archaeological site in southeast Rome.
The model arena was part of a residential complex of the Antonine-era emperors, known today as the Villa of the Antonines archaeological site, in what is now the town of Genzano di Roma, Italy. This particular project was spearheaded by New Jersey's Montclair State University, which sent a team to the site to work with geophysicists from the University of Rome La Sapienza in June.
The researchers reported that the Colsseum-like structure was oval in shape with curved walls and floors made from marble, according to Discovery. Measuring 200 feet by 130 feet, the structure has been dated to the second century.
The son of emperor Marcus Aurelius, Commodus ruled from 177 to 192 A.D., according to Brittanica. A brutal, bloodthirsty dictator, Commodus escaped a coup orchestrated by his sister in 182 only to be successfully assassinated by his wrestling partner in 192. Close to 1,800 years later, actor Joaquin Phoenix was cast as Commodus in the Oscar-winning film "Gladiator," portraying the emperor as unpredictable, irrational and generally unhinged.
The real Commodus would have used his ampitheater to show off “for practice and for his first semi-public appearances as a killer of animals in the arena ... and as a gladiator," Timothy Renner, a professor of classics and humanities at Montclair, told The Sunday Times.
An underground canal found during the dig may have been used to stage naval battles, while underground chambers may have been used to hold the doomed victims, according to the Times.
“In Rome he killed dozens of animals," Renner told the Times. "For example bears with single javelin shots, probably in the Colosseum — although at least some of the time he was on a protected walkway above the arena."
The emperor wished to be known as a modern-day Hercules, according to Discovery. But Commodus did not stop with wild animals; he reportedly killed humans, too. Ancient accounts, including those of respected historian Dio Cassius, include gruesome details about the ruler “slicing off a nose, an ear or various other parts of the body," reports Discovery.