amphitheater (ămˈfəthēˌətər, ămˈpə–) [key], open structure used for the exhibition of gladiatorial contests, struggles of wild beasts, sham sea battles, and similar spectacles. There is no Greek prototype of amphitheaters, which were primarily Roman and were built in many cities throughout the empire. More or less well-preserved examples are at Rome (see Colosseum), Verona, and Capua in Italy; at Nîmes and Arles in France; at Cirencester in England; and at sites in Sicily, Greece, and North Africa. The typical amphitheater was elliptical in shape, with seats, supported on vaults of masonry, rising in many tiers around an arena at the center; corridors and stairs facilitated the circulation of great throngs. The arena itself was usually built over the quarters for gladiators, wild animals, and storage. Until the erection of the Colosseum (A.D. 80), practically all amphitheaters were of wood, the notable exception being that of stone built at Pompeii c.70 B.C. The word amphitheater is now applied to modern structures which may bear little resemblance to their ancient prototypes.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.
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