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The Campanian amphitheater of Santa Maria Capua Vetere (new name for the ancient Capua), is the second in order of magnitude among these types of monuments in ancient Italy after the Colosseum (about 170m on the major axis, about 140m on the smaller one at the level of the arena), it was raised between the end of the 1st and the beginning of the 2nd century AD. to replace the less capacious arena dating back to the Graccan age, the remains of which have been identified in the South-East. An inscription dedicated by Antoninus Pius, partly preserved at the Campano Museum, informs about his building history, in which mention is made of the restoration of the colonnade and the new sculptural furniture made by the Emperor Hadrian:
COLONIA. IVLIA. FELIX. AVGVSTA CAPVA
DIVVS. HADRIANUS AVG. RESTITVIT
IMAGINES. ET. COLVMNAS ADDI. CVRAVIT
IMP. CAES. T. AELIVS. HADRIANVS. ANTONINVS.AVG. PIVS. DEDICAVIT
"THE COLONY GIULIA FELICE AUGUSTA WAS MADE BY CAPUA, THE DIVINE ADRIANO AUGUST RESTORED AND WANTED THAT THE STATUES AND COLUMNS WERE ADDED, AND THIS DEDICATED BY THE EMPEROR CESARE T. ELIO ADRIANO AUGUST PIO."
The amphitheater in 456 AD it was almost destroyed during the sacking of Genseric, but was repaired in 530 AD. During the Gothic and Lombard dominion, the building continued to serve as an arena; then, after the destruction of the city in 841 AD. by the Saracens, it was transformed into a fortress. Starting from the period of the Swabian domination, it became a quarry for the extraction of stone materials reused in the construction of the buildings of the city. Partially excavated between 1811 and 1860, it was definitively freed from the enormous masses of earth between 1920 and 1930, with numerous subsequent conservative restoration interventions over time.
"In Capua there was a well-known gladiatorial school, consisting only of slaves of great stature and strength, who were trained to give life to bloody shows, where only those who won had the chance to survive"
Suetonius (1st-2nd century AD)
So wrote Gaius Suetonius Tranquillo, author of "De vita Caesarum", in the second century. d. C. of the gladiatorial school of Capua, the most important in the Roman world together with that of Rome and Pompeii. Owned by the lanista Lentulo Batiato, it became even more famous thanks to the story of Spartacus, the Thracian gladiator forced to fight inside the Campanian Amphitheater against ferocious beasts and other gladiators as it was widespread at that time to amuse the people and the aristocracy. Spartacus, exasperated by the inhuman conditions that Lentulus reserved for him and the other gladiators owned by him, decided to rebel and in 73 BC. C. from the Capuan Amphitheater he led the slave revolt during which another 70 gladiators followed him up to Vesuvius, the first stage of the Spartacist revolt.
The shape of the building is elliptical, the major axis measuring 170.28 meters and the minor axis 139.92, while in height it reaches 46.06 meters. The arena is the same size as that of the Colosseum and is 76.29 meters long and 45.93 meters wide. The building, which probably served as a model for the Flavian Amphitheater, appeared to consist of three orders of superimposed arches surmounted by a fourth floor consisting of a wall.
The arches on the first floor led into a double open portico, supported by pillars and covered at times. The wall of the fourth floor was decorated with pilasters, and between these windows were opened which illuminated a corridor that was used to store the velarium, used to protect the spectators from the sun or in bad weather and handled by the sailors of the Baia fleet.
The keystone (ashlar placed at the top of an arch or a vault) of each arch was decorated with a bas-relief bust of a divinity, as evidenced by the two still in place depicting Diana and Juno. Whole statues were instead found in the rooms of the upper floors and there are three of them on display at the National Museum of Naples: Adonis or Apollo of Capua, Aphrodite or Venus of Capua and Psyche.
The arena is closed by a wall that supports the podium while the basements, which can still be visited today, take on the appearance of a labyrinth and have brick pillars that support the vaults on which the arena rests. The beasts destined for gladiator shows were transferred, through an underground tunnel, from the building called Catabulum to the underground.
The spectators, on the other hand, were hosted in the 45,000-50,000 seats of the cavea, divided into low (podium), medium (marble steps) and high. The main entrance that allowed you to reach the basement and lead the animal cages without going through the arcades is located on the western side. On the eastern side there was also a conduit connecting to a cistern built in opus reticulatum, in which water was collected for cleaning the underground.
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