Nova (1974–…): Season 42, Episode 4 - Colosseum: Roman Death Trap - full transcript

The Colosseum is a monument to Roman imperial power and cruelty. Its graceful lines and harmonious proportions concealed a highly efficient design and advanced construction methods that made hundreds of arches out of 100,000 tons of stone. In its elliptical arena, tens of thousands of gladiators, slaves, prisoners and wild animals met their deaths. Ancient texts report lions and elephants emerging from beneath the floor, as if by magic, to ravage gladiators and people condemned to death. Then, just as quickly, the Colosseum could be flooded with so much water that ships could engage in sea battles. Could these legends be true? Now, with access to one of the world's most protected world heritage sites, archaeologists and engineers team up to re-create ancient Roman techniques to build a 25-foot lifting machine and trap-door system capable of releasing a wolf into the Colosseum's arena for the first time in 1,500 years.

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The Colosseum... the Roman Empire
summed up in stone

Never has such a civilized

poured so much of its wealth

into engineering
spectacles of death

for the entertainment
of its people

In the morning you had
wild beast shows

At around the lunchtime,

In the afternoon,
the pièce de la résistance,

two men, fighting to the death

Ancient Roman accounts document
the Colosseum's repertoire

in chilling detail

They depict an orgy of
outrageous spectacles...

Costumed gladiators cast in
battles to the death,

exotic animals unleashed
on unsuspecting victims,

even sea battles with thousands
of people killed

Were the Romans as bloodthirsty
in their theatrics

as ancient authors report?

To investigate, a subterranean
archaeologist explores

tunnels beneath the Colosseum

to discover how it could be
flooded for naval battles

A forensic scientist gives voice
to gladiators

whose battle-bruised bones bear
witness to their own deaths

We had in our hands
for the first time

remains of real gladiators

And an architect pieces together
clues of an elaborate system

of ancient special effects

Then, with a team of engineers
and builders,

they reconstruct it,

and for the first time in
1,500 years release an animal

into the Colosseum

Now, can scientists and scholars
unlock the secrets

of how and why
the Romans engineered

such bloody spectacles?

Right now on NOVA, "The
Colosseum: Roman Death Trap"

If one building best symbolizes
the gore, glory

and genius of the Romans,
it is the Colosseum

It is a spectacle of design
and engineering,

the biggest building
they ever constructed

It spans nearly 2,000 feet

soars over 160 feet high,

and soon after it opened in
the year 80, it was decorated

in gleaming bronze shields

and 16-foot statues
of gods and heroes

To this day, the Colosseum
stands as a powerful landmark

on the skyline of Rome

When the Colosseum was built,
it had an enormous effect

because of its size, status
and presence in Rome

The echo of its 50,000

cheering bloody theatrics
continues to haunt imaginations

Gladiators fighting to
the death, mass crucifixions,

elaborate animal hunts

Over four centuries,
the Colosseum was witness

to an estimated
million human deaths

And with up to 11,000 animals
killed in a season,

some species,
like the Balkan lion

and a North African elephant,
were driven to extinction

Yet the Colosseum was much more

than a spectacular

It was a carefully engineered
entertainment complex

designed to reinforce
Roman world order

Watching fighting

on a regular basis
for entertainment

gave the Romans a sense of who
they were and infused them

with a kind of military ethos

that was instrumental

in creating and maintaining
the empire

Ancient Roman authors,

such as Martial
in his Book of Spectacles,

describe how that world order
played out on the arena's stage

They cast the emperor
as master illusionist

On his command a menagerie of
ostriches, crocodiles, rhinos,

bears and tigers
magically appear

to be dispatched by hunters

A condemned criminal
is dressed in wings

and catapulted across the arena
to play out a Greek myth

And fantastical sea battles
take place

where thousands of prisoners
of war are either slaughtered

or drowned

Can these astonishing accounts
of elaborate executions be true?

Or has the boundary
between history and myth

been blurred over time?

Most recently the Colosseum
was brought back to life

in the film Gladiator,
where tigers spring

from out of nowhere
to maul Russell Crowe

But that's Hollywood effects

The Romans were doing it
for real

Parts of the movie Gladiator
are based on events portrayed

in ancient texts and mosaics

They depict gladiators locked
in combat

and wild beasts mauling people

But none of these accounts

how the Romans made these
animals magically appear

Some scholars suspect the secret
may be hidden

in the Colosseum's basement

The hypogeum, the Greek word
for "underground,"

is a maze of corridors
and collapsed walls

Architect Heinz Beste thinks
that here,

hidden from the spectators

is where the Romans engineered
their murderous magic

We have to imagine
this being covered

by the wooden arena floor above

It was dark down here, lit only
by torches and small lamps

Today, the arena floor has been
partially rebuilt for tourists

The original was made of wood
and covered in sand

to absorb blood

The floor and all its wooden
supports are long gone,

but etched into the walls
of the hypogeum

Beste finds deep cuts
and grooves

To decipher
these fossil-like remains,

he drew every stone
on every wall

After more than two years,
he began to make sense

of the mysterious markings

Through these drawings
it was possible

to connect these clues
and turn the whole puzzle

into a system
that can be explained

Here he finds impressions made
by wooden beams

And evenly spaced along
the floor are a series

of round holes in concrete

Here is another piece
of the puzzle

This is a base for a capstan

A capstan is a large round pole
that could be turned by workers

to lift something

Ah, interesting

Up here we see an indentation
for a ramp

Another mark reveals where
a ramp might have led

to the arena

In Beste's mind, the pieces
come together

Support framing from the floor
of the hypogeum

to the floor of the arena

Halfway up, a horizontal beam
for workers to stand on

A capstan with poles
for workers to turn

A channel where a cage could fit

And finally, a trap door that
could lower to become a ramp

leading to the arena floor

Together they form
what could be a device

to lift and release animals

I believe, given the evidence,

there must have been an ancient
lift system here

Throughout the hypogeum,
Beste finds evidence

of ancient backstage machinery,
a total of 28 lifts

Has Heinz Beste discovered
the secret

to how the Romans made wild
animals magically appear

in the arena?

To find out,
he wants to construct

a lift and trap door system...

Install it right here
in the Colosseum

and raise an animal into
the most famous amphitheater

on earth

But why did the Romans
build the Colosseum

to stage these bloody

Part of the answer is hiding
in plain sight

For years, a cast aside stone
was used as a place

for visitors to rest, its
importance completely unnoticed

In the 1800s, an inscription
was discovered on its surface

It ended up here
in the Colosseum museum,

where it became, once again,
largely unnoticed

But hidden beneath these 5th
century letters may be another,

much earlier inscription

Rosella Rea is director
of the Colosseum

and one of the leading experts
on the building

Mixed within
the engraved letters

she sees a series
of strange holes

You can see with the naked eye
that the holes are arranged

in a regular pattern

By studying their layout,

it was found that the holes form
a series of letters

The holes are where bronze
letters had once been fastened

to the stone

This was the hole
for the first letter

The letter "I" for "imperator"

Or "emperor"

Connecting all the dots reveals
the original inscription

The Emperor Vespasian ordered
this new amphitheater

to be constructed from the booty

Vespasian Flavius becomes
emperor in the year 69

The following year he orders
construction of the Colosseum

to begin

The stone is the plaque
from its dedication

And the letters spell out how
the Colosseum was paid for,

with booty

But booty from where?

Vespasian's son left a clue
on the nearby Arch of Titus

On it, Katherine Welch finds

of Romans sacking
the Temple in Jerusalem

One of the panels depicts
the menorah, the Torah,

and the sacred table,

carried by elite young Roman men

This is quintessential
war booty,

the things that meant the most

to the people from whom
they were seized

Following his son's conquest
of Judea in the year 70,

Vespasian is rich
with gold and slaves

He can build anything he wants

So why the Colosseum?

Vespasian needs a building
that makes a bold statement...

That he, Vespasian Flavius,

is nothing like the emperor
before him, the infamous Nero

Emperor Nero's rule is marked
by extravagance

and much of Rome burning

He confiscates land and builds
a pleasure palace

with gardens and a manmade lake

Nero is driven from the throne,
commits suicide,

and Rome is engulfed
in civil war

After a ghastly year of civil
war and the suicide of Nero,

Vespasian did everything
in his living power

to ingratiate himself
with the Senate

and consolidate
his personal power

After fighting his way to the
throne, Vespasian casts himself

as the anti-Nero

He buries Nero's palace,
fills in his lake

and on top builds the opposite
of a pleasure garden...

A public building
for blood sports

In building the largest, most
expensive building in Rome,

a building for popular

it celebrated military power
and put it into a frightening,

exciting, chastening context

The Colosseum is the perfect
symbol for how Vespasian

and Rome came to power

And to enhance the blood sports,
Vespasian builds in

some deadly surprises, releasing
wild animals into the arena

But reconstructing the lift
that could have done this

is an audacious plan

If Heinz Beste is to succeed,
he'll need to find

an ally on the inside

Umberto Baruffaldi is
an engineer, inventor

and GoPro enthusiast

He too is captivated by how
the Romans released wild animals

into the arena

Umberto also happens to be

director of health and safety
for the Colosseum

Beste shares his drawings
with Umberto

The drawing is beautiful,

but how are we going
to make it work?

Beste's drawings provide
a skeleton of the system,

but it's not clear how the lift
actually works

Umberto brings in structural
engineer Giovanni Squillacioti

and material engineer
Flavia Campanelli

We have to create a system
of pulleys and counterweights

that works perfectly
and synchronizes

Giovanni translates Beste's
two-dimensional drawing

into a three-dimensional
computer model

The trap door is one
of the big challenges

On one hand it has to open

to release the animal
into the arena

But when it's closed,
it has to support the weight

of gladiators, charioteers

and heavy animals trampling
on it above

Giovanni puts the pieces
together and connects them

in his computer model with
pulleys, ropes and hinges


Then, based on Giovanni's
3D wizardry,

Heinz and Umberto build
a scale model

At the heart of the system is
the capstan,

a large central pole

As this is turned,
it wraps a rope around it

The animal is placed
in this cage

It's connected to the capstan
through a series of pulleys,

so as the capstan is turned,
the cage rises

Two large hinged arms support
the trap door when it's closed,

and then swing down to open it

As the cage rises,
the door automatically opens,

releasing the animal
onto the ramp

The model is essential to
experimental work of any kind,

because it is the model that
allows you to understand

all the mechanics

And building the lift
and trap door system

will provide a window into
a uniquely Roman pastime,

in a uniquely Roman building,
the amphitheater

Mark Wilson Jones is an
architect with an expertise

in Greek and Roman buildings

He's here in Arles
in southern France,

at an amphitheater constructed
about 20 years

after the Colosseum

In general, the Romans took
their building forms

from the Greeks

But this is not the case
for the amphitheater

The amphitheater was a definite
Roman invention

And they created it for
the special circumstances

of gladiatorial fights

Amphi means "double" in Greek,

and amphitheater translates
as "double theater"

But if a Greek theater were just
doubled, it would be round

The Roman amphitheater is
actually a stretched circle,

or an oval

Wilson Jones believes
the Romans' innovation

of the oval shape may be
a direct result

of the building's function...
A place for gladiator combat

Most buildings are rectangular

And that's a bad thing

because you can get action stuck
in the corner

If a gladiator gets stuck in a
corner, he gets killed quickly

The oval shape helps
prolong the action

for maximum entertainment value

So this shape has
a dynamic quality, no corners

Everything's smooth

So the action can move around

And I think that really helps it
maintain its excitement

An amphitheater for gladiator
combat is uniquely Roman

in form and function...

Exactly the symbol
Emperor Vespasian needs

to project his power
and inspire Roman pride

There's this strong connection
between the unique shape

of the amphitheater and
gladiatorial performances,

the link with the military,
the conquest of empire

The great crowds of 50,000 that
came together in the Colosseum

were celebrating all of that

It's really a sort of great day
out to feel a Roman citizen

and feel at the center
of the world

In a forest northeast of Rome,

Umberto is in search
of the perfect tree

for making the lift

The tree will be used for one
of the key parts of the lift,

the capstan

To fell the tree, the team
uses the same tools

as the ancient Romans: the ax,
the two-man saw and a wedge

Carmelo Malacrino, an expert
on ancient Roman building,

knows what tools to use from
images on the Trajan Column,

erected just 30 years after
the opening of the Colosseum

This column shows a fantastic
series of tree cutting

It depicts the deforestation

for constructing new roads and
the creation of campsites

as part of a military campaign

After an hour of chopping
and sawing,

the tree comes crashing down

Now, the tree begins its
transformation into the capstan

But Umberto leaves a little bark

as a reminder of where
it came from

The team uses
their scale model as a guide

for building the lift

The move from the model
to the real thing

was a little traumatic

Working in a dimension
four times bigger

really amplifies the problems

The cage itself will weigh
over 800 pounds

It needs to be strong to keep
wild animals inside

We have to pay attention
to the sturdiness of the cage

since it's supposed to hold
lions and tigers

Seeing the lift at full scale,
Umberto starts to have

some concerns

The most difficult part will be
getting the lift in

without touching the Colosseum

Because if we damage
the Colosseum,

I'll be chased
out of the Colosseum

Today, the Colosseum is
a majestic ruin

Over the centuries,

everything of value was stripped
from its walls

But coins minted for its opening

and carvings on tombs

show how the Colosseum was
likely decorated

In its arches stood 160 bronze
statues 16 feet tall,

representing gods and heroes
the Romans borrow

from the Greek pantheon

At its top layer were
gleaming bronze discs

symbolizing captured shields

Finally, framing the arches

were columns of various
architectural orders:

Greek capitals on the upper
three layers,

but on the street level
are Roman capitals

Vespasian is giving the people,
the plebs Romana,

exactly what they want...
Greek orders, Greek statues,

but all with a Roman twist

and pressed into the service
of the conquering Roman state

The Colosseum's decorations
amplify the message

of the building's
monumental scale:

We Romans love
Greek art and culture,

but we have surpassed them

Rome is the new superpower

As a final touch,

there was a bronze chariot above
the entry arch

on the north side,

where the emperor could make
his grand entrance

But Vespasian will never walk
beneath it

He dies just months before
the Colosseum is completed

He does leave a lasting legacy

the largest building in Rome
and an imperial dynasty

For the first time
in Roman history,

an emperor is directly succeeded
by his natural son

In the year 80, Titus holds
the inaugural games

in honor of his father

Roman author Martial
in his "Liber Spectaculorum"...

The Book of Spectacles...
Describes the inaugural games

A hundred days of crucifixions,
wild beast shows,

gladiator combat
and, for the first time,

the acting out of Greek myths

with elaborate scenery
and actual death

What happened with the
inauguration of the Colosseum

is that these Greek
mythological executions

entered the arena repertoire

Except in the theater
they were bloodless,

they were just actors

In the amphitheater they were
condemned criminals

who were forced to dress up
as Greek mythological characters

and killed in the Colosseum

The Romans would reenact
well-known Greek myths,

such as Icarus flying too close
to the sun and falling to earth

But in the Colosseum, there was
a gruesome twist

The criminal playing Icarus
would be catapulted

across the arena to his death

This is not a myth

It's real

Martial goes on to describe
a mass execution

so cruelly choreographed it
surpasses even Roman standards

Naumachiae... mock sea battles
where ships are sunk

with hundreds of prisoners
on board

What astonishes Martial is not
the mass murder by drowning,

but rather how it was pulled off

How could the Colosseum be
flooded for sea battles

in the morning, then drained
quickly enough

for gladiator combat
in the afternoon?

The Romans were masters
of moving water

A network of 11 aqueducts
carried clean water to Rome

from mountain springs,
some over 50 miles away

The aqueducts provide the means
to get water into the Colosseum

And new discoveries are
revealing a system

to get water out

Adriano Morabito, director
of Subterranean Rome,

has spent ten years mapping the
city's underground water system

One day while surveying
for a new metro line,

he took an unexpected turn

We were mapping all the sewage
system and suddenly we went

into an older drainage system
and we saw light at the end

To his great surprise, the light
at the end of the tunnel

was the Colosseum

Morabito had stumbled into an
ancient drain or "collector"

This is the only collector
still working today

In ancient times we had all
four collectors getting rid

of the water out of the monument

Beneath the arena, Morabito
finds evidence of four drains

that emptied water
from the Colosseum

And climbing to the top
of the hypogeum,

Morabito finds 40 channels
that may have fed water in

Some archaeologists speculate

that this could have been used
to flood the arena

Morabito believes
the 40 input channels

and four drains
provide the plumbing

to stage naval battles

To put his theory to the test,

he investigates how much water
the Romans would need

to flood the arena

He finds four passageways
leading into the hypogeum,

wide enough to launch
flat-bottomed boats

into the arena

When the arena was flooded

the water was coming in here

and then the boats were starting
floating up to this level,

because otherwise the water
would have gone

into other rooms

Morabito reasons the water could
have been no higher

than about five feet or it would
spill over

into other areas
of the Colosseum

Multiplying that depth
by the area of the arena,

he calculates, with
the floor removed it can hold

a million and a quarter
gallons of water,

equal to about two Olympic
swimming pools

But can the drains empty
that much water fast enough

to stage sea battles
and gladiator fights

all in one day, as author
Martial describes?

One night a thunderstorm puts
Morabito's theory

and the surviving drain
to the test

The storm dumps 800,000 gallons
of water into the Colosseum,

filling the hypogeum halfway

That rainwater,
with just one drain,

empties in under two hours

Morabito calculates that with
all four drains working,

the Colosseum could be emptied
in less than an hour

It was therefore
technically possible

for the emperor's engineers
to flood the arena

for its opening games

Morabito believes the Romans had
the plumbing and enough water

to stage mock sea battles
in the Colosseum,

just as the ancient texts claim

But could they really lift
animals into the arena?

After months of constructing
the lift and trap door system

in the workshop outside of Rome,
today the pieces finally arrive

The 440-pound trap door,

the 2,000-pound frame
and nearly 1,000-pound cage

And the capstan,
weighing in at 500 pounds

Originally the pieces were built

right into the walls
of the hypogeum

But today those fragile walls

are a part of a protected
World Heritage site

that can't be altered

So their idea is to pre-assemble
the lift outside the Colosseum

and then drop it into place as
one self-contained unit

Assembling the lift is a tricky

almost as tricky as the design

It's big and bulky

And then lowering
into the Colosseum

is the most difficult part

Umberto has hired
a 200-foot crane

for this delicate operation

Giovanni Cirillo is
behind the controls

The only issue today is the wind

And the later it gets in the
afternoon the windier it gets

That might shake the structure
and make my job less exact

After hours of assembling,
the team is finally ready

to raise the lift

The crane hauls the machine to a
standing position, and then


There's a problem

The crane has a built-in scale,

and Cirillo discovers
the lift is too heavy

The load is 600 kilos overweight

Over this distance
that's a problem

The crane has the power
to raise the lift,

but when its arm extends
out over the Colosseum,

too much weight could cause
the crane to tip over

We don't know if we can get
the lift inside

The main issue is the crane
might topple over

The team does some quick math
to try to save the project

According to our calculations,

the cage weighs around 450 kilos

Once we take that away, the load
will be lighter for the crane

They remove the cage, but
they're still 150 kilos...

Or about 300 pounds... over

Umberto confers with Cirillo
and takes a calculated risk

He green-lights the raising
of the lift

The crane hauls the lift up,

nearly 200 feet and over
the walls of the Colosseum

Umberto holds his breath as
the crane's arm stretches out

over the hypogeum

This shifts the crane's center
of gravity

If the lift is still too heavy,
the crane could topple over,

crashing into the Colosseum

and smashing the lift
into the hypogeum

To make it even more

Cirillo has to maneuver the lift

without even being able
to see it,

guided only by radio contact

Rosella Rea, director
of the Colosseum

and perhaps the person with the
most riding on the success

or failure of the lift project,
arrives at the critical moment,

as the team steers the lift

between the narrow, fragile
walls of the hypogeum

with almost no wiggle room

To everyone's immense relief,
the lift slides in perfectly

After flying the three-ton lift
into place,

the half-ton cage is a breeze

Well, when you look at it as a
drawing, when you imagine it

in your mind's eye, or when you
write about it,

that's one thing

But then to see it full scale,

and to really be able to touch
it, that's a whole other thing

It's really amazing, and for me
it's especially fantastic

With the lift in place,
the team pops the Prosecco

But they may be celebrating
too soon

They still have to turn
all these parts

into a working machine

But why did the ancient Romans
go to such lengths

to make death theatrical?

Some answers are coming
from the victims themselves,

or at least their bones

In 1993, Austrian archaeologists
uncovered a cemetery

in a Roman city
in what is today Turkey

Fabian Kanz of the Medical
University of Vienna

was brought in to analyze
the human remains

It was a mass grave

We found the remains
from 68 people

And 66 have been young males,
aged between 20 and 30

Unusual injuries offer a clue
to who was buried here

The distance is about
five centimeters

These holes in the head,
surely the cause of death,

were almost certainly the result
of a trident...

A weapon unique
to gladiator combat

The Roman author Suetonius

describes seven gladiator

each with different costumes
and weapons

One of the most famous pairings
is a Secutor,

equipped with a short sword,
shield and helmet;

and a Retiarius,
"the fisherman,"

who fought with a net
and trident

From the forensic evidence, it's
obvious who won this battle

It was the first known
gladiator cemetery

We had in our hands
for the first time

remains of real gladiators

Among many of the gladiator
bones, Kanz finds something

even more remarkable...
Evidence of healing

What was quite surprising for us

was the high number
of well-healed injuries,

which indicates there must be
excellent health care

for these gladiators

Ancient Roman texts offer a clue
to one possible treatment,

a special potion made from ash

And this might have been leaving
traces in the bones

To find out if there's any truth
to this gladiator potion,

Kanz grinds a bone sample
into a powder

and processes it into a liquid

that he puts into an instrument
called an emission spectrometer

Here he sprays the liquid
into an argon gas torch,

where it burns with
a distinctive flame

The color of the flame changes,

depending on the elements
in the liquid

And therefore, we can find out
about the mineral composition

of the bone

The flame turns from blue
to a bright yellow,

indicating that the gladiator
bone has a high concentration

of strontium

Strontium is a natural element

with properties similar
to calcium,

a crucial mineral for building
strong bones

It was mentioned
in the historic texts

that a kind of ash drink was
substituted to the gladiators

to remedy their pain
after fighting

And this would perfectly fit

to explain this high strontium
content of the gladiators

Kanz believes gladiators were
given the Roman equivalent

of calcium supplements
to strengthen their bones

But why go to this trouble
to save gladiators?

Although slaves,
gladiators were trained

in special fight schools

The remains of one,
the Ludis Magnus,

are right in the shadow
of the Colosseum

The gladiators have been
a big investment

for the owner
of the gladiator school,

comparable to modern football
or soccer teams

And they wanted to save
their investment

And therefore, they engaged
the best available doctors

at the time

It would have been
extremely expensive

if half the gladiators were
killed at every event

To protect their investment,

the Romans began to provide
gladiators with medical care,

so they could live to fight
another battle

And perhaps to compensate
the audience for a reduction

in the number of deaths,

the emperor added
entertainment value

by ordering
more elaborate stagecraft

Now, all the major parts
of the lift are in place:

the cage, capstan and trap door

Now that it's in place,
we have to make it work

The first task is installing
all the missing pieces

They place wheels on the cage

handles on the capstan

and above the capstan,
Umberto and Tullio install

a spool for rope

We attach this rope here
and as it turns,

the rope wraps around it
and pulls the cage up

The team connects the capstan
to the cage with enough rope

to stretch the length of two
football fields

Their earlier model is starting
to feel very small indeed

We only tested the model

That was just 50 kilograms

The real thing is 3,200

So that's why things
are a bit tense here

With everything strung up,

Umberto gives the lift
a trial run

He tries to turn the capstan
without success

The cage goes nowhere

Three of us tried to lift it,
but it didn't budge

Not a bit

It looked like an elephant

Impossible to move

Umberto calls in reinforcements

Even with six people,
they can't turn the capstan

to lift the cage
or move the trap door

It's all too heavy

The ramp is very heavy

and the lever system we
initially designed

does not work

How did the ancient Romans
manage to lift so much weight?

We are facing the same
challenges that the Romans had

when they were originally
making it

The size is the same, the
mechanisms are the same,

and the problem is just as big

Umberto searches for a solution
in an unexpected place:

Roman ships

Could the same mechanics that
hoisted the heavy sails

be used to lift the cage?

Umberto's hard drives are filled
with images he's collected

of surviving pieces
of Roman ships

Among them he finds what may be
the key to heavy lifting,

a simple device that dates far
back in antiquity... the pulley

The cage weighs 800 pounds

Adding a pulley splits
the weight evenly

between the two sides
of the rope

Another pulley changes
the direction of the force

It's easier to pull down than up

With one pulley attached to the
cage, it feels half the weight,

only 400 pounds

Attaching two pulleys
on the cage makes it feel

like only 200 pounds

The more pulleys you add,

the more the weight is
distributed between them

and the less force you need
to lift the cage

The more I worked on this,
the more I realized

how great the Romans were, and
how small we are in comparison

Building the lift, I realized
I was learning from them

Learning directly
from the ancient Romans

The team adds pulleys
to redistribute the weight

of the cage and trap door

Umberto gathers eight men

As they push the capstan,

the rope glides through
a network of 12 pulleys

And the cage lifts up
off the ground

The fascinating part is seeing
this mechanism,

which at first was essentially
a static,

seemingly simple structure,

turn into something dynamic,
a machine,

simply by using these ropes,
pulleys and human strength

But can this machine perform

the Colosseum's signature
magic trick?

To find out, the team wants
to release an animal

into the world's most famous

for the first time
in 1,500 years

But which animal?

According to legend, Romulus and
Remus, the founders of Rome,

were suckled by a wolf

So a wolf is the perfect animal
to test the lift

Paolo Caldora rescues wolves
taken as pets

and then illegally abandoned

He leads a wolf through
the labyrinth of the hypogeum

In ancient times,

wild beasts would have been
carried in already in cages

The cage door is lowered,

and the men turn the capstan
to raise the wolf

Every part is now working
as a synchronized machine

The trap door is lowered

The cage rises into place,
its door opens,

and the wolf emerges
into the arena

The days of wild beasts
in the Colosseum

as hunters or hunted
are thankfully long gone,

and the wolf runs safely
to his rescuer

Heinz, Umberto and their team
have not only re-created

an ancient Roman lift machine,

they have created a time machine

For a brief moment, raising
the wolf opens a window

onto the spectacles here in
the Colosseum 2,000 years ago

Imagine not just one lift here,

but a whole row of them,
one behind the other

The corridor was packed
with lifts,

which produced the spectacular
action above

Now, with the full-scale lift
we can begin to get a sense

of just how magnificent the
stagecraft must have been

It's really fantastic

Each year, over five million
tourists visit the Colosseum

They are awed by its size

and horrified
imagining the slaughter

How could a culture
as advanced as Rome

justify the spectacular
bloodshed that took place here?

Gladiatorial games and
associated violent spectacles

needed absolutely
no justification

And in the ancient sources,
we find just the opposite,

that they were believed
to stiffen moral fiber

Romans attending the Colosseum
were more than spectators,

they were participants

These games showcased the power
of Rome and reminded citizens

that their prosperity
was paid for in blood

Inside the Colosseum you have
spectacle, you have energy,

you have entertainment

The whole building is used as
a vehicle for the demonstration

of the power of the Roman world

and how it came to benefit
the populace

Though Rome falls
to the barbarians in 476,

the Colosseum, like a victorious
gladiator, still stands

Battered and triumphant,

it is a lasting reminder of
the gore and the glory of Rome