ca. A.D. 330-ca. 395

Roman historian

Ammianus Marcellinus was the last great historian of the Roman Empire. His work, which continued the story of Rome at the point at which the historian Tacitus stopped, is the most important source of information about the period of the later Roman Empire. Ammianus wrote about a range of topics, including geography, culture, and the customs of foreign peoples.

Born to a noble Greek family in the city of Antioch in the Roman province of Syria, Ammianus joined the army and served as an officer in both the eastern and western parts of the empire. While serving in Gaul, he met Julian the Apostate, who would later be emperor of the Roman Empire. In A.D. 363, Ammianus accompanied Julian to Persia on a disastrous military campaign during which the emperor met his death. Ammianus left the army and spent time traveling through Greece, Syria, Egypt, and Palestine. Sometime after A.D. 378, he settled in Rome where he wrote his account of the Roman Empire.

Ammianus’s history, The Chronicle of Events, consisted of 31 books covering the years from A.D. 96 to 378. Only the last 18 books, which cover the years from A.D. 353 to 378, survive. Written in Latin, the work provides a clear, impartial, and detailed account of the political, economic, and social history of the empire. Ammianus drew from his own experiences to create a vivid and dramatic picture of people, life, and events of the time. His biographies (including that of the emperor Julian, who played a central role in the history) are notable for their vivid descriptive passages and critical analysis. (See also Rome, History of.)


The Roman amphitheater was a roofless, oval-shaped arena used for spectator sports. Entertainment played an important role in A Roman life, and the construction of amphitheaters in which to stage games and other events helped spread Roman culture throughout the Roman empire. The ruins of ancient Roman amphitheaters can still be seen today in towns in Europe and North Africa.

The earliest amphitheaters, which had been constructed of wood, were temporary structures. Designed specifically for fights between gladiators*, most were located near gladiatorial schools. The oldest permanent amphitheater to survive was built in the southern Italian city of Pompeii about 80 B.C. It featured an oval arena and was built up against the city wall on one side. Encircling the arena were rows of seats that rose in tiers* along the earthen banks. This seating arrangement enabled all spectators to have a good view of the entertainment. Stone walls supported the earthen banks beneath the seats. Most early amphitheaters were built on natural slopes or artificially constructed mounds of earth.

In time, Roman architects began building freestanding amphitheaters that did not rely on the natural landscape. These structures featured stone walls and vaults* to support the various levels of seating. In these structures, spectators gained access to their seats through interior corridors and staircases similar to those in modern stadiums. The design of the amphitheaters became more elaborate as well, with graceful arches covering the walkways, and statues and stone carvings adorning the walls.

* gladiator in ancient Rome, slave or captive who participated in combats that were staged for public entertainment

* tier one of a series of rows arranged one above the other; as in a stadium

Some of the later amphitheaters included rooms, cages for animals, storage areas, and passageways beneath the floor of the arena, along with pulley- drawn elevators that raised and lowered animals, people, and props through trapdoors into the arena. Some amphitheaters also had awnings over the seating areas to protect the spectators from the sun. The largest and most famous amphitheater of this type was the Colosseum in the city of Rome.

Roman amphitheaters provided various types of sports and entertainment. Contests between gladiators, which included fights to the death, remained popular with spectators. Animal events often featured men hunting wild animals amid elaborate scenery or animals fighting one another. In another variation of the animal events, unarmed slaves and Christians were sent into the arena to face lions, bears, and other savage beasts. Such entertainment resulted in the deaths of thousands of people and animals.

In later years, the Roman emperors ended these bloody entertainments, and the Roman amphitheater declined in importance as people sought other, more acceptable, forms of amusement. However, the basic idea of the Roman amphitheater endured, and the modern stadium owes much of its purpose and design to these ancient structures. (See also Architecture, Roman; Games, Roman.)

* vault arched ceiling or roof

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