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The Romans flooded the Colosseum for sea battles - Janelle Peters

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Starting in 80 CE, residents of Rome and visitors from across the Roman Empire would fill the stands of the Colosseum to see gladiators duel, animals fight and chariots race around the arena. And for the grand finale, water poured into the arena basin, submerging the stage for the greatest spectacle of all: staged naval battles. Janelle Peters details the history of these mock maritime encounters.

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TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Janelle Peters
  • Director Brett Underhill
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Animator Brett Underhill
  • Designer Brett Underhill
  • Music Brett Underhill
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Script Editor Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-checker Francisco Diez
  • See more
Additional Resources for you to Explore
The first naumachia, a mock sea battle, was held by Julius Caesar at the Campus Martius, which located on the Tiber River. By staging these nautical spectacles in their newly built Flavian Amphitheater (what we now call the Colosseum), the Flavian emperors hoped to send a message about their power over the Roman Empire and their legitimacy as a new dynasty. The main feat involved transporting the water; the ships and fighters themselves were not necessarily dressed in the most historically accurate costumes.

Naumachiae were part of a larger culture of water in Rome. This blog at the University of Massachusetts-Boston explores the connections among the staged sea battles with Roman aqueduct and sewer systems. By staging historical sea battles, Romans conveyed their dominance over culture, as well as over technology. Roman mock battles were staged purely as imperial entertainment.

The Roman legacy of staged sea battles has continued throughout the centuries. During the Renaissance, elite families such as the Medici would adopt the custom to underscore the significance of the ties created through their alliances; this included the 1589 wedding of Christine of Lorraine to Ferdinando de Medici. Even today, mock sea battles have been staged as cultural events in Queens.

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About TED-Ed Animations

TED-Ed Animations feature the words and ideas of educators brought to life by professional animators. Are you an educator or animator interested in creating a TED-Ed Animation? Nominate yourself here »

Meet The Creators

  • Educator Janelle Peters
  • Director Brett Underhill
  • Narrator Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Animator Brett Underhill
  • Designer Brett Underhill
  • Music Brett Underhill
  • Director of Production Gerta Xhelo
  • Editorial Producer Alex Rosenthal
  • Associate Producer Bethany Cutmore-Scott
  • Script Editor Dan Kwartler
  • Fact-checker Francisco Diez
  • See more