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Construction disaster in Fidenae

This post is also available in: Polish (polski)

Amphitheater in the ancient city Italica
Amphitheater in the ancient city Italica (Spain) | Author: Diego Delso,, License CC-BY-SA

During the reign of Emperor Tiberius, in 27 CE, the greatest construction disaster in ancient Rome took place. In Fidenae (a town not far north of Rome) a wooden amphitheatre has collapsed. According to Suetonius, over 20,000 people died under the rubble; Tacitus gives the figure of 50,000 dead and maimed.

According to Tacitus, the initiator of the construction of the building was a liberator named Atylius, who saved a lot on costs and did not pay attention to the fact that the building was sufficiently solid. Due to the fact that the stands collapsed not only in but also outside, there were many random bystanders and people who were not directly spectators among the victims.

A large number of victims is also due to the fact that Tiberius had previously banned the organization of gladiator fights for a while. As soon as the ban was lifted, a huge mass of people wanted to watch this type of show, and Fidenae experienced a real “siege”.

Upon learning of the tragedy, Tiberius left his villa on the island of Capri and personally supervised the aid to the victims. For his irresponsibility, Atylius was sentenced to exile. For the future, the Senate banned people with assets less than 400,000 sesterces from organizing gladiatorial fights, and all amphitheatres had to be solidly constructed and inspected.

  • Suetonius, Tiberius, 40
  • Tacitus, Annales, IV.62-63

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