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"The amphitheater (amphitheatrum) is so called because it is composed of two theaters, for an amphitheater is round, whereas a theater, having a semicircular shape, is half an ampitheater."

Isidore of Seville, Etymologies (XVIII.52)

The earliest stone amphitheater was built in Pompeii about 70 BC and is oval in shape, with steeply tiered seats around the circumference. The soil excavated for the arena was banked to form the seating, stabilized on the south and east by the town walls. Those veteran colonists seated in the podium nearest the arena, the social prestige of which was emphasized by it being separated by a low wall, would have entered through four vaulted passageways at ground level. Others would have climbed stairways to reach the upper terraces. Unlike the Colosseum, which was constructed more than a century and a half later, there is no subterranean structure beneath the arena. The dedicatory inscription refers to the amphitheater as spectacula; the term amphitheatrum came into common use only at the time of Augustus.

In AD 59, a murderous brawl with a rival town prompted the Senate to ban any further games there for ten years.

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