The Colosseum, By Keith Hopkins & Mary Beard

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The Independent Culture

Though it is "the most famous, and instantly recognisable, monument to have survived from the classical world", the authors of this excellent history concede that the Colosseum can be disappointing. "Any visitor will almost certainly be amazed by the overpowering bulk of the outside walls," but inside "they are confronted by...a jumble of dilapidated stone and rubble."

Finding it "small", Ridley Scott, director of Gladiator built a replica in Malta. Hopkins and Beard take us back to what the Romans called the "Amphitheatre" ("Colosseum" is medieval). Though we don't know if thumbs-up meant kill or spare, it seems that 8,000 people and far more animals were annually killed in the arena.