"Build It and They Will Come"

Original Franklin Field

Franklin Field, ca. 1910

The main reason for building both Franklin Field and the Colosseum was that the old facilities were no longer functional, but there were more important reasons for building both structures as well.  Penn needed a new athletic field, since they were building new dorms on top of their old one.  However, Charles Harrison, Provost from 1894 to 1910, had much bigger plans for this new stadium than a simple replacement for the old field.  His goal was to create not only the principal athletic field for the university, but also the greatest urban football stadium in the country.  He hoped that by doing so he could make sports central to student life.  Construction began in 1894, and after pouring $100,000 ($2,840,000 in 2015 dollars) into the project, Penn had the most complete athletic facility in the country.  However, the wooden stands that were erected did not stand a chance of satisfying the football crazed community which would consistently demand more seats over the next few decades.  The expansions that followed will be covered in the next section.  More fascinating than the plans for a magnificent stadium, though, is where the stadium was built.  Potter’s Field, a forgotten graveyard which the city had been using as a landfill for the dirt from construction sites, was chosen as the location.  Penn purchased a lot of land in this area from the city during the university's expansion after it moved to West Philadelphia in 1870.  Through their expansion, Penn revitalized a neglected part of Philadelphia, transforming the wasteland into a beautiful new stadium which would be the home of student memories for generations.

Stadium at Olympia

Ancient Greek stadium at Olympia

Scale model of ancient Rome

Detail of scale model of ancient Rome showing Colosseum

In Greek, the word stadion refers primarily to the course on which a race is run.  It is only the secondary definition that includes accommodations for spectators.  However, the Colosseum did not house races and the goal in building it was to accommodate as many people as possible.  On the other hand Franklin Field frequently holds races, such as the Penn Relays.  The Colosseum is an ampitheatre, not a stadium.  In 216 B.C.E. a set of munera (funeral games in this instance) settled into the Forum Romanum.  These were the second recorded public gladiatorial games held in Rome.  This venue offered poor visibility and limited seating, even when temporary bleachers were erected.  Despite these issues, it was in a central part of the city, which was a clear benefit.  The earliest stone amphitheatre in Rome was not built until 29 B.C.E. by T. Statilius Taurus.  When this burned down in the great fire of A.D. 64, a new amphitheatre was needed.  Six years later, the construction of the Colosseum began.   The construction of the Colosseum was done by Vespasian and Titus, two emperors of the Flavian dynasty.  This explains the Colosseum’s formal name, the Flavian amphitheatre.  Yet with this knowledge, it seems odd that the name Colosseum is recognized by everyone, while the name Flavian amphitheatre is obscure.  This is because of the site on which the Colosseum was constructed.  In the Middle Ages, the name Colosseum was assigned because of the Colossus Neronis, the giant bronze statue of the emperor Nero which had previously been outside of his Domus Aurea, or Golden House.  Nero had been a tyrant, and there was a civil war from 68-69 A.D.  The colosseum was constructed in 80 A.D. as a symbol of the new era of good government.  This symbol was made explicit by building the Colosseum on the spot of the Domus Aurea.  The Flavian emperors were showing how the land which Nero wanted for his own personal pleasure was being returned to the people as public buildings.  This was noted by the poet Martial, who said this about Vespasian’s efforts:

“On this spot, where now Colossus towers up
towards the stars and podiums rise in the streets,
the loathed imperial palace once stood proud,
one single house taking possession of the entire city.”

Martial’s positive feelings towards the building were matched by Romans for generations, as the Colosseum was kept in repair and restored several times over the course of its many centuries of use.