Archaeologists have discovered what might be the last Roman gladiator arena ever built. And it is a long way from the capital. In December 2021, a group of archaeologists supervising a boathouse construction along the Rhine River in Kaiseraugst, Switzerland, uncovered the remains of a 4th-century Roman amphitheater. And they believe it’s the youngest amphitheater ever discovered. Possibly, this discovery clocks in as one of the last-ever-built gladiator arenas we have unearthed.
The discovery occurred in what was formerly the town of Augusta Raurica during the Roman Empire. Kaiseraugst, located in the Swiss canton of Aargau near France and Germany’s border, gets its name from the Roman city. The canton of Aargau Department of Education, Culture and Sport released their findings in a statement. (We first saw this at Smithsonian magazine.)
According to the statement, this is the second Roman amphitheater discovered in Aargau and the third Augusta Raurica. The discovery was especially surprising given the site itself. Archeologists found the amphitheater at an abandoned Roman quarry. This means there was no reason to encounter any walls whatsoever… Let alone the peculiar oval-shaped walls of an amphitheater. Further excavation confirmed that researchers had, in fact, stumbled into an amphitheater. One that may have seen use for things ranging from public executions, chariot races, to, of course, gladiator fights. The findings better fleshed out the Roman amphitheater schematics, which also included the arena’s entrances and evidence of wooden posts for the grandstands and a tribune.
The archaeologists noted that the building materials and location atop a previously-abandoned quarry suggest it dates sometime during late antiquity—around the 4th century. It all makes sense given the city’s importance as a military fortress doing this time period. Interestingly, the arena wasn’t all that big.
When most people think gladiator arenas, the Colosseum in Rome usually comes to mind. But just as a high school football stadium and an NFL arena differ vastly, amphitheaters certainly vary. The recently discovered Augusta Raurica arena was about 50 meters long and 40 meters wide (164 ft x 131 ft). This pales in comparison to the Colosseum’s 189 meters by 156 meters (615 ft x 510 ft) with a cushy six-acre resting place.
But then again, Maximus Decimus Meridius certainly needed the room. More notably, the Raurica arena is even smaller than the average amphitheater. Given it’s one of a few in the ancient Roman town, it makes sense. They can’t all hit regulation standard.
Considering the gladiator arena discovery occurred at a construction site, it’s natural to wonder what might happen to it. Luckily, the statement indicated that the construction plans would likely change to best preserve this amphitheater. This isn’t too surprising considering Kaiseraugst is a known Roman site and features so many remnants of its antiquity roots. Still, we appreciate a firm confirmation that preservation ranks as a priority. We wouldn’t want to lose this piece of history. Especially a Roman amphitheater so young.