How Much Would It Cost to Build the Colosseum Today?

Last year we told you about the plan to install a retractable floor in the Colos­se­um, thus restor­ing a fea­ture it boast­ed in its ancient glo­ry days. Though the state pledged €10 mil­lion, the bud­get of an ambi­tious ren­o­va­tion will sure­ly come to many times that — but still, we may imag­ine, only a frac­tion of the mon­ey it took to build the Colos­se­um in the first place. In fact we have to imag­ine it, since we have no records of what that icon of Rome actu­al­ly cost. In the video above, his­to­ry Youtu­ber Gar­rett Ryan, cre­ator of the chan­nel Told in Stone, does so by not just mar­shal­ing all his knowl­edge of the ancient world but also crowd­sourc­ing oth­ers’ knowl­edge of mod­ern con­struc­tion tech­niques and expens­es.

First, Ryan must reck­on the cost of the Colos­se­um in ses­ter­tii, the “big brass coins” com­mon in Rome of the first cen­tu­ry AD. “At the time the Colos­se­um was built,” he says, “one ses­ter­tius could buy two loaves of bread, four cups of cheap wine, or a sin­gle cup of good wine.”

The aver­age unskilled labor­er could expect to earn around four ses­ter­tii per day, and this project need­ed thou­sands of such labor­ers to exca­vate its foun­da­tion trench alone. Then came the lay­ing of the foun­da­tion itself, fol­lowed by the build­ing of the super­struc­ture, which remains for­mi­da­ble even in the ruined state we know today. Its mate­ri­als includ­ed 100,000 cubic meters of traver­tine — “rough­ly one-fifti­eth, inci­den­tal­ly, of all traver­tine ever quar­ried by the Romans.”

A good deal of traver­tine also went into the Get­ty Cen­ter, per­haps the clos­est thing to a Colos­se­um-scale con­struc­tion project in mod­ern-day Amer­i­ca. The Get­ty’s total cost came to $733 mil­lion, a price tag befit­ting the wealth syn­ony­mous with its name. But it still came cheap­er than the Colos­se­um by Ryan’s esti­mate, or at least by most of the esti­mates at which he arrives. Con­sult­ing with sev­er­al of his view­ers expe­ri­enced in archi­tec­ture and con­struc­tion, he cal­cu­lates that build­ing an exact repli­ca of the Colos­se­um in today’s Unit­ed States — tak­ing into account the much greater effi­cien­cy of cur­rent tools, as well as the much greater cost of labor — rough­ly equiv­a­lent to $150,000,000 to more than $1 bil­lion. That amount of mon­ey obvi­ous­ly exists in our world; whether we pos­sess the nec­es­sary ambi­tion is less clear. Then again, ancient Rome did­n’t have Lego.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Build­ing The Colos­se­um: The Icon of Rome

When the Colos­se­um in Rome Became the Home of Hun­dreds of Exot­ic Plant Species

Rome’s Colos­se­um Will Get a New Retractable Floor by 2023 — Just as It Had in Ancient Times

High-Res­o­lu­tion Walk­ing Tours of Italy’s Most His­toric Places: The Colos­se­um, Pom­peii, St. Peter’s Basil­i­ca & More

How Did the Romans Make Con­crete That Lasts Longer Than Mod­ern Con­crete? The Mys­tery Final­ly Solved

The Roman Colos­se­um Has a Twin in Tunisia: Dis­cov­er the Amphithe­ater of El Jem, One of the Best-Pre­served Roman Ruins in the World

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall, on Face­book, or on Insta­gram.

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