The unearthing of a huge first-century amphitheater in Cordoba, Spain, shows that the city was much more than a minor provincial capital in the Roman Empire. Jose Carrillo of the Archaeology Laboratory at the University of Cordoba finds that the ancient coliseum could hold 50,000 spectators, making it the largest such structure in the empire at the time.
Other excavations in the area have revealed gladiator epitaphs, a circus for chariot races, and thermal baths. Evidently, Cordoba was a powerful city with a vibrant culture of sports and politics. “Gladiator fights were probably most important as popularity tools for politicians,” Carrillo says. “Within the amphitheater, we’ve also found a plaque marking seats reserved for a prominent local family. It’s not quite box seats for Jack Nicholson at a Lakers game, but it’s a similar idea.”