The Ludus Magnus was Rome’s foremost training academy for gladiators… It was built by the Emperor Domitian (81-96 AD) and lies just to the east of the famous Colosseum. Yet, despite its significance, the hordes of tourists visiting the Colosseum always seem to miss it:
Fragments of the Severan Marble Plan, an ancient map of Rome engraved on marble slabs, had revealed its existence as far back as 1562, but it was not until a chance discovery in 1937 that the Ludus Magnus was finally brought to light again.
The construction of the Ludus Magnus was part of a broader project of public building undertaken by the Flavian emperors whose intention was to create a purpose-built district equipped to serve the needs of the Colosseum.
The main entrance to the Ludus Magnus was off the via Labicana, as it is today. It led into a colonnaded courtyard surrounded by the gladiators’ quarters.
Below, courtesy of livius.org, is a model of what the site would have looked like in its prime:
Below are the remains of the multi-story gladiators’ quarters as they appear today:
This picture is not crooked. The street slopes down toward the Colosseum:
And another view of the gladiators’ quarters taken closer to the edge of the area that has been excavated:
Combat training for the gladiators took place in an oval arena at the center of the courtyard where seating was available for a limited number of spectators.
The courtyard has not been completely excavated. In fact, there is just a small piece of it that is not buried underneath modern buildings. Below, you can see a view of what has been revealed of this courtyard – it is that curving portion of wall behind the triangle:
And another view of it in which you can quite clearly see the modern buildings constructed on top of the rubble and earth that filled in the ancient courtyard:
A tunnel connected the buildings of the Ludus Magnus with the underground network of the Colosseum.
Between the second and fourth centuries the Ludus Magnus underwent numerous alterations, especially at the hands of Trajan (98-117).
The abolition of gladiatorial contests in the 6th century caused the Ludus Magnus to be abandoned and ultimately lost for more than 1,000 years.