This set hardly needs any introduction. The Colosseum in Rome is one of the most recognised and iconic structures of the ancient world still in existence today, and is visited annually by millions of people. The sheer size of the building is a major attraction, but so too is the horror of what was performed there, where gladiatorial fights, beast hunts and executions of criminals were provided in the name of entertainment. While the Romans may be well known today for many things such as their aqueducts and roads, these hardly have the same appeal as something like the Colosseum, yet the sheer scale of the project would have made this a brave decision by Atlantic at the time.
It would be easy to criticise this model as an inaccurate depiction of the historical reality, and so it is, but we have to be practical here. The Colosseum is 189 metres in length, 156 metres wide and the outer walls reach a height of 48 metres. Even bearing in mind this model is advertised as HO scale (1/76th), an accurate representation at that scale would produce a model that is 2.63 metres long, 2.16 metres wide and 63 cm tall. A colossal model indeed, and clearly not one that was practicable as a toy in the 1970s when it was made. How many children would have had a bedroom large enough to accommodate such a model? So this model is a great deal smaller than that. It measures 505mm long, 440 wide and 175 tall (not including the flagpoles), which is very roughly one fifth the size it should be if it were to match the real thing at HO scale. That makes it sound really small, but pause for a moment, because this is still a very large model, and an incredible prospect for many a small boy or girl when it first came out. An ambitious, and not inexpensive, highlight to the Atlantic ancient range.
This complex shape must have given the designers some headaches, but what they came up with is clever and works well even for a child's patience. First there is the base, in two halves, which provides the outside steps and the walls of the arena itself. Into this you slot the many wall sections, each four arches wide and cleverly shaped to produce the necessary oval shape. Next comes the tricky bit. The main terracing or bowl is also in two halves, which when joined together must be placed over the ring of wall sections so they fit inside a slot. Persuading all the wall sections to sit correctly takes a little doing, but once done this effectively locks the walls and the whole model. Then you add the small inner columns that support the separate upper tier, add that tier, and all that is left to do is to add the arena gates, the flagpoles on top of the walls, and you are ready to play. No gluing, and little fuss, producing an impressive model. Of course it lacks any interior detail, has no canopy and has taken a lot of liberties with the original design (there was no 'upper circle' tier on columns like this, for example), yet you can't deny it really looks a lot like the Colosseum, at least to a child. A very satisfying build!
The considerable reduction in actual size means there are lots of compromises in terms of the design, which wanders greatly from the real thing. The size is the major one, so you get little of the vast scale of the real thing when you place figures in it (the set comes with several sprues of Gladiators and Christians naturally). Looking at our gallery below, the final images show how the figures look in proportion to the building. The arches actually tower above modern visitors as they did over the Romans at the time, but as you can see, here they practically have to duck to get under them. Atlantic have provided the full 80 arches in each layer, but this means each is a fraction of the real size, and since their Roman figures were pretty large for true HO scale anyway, the difference is obvious. Equally, the arena is not a bad size, but you could not image some of the impressive entertainments said to have been put on such as naval battles in an arena this small.
Much of the model is pretty basic, so there is little about the inside that catches the eye. The sliding gates are a nice feature, allowing the gladiators or animals to be pushed out into the arena with some drama, but otherwise it is simplified and functional. Even now we still enjoy the nice detailing on the outer walls, however, which shows up quite nicely in the part-painted sample used for our photography below. The whole thing goes together pretty well, and has been well-engineered for the little fingers at which it was aimed. The fact that no gluing is required will have pleased many parents, but those very vulnerable flagpoles must have been in severe danger of being snapped as someone reaches inside to progress the action.
So as a historical model this scores badly, but who cares? As a toy it must have inspired and delighted those lucky enough to own one, and now, many years later, it remains the holy grail of the hobby, with few still in existence and consequently high prices being sought on auction sites. It takes up a lot of room, and you are terrified of damaging or losing some element, thus dropping its value. But it is still a great plaything, and after a hard day researching, painting and deploying little plastic soldiers, what better way to unwind than to get out the Colosseum and stage some games, releasing that little child that still lurks inside each of us (or is it just us?).