Performances would have been held on public holidays. Most shows would have consisted of animals fighting or the public execution of criminals. It may also have been a venue for boxing and athletic contests and acrobatic or musical events.
There is one clue as to what shows may have been enjoyed in London’s arena. The entranceway from one of the antechambers leading into the arena, had a stone threshold leading out into the arena which had rectangular slots cut into the front corners.
This implied a trap door that could be raised, perhaps indicating that there were wild animals penned up in the small room before being let loose into the arena. Such wild animals may have included bulls, bears and wolves. A bear skull was found on a site at Drapers Gardens (DGT06), to the east of the amphitheatre.
Professional gladiators would have made only rare appearances as shows were expensive to promote. We know that there were bands of trained gladiators who toured around the empire.
These bands used slaves or recruited the poor to train as gladiators – they were fed and paid but life was relatively short. It must have been a special occasion when the troop came to town. Indicative of this is a higher proportion of pottery depicting wild animal contests and fighting gladiators have been found outside the amphitheatre than elsewhere in the town.
This was where market stalls may have been selling memorabilia for such a special visit – not dissimilar to the football matches of today.
The remains of the amphitheatre consisting of the eastern ceremonial entranceway, part of the curved arena wall and the wooden drainage system can all be seen on display at the Guildhall Art Gallery.
For details of what can be seen, see the Amphitheatre in Londinium Today and for further information, see the Amphitheatre in Public life. Or read about the Amphitheatre curse found in one of the drains.