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The Most Destructive Structural Collapse in Engineering History

The stadium was said to be “cheaply built” and was rushed to meet the deadline.

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Civil engineers are only humans, born to make mistakes.

This becomes the universal excuse when they mess up any design, mostly in structural, under their supervision.

No matter the degree of the design failure, civil engineers are bound to answer for the disasters not to mention the casualties.

But some of the civil engineers’ miscalculations have cost thousands of lives.

There is a long list of grave unnatural accidents caused by engineering or the lack thereof.

Perhaps one of the most shocking is the Fidenae Amphitheatre collapse, the earliest and the worst structural disaster in history.

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Back in 27 AD where there were no legitimate engineers yet, an entrepreneur named Atilius built an amphitheater made of wood as a response to the end of Emperor Tiberius’ ban on the Gladiatorial Games.

The stadium was said to be “cheaply built” and was rushed to meet the deadline.

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For this, the people who amassed to watch the resume of the games in the city of Fidenae, located just 5 miles north of Rome, paid the price. The death toll? At least 20,000 people as estimated by Suetonius. But according to Tacitus who provided the most accurate account of the event, “50,000 men were maimed or crushed in that disaster”.

This easily became the worst stadium tragedy in history. Emperor Tiberius who was at Capreae at the time the collapse happened, rushed to assist the victims.

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The Roman Senate did not sit the incident through. It reacted by making the gladiator shows be hosted by people with a fortune of less than 400,000 sesterces, as well as ensure that all amphitheaters to be built in the future be erected on a sound foundation, inspected and certified for soundness.

Moreover, the builder of the cheap wooden amphitheater was said to be banished by the government from the empire.


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Engr. Jenae Muller
Engineering geek. Currently working at Murray & Roberts Joburg. Former senior engineering recruiter at Group Five Engineering & Construction. Studied industrial engineering at Univ of Johannesburg. Kickass Dutch who likes tattoo. Blogging about innovations. Follow me on Linkedin


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