Merlin Association for Promotion of Creativity

This is a historic love story about the origin of the amphitheater in Pula, which served as the basis for the design of souvenirs created by Merlin Association, with images of Emperor Vespasian and Antonia Cenida, a woman living in Pula in Roman times (magnets, lavender water and bags of lavender).

The amphitheater in Pula or Pula Arena is the largest and best preserved monument of ancient architecture in Croatia. When compared with more than 200 Roman amphitheaters, the cloak of Roman amphitheater in Pula with four side towers is the most rare and unique example of technical and technological solutions. It is the 6th largest Roman amphitheater in the world, and the only one in the world with all three Roman architectural levels entirely preserved. Amphitheater in Pula is as important and attractive as are the Colosseum in Rome, the Arena in Verona, Roman amphitheater in Pompeii, Nimes and Arles in France and El Jem in Tunisia.


The construction of the Arena took place in several stages during the first century. It is believed that already in the time of Emperor Augustus there was a similar, but smaller and mostly made of wood building at that same location. During the reign of the Flavian dynasty (Vespasian, Titus, Domitian) in the second half of the first century, Arena was further expanded, and the wooden parts were replaced with stone, so Arena got its present appearance. The detailed information about the exact time and duration of construction, or of builders, is not known - historical and archaeological resources on the primary purpose of the amphitheater are very limited. Interestingly, at about the same time the Colosseum in Rome was constructed.

It is not yet fully known why the Romans did build this monumental building in Pula. One legend says that the construction of the amphitheater in Pula was commissioned by Emperor Vespasian in honor of his mistress Antonia Cenida who had estates in Pula.


Nero's death in June 68 marked the end of the Julio-Claudian and the beginning of the Flavian (Vespasian) reign of Roman Empire. Istria can thank the first Flavian, Titus Flavius Vespazijan (17th November 09 - 24th June 79) for the Flavian road, which went from Aquileia, via Trieste, Porec, Pula and Vodnjan, to the Arena amphitheater (his statue was built in Pula in year 73). His last words were: "I think I'm turning into a god."[1]

Antonia Cenida was born in Pula, and was first the slave and then a freed woman (liberta). She worked as a scribe in the house of Antonia Minor, the daughter of Marcus Antonius, mother of Emperor Claudius and grandmother of Caligula. Antonia, Vespasian's favorite, was energetic and intelligent woman who, after the death of his wife Domicile, came to Vespasian's court and remained his companion until her death at the age of 75. [2] It is believed that Cenida influenced Vespasian to complete the construction of the Roman amphitheater in Pula, which construction began in the time of Claudius. She had two influential brothers, Felix and Palant, who were both freedmen like Cenida. Antonius Felix became procurator of Judea during the reign of Claudius, and Antonius Pallas was among the most intimate advisers of the Emperor Claudius and his second companion Agrippina. [3]

Historical legend says that Emperor Titus Flavius Vespasian was madly in love with beautiful liberta Antonia Cenida, and in honor of his charming mistress he finished the construction of magnificent Arena. "Antonia Cenida thinks, moreover, she believes that the amphitheater in Pietas Julia is fruit of her and Titus' love, and all the others, in her view, are mere intermediaries. That is why Antonia Cenida will do anything to remove the names of all, including builders Lucia Subaga, purge them from everywhere, so that they will not be mentioned. Therefore, she believes, only two names will remain for history in connection with the greatest architectural work in Pietas Julia: Antonia Cenida and Titus Flavius Vespasianus. " [4] However, the historical sources claim that Vespasian "as widower lived with the liberated slave Cenida as his concubine." It was astounding, but not too worrisome, that this lady was much earlier a former slave of Antonia, daughter of Marcus Antonius. Cenida became older, and could hardly encourage the style of Marcus Antonius. However, she could certainly retell excellent gossip to old Vespasian when in his bed." [5] Whatever the truth, whether Cenida was a concubine or honorable mistress (faithful only to Vespasian), and whether the amphitheater in Pula was built because of love or for the leisure of Roman soldiers who arrived from many battlefields in that vast Empire, and needed to relax, Arena is still here and defies the time and human negligence for past two thousand years.


[1]   Robin Lane Fox: "Classical World: The Epic History of Greece and Rome", Naklada Ljevak, Zagreb 2008., page. 454.

[2]   Alka Starac: "Imperial estates in Histria", Opuscula Archaeologica Papers of the Archaeological Institute, No. 1, Archaeological Institute of the Faculty of Philosophy in Zagreb, Zagreb 1994., page 136.

[3]   Bernardo Benussi: "The history of Pula in light of municipal institutions until 1918", Zavičajna naklada "Žakan Juri", Pula 2002., page 682-684.

[4]   Stjepan Vukušić: " Spirit in stone", Naklada Društva hrvatskih književnika, Nakladni zavod Matice hrvatske, City of Pula – Department of General Administration, Economic and Social activities, Zagreb-Pula 1997., page 85-86.

[5]   Robin Lane Fox: "Classical World: The Epic History of Greece and Rome", Naklada Ljevak, Zagreb 2008., page 449.

Author: Miodrag Kalčić

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