All houses and workshops opened onto the central arena where gladiators once fought.
"Indeed, that area was used as a common space," Riccardo Santangeli Valenzani, professor of medieval archaeology at Roma Tre University and the director of the dig, said.
Acting as huge courtyard, the arena buzzled with people, animals and goods. There, the archaeologists found cooking pottery and an intriguing object: a figurine of a tiny monkey carved in ivory. Most likely, it was used as a pawn in a chess game.
An iconic symbol of imperial Rome, the Colosseum was built in A.D. 72 by the Flavian emperor Vespasian on the marshy bed of a drained lake.
Seating up to 50,000 spectators, the amphitheater was opened in A.D. 80 by Vespasian's son Titus with a festival that lasted 100 days and included gladiatorial combats, fights with wild beasts and naval battles, for which the arena was flooded.
Over the centuries, the Colosseum has survived three major earthquakes and disastrous fire. After the emperor Honorius prohibited the bloody gladiatorial combats in 404, the building fell into disuse and decay.