The drawings shown here explain how scholar Geza Alföldy, a specialist in reconstructing “ghost” inscriptions, was able to deduce the wording on the Colosseum’s original dedication. Today, the stone slab bears a fifth-century C.E. inscription carved into the rock that describes a series of repairs to the structure (drawing A, above; the darker tint indicates the surviving portion of the inscription). But Alföldy and others had noted the presence of holes in the stone along three pairs of parallel lines (drawing B).

The holes once held pegs onto which metal letters were fastened. Through meticulous work Alföldy arrived at the phrases that had once adorned the rock; these are shown superimposed on the inscription visible today (drawing C).

Not only did Alföldy determine the original inscription, but he deduced that two emperors, Vespasian (ruled 69 to 79 C.E.) and his son Titus (ruled 79 to 81 C.E.), had a hand in its wording: The first line of Vespasian’s dedication read “IMP CAES VESPASIANUS AVG” (Emperor Caesar Vespasian Augustus) (drawing D); Titus, who added two levels to the Colosseum, only needed to add a “T.” (for Titus) to make the phrase his own.

Titus had the C and the A from “CAES” moved to the right just enough to squeeze in the T and a small triangle that functioned as a modern period—making it serve as his initial (drawing E; the holes marked in green were added to make the “T.” fit; the holes marked in red were the original holes in “CAES”).

The result—a “new”dedication attributing the construction of the Colosseum to Titus but still explaining that it was done ex manubiis, with the proceeds from the spoils of war. In the accompanying article, author Louis Feldman suggests that the war from which those spoils came was the Great Jewish Revolt against Rome in 66–70 C.E., when Titus destroyed the Jerusalem Temple.