The Gladiator Tomb

December 18, 2012 / Art & Archaeology
Rome, Lazio

russell-crowe-gladiatorAArrrghh… it’s just maddening!

In 2008 archaeologists discover the 2nd century tomb of a wealthy senator, distinguished consul, and highly decorated battle-hardened general who led 20 years worth of Roman military campaigns for Emperor Marcus Aurelius against the Germanic tribes. Marcus Nonius Macrinus was possibly the closest confidant of the philosopher Emperor, and also served as proconsul in Asia. (Btw, Macrinus was the figure upon which screenwriter Franzoni very loosely based Russel Crowe’s character Maximus in Gladiator, hence the name used colloquially for the tomb.)

The tomb, toppled over on its side but perfectly preserved under meters of silt in northern Rome along a newly discovered section of the ancient Via Flaminia, is simply mind-boggling. It is a large mausoleum with a four column wide portico, made entirely of carved, decorated, and inscription engraved solid white marble. Even the roof tiles are marble! (No cheapo terracotta used here.) It is so well preserved and complete that you could put the blocks in place and prop the columns back up.. voila’, instant re-construction.

If it weren’t for the distinct possibility that Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency might have to bury the entire thing.

gladiator-tomb1Yes, that’s right. Unfortunately, when resources are scarce (such as now), discoveries such as this are simply left in place and covered up in their own mud once again without further excavation. Barring looters, it is counter-intuitively the best way to preserve archaeological finds. Since the mud preserved them for 2000 years, what’s another century?

But what a loss to everyone now, that we risk not benefiting from the knowledge and beauty that such a find would bring.

So here’s how it works… a) there are simply oodles of discovered Roman ruins sitting in the ground that have been re-buried for the above-mentioned reasons; and b) the Superintendency has a limited budget and so basically runs triage (importance, preservation urgency, public demands, etc.) as to which sites get priority for excavation.

galdiator-tomb3This site? Importance.. check. Preservation urgency.. check. Public demand… uh, that’s where we come in, folks. Now, let me introduce…

Darius Arya has lived in Rome for the past 14 years where he is Chairman and co-founder of the American Institute for Roman Culture which promotes and defends Rome’s cultural heritage through graduate-level educational programs, public outreach, and onsite archaeological projects in conjunction with Rome’s Archaeological Superintendency. He’s a Fulbright scholar and a Rome Prize recipient from the American Academy in Rome… i.e. he’s legit. (disclaimer: he and I were at Penn in Philadelphia before he went off to U of T Austin for his Ph.D in archaeology; we are good friends. -ed.)

Well, together with other archaeologists and professors, Darius has launched an online petition to keep the Superintendency from re-burying the “Gladiator Tomb,” requesting that they examine all other possible solutions. (You can read about the initiative here.)

So here’s what we figure… the ItalianNotebook community consists of +12,000 wonderful people from around the world who love Italy and so much of what it has to offer, both from the present and from the past. With this petition we have an opportunity to make that statement loud and clear. Let’s all sign it, and forward and blog and tweet and “like” this note or the petition itself (again here) to our contacts, friends, families and have them sign it too… let’s, in a nutshell, raise enough of an international stink (scientific PR term, that!) to encourage the Superintendency to seek a constructive solution that ensures that the “Gladiator Tomb” becomes a legacy from the past for the benefit of all and one that we in turn can proudly leave to generations to come.

(nb. – The fundraising request that follows the petition signature is optional and separate from the petition itself.)

Area di scavo, veduta da nord-ovest


by GB Bernardini

Editor, Italian Notebook

16 Responses to “The Gladiator Tomb”

  1. Florence Goodman

    Unfortunately, I imagine that what they need from the community more than our “stink” is our $$$.

    • GB

      Hi Florence, you’re right. Yet Darius chose to do a petition instead of fundraising because at this point it is important that the Superintendency make this a priority site. They are responsible for the funding, not us. But rather than let this sit at the bottom of financing pile, we are urging them to move it to the top!

  2. Stannous Flouride

    This needs to be crowd-sourced through Indiegogo.
    (A request for funds to rebuild one of Tesla’s labs in the US into a Tesla Museum asked for $800,000 and received something like $1,500,000)
    Darius would be the person to set it up, it’s easy. I have several friends who have used it to raise funds for everything from art projects to a cafe to an album.

  3. Cathy Vignale

    I’ve already donated to the “gladiator tomb” & from what I’ve
    seen on the internet, russell crowe is supporting this effort,
    however, I don’t know if he is supporting it financially.

  4. mary o brugliera

    i will happily sign the petition. the studio that made that block-buster film should certainly contribute a bunch of money to raise/restore the tomb. the italian economy is in such shambles now that they really can’t pay for the endeavor.

  5. Count me in. I will be glad to sign. I am already looking forward to taking our visitors or even including the site in our small group Amore Italia Tours itinerary.

  6. Come on World, get behind it discoveries like this too important to be ignored.
    Tough one to fund during ‘Austerity’ measures though.
    All visitors to Italy stand in awe of the architectural accomplishments of the Ancient Rome.

  7. Deb Jacobs

    I took a tour many years ago with Darius when he and Tom Rankin were part of Scala Reale. I know the work they do now is so important for Rome’s future, so count me in on that petition.

  8. Pat Carney Ceccarelli
    Pat Carney Ceccarelli

    Yes indeed. recently went to the Villa Giulia where there is an exhibition (with Documentary) on Archceo. treasures returned to Italy- somehow just blaming museums and collectors feels a tad harsh when confronted with the reality of treasures literally going to waste

  9. Rome City Council controls several companies. Among them there is ACEA, which provides electricity to most of the town. The president of the company receives an annual salary of over 400,000 euro, the managing director is pais 476,000 euro, The General Manager gets over 400.000 euro, and so on. ATAC, the company which is in charge of the public transportation, their yellow buses are all over the city, pays the management similar salaries and so on. Not to talk about the outrageous salaries paid to those who have any kind of responsability and work for the “Comune di Roma.” No wonder there is no money left to save the Gladiator Tomb , as many other treasures left by our ancestors. The support form overseas is wonderful, but it is up to us Italians do something about a situation which must be changed.

  10. GB, Thanks for the article. I just wanted to let you know I also signed the petition to save and preserve, The Gladiators Tomb….

  11. Fred P. Luvisi

    I would be interested in contributing to the project, but would first like more information. How much is the restoration likely to cost? What is the restoration project time frame? To whom would the contribution be made? Who would be the custodian of the funds? What would any other organizations be contributing? Who would do the work?

  12. Dave Denisch

    What does Dott. Giorgio Filippi,curator of the Epigraphic Collection of The Museo Vaticani, recommend? He is the worlds foremost epigrapher. Dave Denisch

  13. Joan Schmelzle

    I hope I have signed the petition. I tried anyway. Just reading this today. I am in Rome and when I have computer time, I am mostly deleting “stuff.” I will add that anything Darius is backing will more than likely have my backing too. Several years ago when I was in Rome, I took a Context Travel tour to Ostia, which Darius lead–very interesting and a great tour as virtually all of the Context Tours Iàve taken have been. I hope this petition helps. And now that I am reminded, Iàm checking Context for the next three weeks.


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