Rosella Lorenzi over at Discovery News is on it … here’s the incipit:
The tomb of the ancient Roman hero believed to have inspired the Russell Crowe blockbuster “Gladiator,” might be returned to oblivion four years after its discovery in Rome.
A lack of fundings is forcing Italian archaeologists to bury again the large marble monument of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, a general and consul who achieved major victories in military campaigns for Antoninus Pius, the Roman emperor from 138 to 161 A.D., and Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161 to 180 A.D.
Unearthed in 2008 on the banks of the Tiber near the via Flaminia, north of Rome, the tomb, complete with the dedicatory inscription, was hailed as “the most important ancient Roman monument to come to light for 20 or 30 years.”
Although the tomb collapsed in antiquity because of floods, its marble columns, carvings and friezes remained perfectly preserved, sealed by the Tiber’s mud.
Rome’s officials had planned to fully reconstruct the monumental tomb as the centerpiece of a new archaeological park, but the project failed due to a tight budget and a lack of private sponsors.
“It is a painful choice, but we cannot risk losing the monument. The marbles can’t face another winter, we must bury the site in order to preserve it,” Mariarosaria Barbera, Rome’s archaeological superintendent, told the daily La Repubblica. [...]
Here’s our previous coverage:
One of my summer projects is to get as many of these documentaries lurking in Youtube on rogueclassicism (and possibly in some form of revived AWOTV newsletter) … I’m not sure how long they’ll be available, so I’ll provide a bit of added value in the form of a semi-review. So here goes:
When Rome Ruled: Secrets of the Gladiators (IMDB)
This one is excellent and really is one of the better made-for-tv-documentaries on this subject; it does have the now-common reenactment sort of stuff, but it isn’t the main focus. There is much presentation of artifacts with scholarly, rather than sensational, explanations … the talking heads are very high quality folk:
Here’s my outline of sorts (with less detail as it goes on):
- the focus will be on opening of the Colosseum
- political/social setting of Vespasian’s and Titus’ time
- Colosseum engineering (including the geometry of the amphitheatre)
- image consciousness of the Flavians
- plenty of building stats; funded with spoils from Jerusalem
- the origins of gladiatorial bouts; Rome borrows from other cultures
- importance of games for politicians
- nice treatment of the naumachia question
- nice treatment of the awning question (and the recreation is how I actually imagined it)
- gladiator life (training, weapons, etc.)
- 1/6 chance of dying << whence that statistic?
- social groupings in the stadium
- “damnio ad bestios” << ouch!
- concludes with Martial’s ‘eyewitness account’ (a translation of the relevant section of de spectaculis)
** the above video abruptly ends, but it doesn’t sound like there was more than a sentence or two left.
The BBC has a very nice little slideshow of some of the skeletons from that dig at York which are claimed to be of gladiating victims. There’s actually some good stuff here, and since I can’t really embed the slideshow, I do want to make some comments (the numbers refer to the slide):
1. 60 of 80 appear to have died violent deaths; the implication is that all sixty were gladiators?
2. The one arm longer than the other “being consistent with one-sided work from an early age …” I’m not sure how this fits in; I highly doubt we’re dealing with people ‘raised’ to be gladiators. If this is an indication they were non-Roman warriors or something, that could work.
3. Very impressive deep cut going upward; does seem consistent with a gladiator-fight-style wound …
4. Very impressive bite marks; it should be possible to identify the animal from these, no?
5. shackled burial; I really wish we’d stop getting this sensationalism like “yet he received a proper burial” … outside of tossing emperors into the Tiber, the Romans seem to have long allowed execution victims’ remains to receive a proper burial.
6. the ‘hammer’ victim … shouldn’t there be some ‘point of impact’ mark? And shouldn’t the cracks radiate therefrom? This looks more consistent with being hit with a large sword across the top of the head …
7. very nice vertebrae cut; They might be solid ground with this one, although the ‘dispatching’ cuts in gladiating situations tended to be down the windpipe toward the heart rather than across the neck, no? 50 of the 61 skeletons had been so dispatched. In some of the early coverage from this site, though, there was the suggestion that many of the marks indicate the cuts had come from ‘behind’.
Taken together, I think 3, 4, and 6 have me leaning toward the ‘gladiator’ theory. At the same time, though, I think we should remind folks of Anthony Birley’s theory from a few years ago, that these might be victims of Caracalla‘s ‘killing spree’ shortly after Septimius Severus‘ death in 211. This ‘killing spree’ is hinted at in the first three sections of Dio 78, but it’s not clear whether this ‘spree’ happened at York. The Historia Augusta hints similarly, but is far too compressed to be useful. Again, I wonder aloud whether anyone has thought whether many of these victims might not be examples of decimation (although, of course, proving such would be difficult) Whatever the case, I think it safer to suggest that we’ve got a pile of execution victims … some of them might have died in the arena that hasn’t been found (yet?).
From the Times … seems to be hyping an upcoming TV documentary:
Archaeologists believe that they may have discovered a Roman gladiator cemetery near York city centre. About 80 remains have been found since the investigation began in 2004, with more than half of them decapitated.
Researchers believe they may form part of the world’s only well-preserved Roman gladiator cemetery.
Kurt Hunter-Mann, a field officer at York Archaeological Trust who is leading the investigation, said: “The skulls were literally found somewhere else in the grave — not on top of the shoulders.
“We could see that in quite a few cases the skulls had been chopped with some kind of heavy bladed weapon, a sword or in one or two cases an axe.
“But they were buried with a degree of care. There are no mass pits. Most of them are buried individually.”
He said that bite marks on one of the skeletons helped to steer the team to its initial theory.
“One of the most significant items of evidence is a large carnivore bite mark — probably inflicted by a lion, tiger or bear — an injury which must have been sustained in an arena context.
“There are not many situations where someone is going to be killed by something like that, and also to have other wounds, and also to be decapitated. They may have been a gladiator involved in beast fights.”
He added: “Other important pieces of evidence include a high incidence of substantial arm asymmetry — a feature mentioned in ancient Roman literature in connection with a gladiator; some healed and unhealed weapon injuries; possible hammer blows to the head — a feature attested as a probable gladiatorial coup de grace at another gladiator cemetery, Ephesus, in Turkey.
“The arm asymmetry would also be consistent with weapons training that had already started in teenage years, and we know from Roman accounts that some gladiators entered their profession at a very young age.”
Most losing gladiators who were put to death were stabbed in the throat. However, decapitation may have been adopted as a custom in York in response to a prevailing local preference, he said.
“At present our lead theory is that many of these skeletons are those of Roman gladiators. So far there are a number of pieces of evidence which point towards that interpretation or are consistent with it.
“But the research is continuing and we must therefore keep an open mind.”
The size and importance of York suggested it might have had an amphitheatre, he said, but so far none has been found.
The skeletons date from the late first century AD to the 4th century AD. Fourteen of them were interred with grave goods to accompany them to the next world.
The team said that the most impressive grave was that of a tall man aged between 18 and 23, buried in a large oval grave some time in the 3rd century.
Interred with him were what appear to have been the remains of substantial joints of meat from at least four horses, possibly consumed at the funeral — plus some cow and pig remains.
He had been decapitated by several sword blows to the neck.
Additional research has also been carried out by forensic anthropologists at the University of Central Lancashire.
Dr Michael Wysocki, senior lecturer in forensic anthropology and archaeology at the university, said: “These are internationally important discoveries. We don’t have any other potential gladiator cemeteries with this level of preservation anywhere else in the world.”
I’m not sure whether this is connected to the Roman ‘Cold Case’ we mentioned four years ago (which also seemed to be hype for a television program) … or the Roman Graveyard we mentioned a month before that (which also seemed to be hype for a television program). I think that program was a Timewatch episode called The Mystery of the Headless Romans, but perhaps this one is new.
FWIW, the Times seems to have also reported on an early stage of this excavation back in 2005: Mystery of 49 headless Romans who weren’t meant to haunt us
Overnight we appear to have had a pile of other coverage of this story, most of which are really playing up the ‘lion, tiger, or bear’ wound angle; we’ll forgive the media this time for not distinguishing between gladiatorial participants and those who participated in venationes:
- Gladiators grave unearthed in York | Mirror (nice photo)
- Scars from lion bite suggest headless Romans found in York were gladiators | Guardian (another nice photo)
- ‘Gladiator burial ground’ discovered in York | Telegraph (yet another nice photo)
- Maximus… of York: Unearthed, the skeletons of 80 gladiators slaughtered for the crowds in Roman Britain | Daily Mail
- Maximus Exposure | The Sun (best headline; appears to have been changed … another photo)
- World’s best-preserved gladiatorial relics are discovered in the suburbs of York | Independent
Wow … it seems like every newspaper has someone trotting down to the local ludus to play gladiator. This time its a mostly-touristy piece in the Daily Mail about the Gruppo Storico Romano’s efforts in this regard in their little school “just off the Appian Way”:
- Rome breaks: The Colosseum of weekends for Alice Beer as she learns to be a gladiator | Mail Online.
The Aspendos Gladiator School is planning to train Turkish oil wrestlers to re-enact the gladiator fights of ancient Rome in the southern Province of Antalya.
The school is in the Serik district, which is also home to the ancient theater of Aspendos. The school covers 300 square meters near the site of the ancient theater and is expected to be open by the end of May.
Students will receive basic acting training to re-enact the gladiator fights and the chariot races of ancient times. Handmade costumes and weapons will be used during the shows, and there will be an 800-person spectator hall built to match Roman architectural tradition. There will also be a Roman market in the arena.
The school’s administrator, Ali Akay, said the spectators would also be provided with outfits of the time to increase the ambience, adding that the gladiators who will take part in the shows are set to begin horse-riding training in the next few days.
“We have 16 horses. Up to now, we have spent almost 300,000 Turkish Liras, and we are still holding auditions for gladiator candidates. They are supposed to be well built, and therefore we believe the best candidates will be Turkish oil wrestlers. We have already offered the roles to our local wrestlers, and we are waiting for the results.”
Akay also said 40 people will take part in the shows, which will be composed of many traditional Roman games. “We will re-enact the gladiator spirit in Anatolia with the shows we produce. Of course, we have commercial concerns, but our main motive is our love for and interest in history.”
… I guess these folks can have competitions from the gang at Regensburg who are Gladiating Through University … not sure ‘costumes’ is the right word to describe what they wear …