Rome cracks down on marauding centurions

The city has given a deadline of April 6 for the tourist terrors to clear away from the Colosseum area.

Angelo Carconi/AP
A man dressed as a Roman Gladiator stands in front of the ancient Colosseum as snowflakes are falling in downtown Rome on Feb. 3.

Rome has given the centurions a deadline to clear out. The solders in question aren't from the ranks of an ancient legion, but are modern-day performers who pose for tourist photos at the Colosseum.

Men and women decked out in chest plates and helmets eke out a tax-free living at Rome’s most popular attraction, posing for photos with foreign visitors for 5 or 10 euros. Disoriented, jet lagged, or simply scared, tourists have been known to pay up to 50 euros ($67). Some have been roughed up when they refuse.

Arrests were made last summer in an undercover operation with police in tunics and sandals handcuffing centurions and gladiators for ripping off tourists. A recent Italian media report cited a policeman as saying the centurions are all ex-convicts, “every last one of them.”

Now the city government says “basta!” and wants them to pack up their swords, shields, and ensigns and clear out by April 6.

“This will end badly. We’ll wage a revolution. We’ll burn down the Coliseum rather than move from here,” a 21st-century centurion recently told the Corriere della Sera newspaper.

Along with the fake ancient Roman soldiers, the city aims to rid itself of the vast illegal industry of food and souvenir vendors that feeds off the 6 million people who every year visit the site where Russell Crowe avenged his family’s murder in the 2000 sword-and-sandal blockbuster "Gladiator."

City and national officials say they are defending Rome-the-living-museum from an image akin to theme parks where visitors feast on fast food and ham it up for the camera with fairytale characters.

But the Italian economy is in recession and its prisons overcrowded so government bureaucrats should be vigilant for unrest in the legionary ranks. They might want to reconsider a plan that puts ex-cons out of work.

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