Centurions battle cops at Colosseum

Phillip Pullella writes: "Roman centurions, complete with red skirts, tunics, armor, swords and feathered helmets, fought in front of the Colosseum. But this time it was with a modern enemy - Rome's city police. The police arrived at the ancient amphitheatre to enforce an eviction notice for the men, who ask for money to have their picture taken by tourists." [Photo: Tony Gentile / Reuters]


  1. Italy’s culture ministry says the men have no permits…

    Or, in English: “Where’s my cut?”

  2. I really dislike these fellows. I’ve experienced them in action around the Colosseum. They’re a bugger to fend off, and woe betide if you take a pic of your partner with these people even 20 feet away (as you try and take a snap of her+the ruin). I saw them grab an elderly chap from what I gather was a party of Chinese tourists, take a snap of him with two “centurions” faking a gladiator-style vertical stab, and demand 200 Euros. They jabber away with fake friendliness and surround any hapless tourist who has fallen into their clutches (when I was there they were operating in groups of 4 and upwards), intimidating them into paying while brandishing weapons that don’t look like they’re made from plastic or balsa wood. Nasty, nasty people.

    1.  Agreed.  I was there a fortnight ago, and felt really uncomfortable anywhere near them.

      When they’re intimidating other stallholders outside the Colosseum – as I witnessed – and one of the leading international guidebooks (DK Eyewitness) warns visitors about these people, the authorities really do need to act.

    2. I’m from Rome. This is really interesting to me.
      I completely understand your perspective. There is a certain “type” of fellow roman/italian which is brash and careless and I loathe them. Some of these folks are like this.  But when I see them I also see a group of uneducated, very much lower class people trying to scrape a living together.

      I don’t justify their intimidatingness or crooked ways, but the motivations are often just securing a basic living, in a country where an uneducated middle aged man stands very little chance of finding any work.

      Still, I wish they’d go away.

      1. Who wouldn’t be sympathetic to a poorer local trying to make a living? I would assume that the souvenir sellers are of a similar class and yet they are not intimidating visitors. By repelling tourists these “centurions” are killing the goose, which will have an unfortunate knock-on effect on those trying to earn an honest euro.

    3. I was there this summer. They are everywhere. We were warned by our tour guide what to expect. A) as mentioned, if they think they are anywhere in the background of your photo they will try and demand money (and they are EVERYWHERE), and B) They will very friendly come up to tourists and ask if you want a picture taken with them, and only afterwards insist that they are owed some unspecified amount of money. So yeah we avoided them like the plague.

      I would go on to say that if this is the case, and guides are warning tourists, it is likely NOT in Italy’s tourism industry’s best interests to condone this behavior, hence the police taking action.

      That said, if these guys formed a god damn testudo and advanced on police, I would take a picture and gladly pay the money! :) So long as it was in fun/jest and no one got hurt etc…

    4. Of the various groups trying to make a buck (or a euro) off of tourists, these guys rank near the bottom of the annoying list,.  They lose out because they just can’t immediately blend into the crowd when the cops come around like the guys hawking sunglasses, knock-off bags, tripods and those horrid “splat balls”.  

  3. They won’t be so tough when that battalion of US Marines falls through the time vortex on top of them.

  4. Even historically the police are in the right. The Roman Legions were forbidden from entering Rome, except when marching in a Triumph,  and even then they had to be unarmed. So unless these guys have a plebiscitum, they are screwed, and even then, they are violating the weapons prohibition for soldiers inside Rome .

    1. I think the exception being the Praetorian Guard, that being them Emperors own legion. These guys don’t look very Praetorian to me…

      1. Yeah, without seeing their shields, there’s not an easy way to tell. AFAIK, the Praetorian Guard’s shields (scutum) were the older more oval/rounded Augustan design, and the standard shields for the rest of the Legions were rectangular. The lion’s head ornamentation on the lower shoulder area is one other piece of evidence; the lion being the mascot of the
        Legio XIII Gemina and not the Praetorian Guard

        However, on the other hand, the eagle insignia is on the breastplate, and their symbol was either the eagle or a stars-and-moon insignia, so there’s that.

  5. Plot for sci fi/comedy:  Time machine/rift transports actual Roman centurion from 40 BC to the present-day Colosseum centurion/panhandlers.  Hilarity ensues.

  6. This really tarnishes my otherwise good impression of gladiators.

    And I say that only half-jokingly. When I was in high school my Latin class went to a nearby school where a man dressed as a Roman soldier (his costume was very much like the ones pictured above) gave a talk about how his father sent him to join the military, and what life was like for a Roman soldier. It was extremely informative, but also hilarious. Among other things he talked about on his first night being dragged out of the tent in the middle of the night and asked who he reported to. He couldn’t remember so he was slapped and asked again. He said, “After you’ve been slapped a few times this stuff starts to come back to you.”

    I don’t think I ever knew the speaker’s name, but I wish I knew who he was and could find a copy of the talk he gave.

  7. We have our version of this here in the States. Check out the documentary “Confessions of a Superhero”. From IMD: Chronicles the lives of four mortal men and women who work as characters on the sidewalks of Hollywood Boulevard.

  8. O Roma misera! Semper intra muris vestris centuriones fortunas consectati sunt. Quid agendum? Quid potest? O misera Roma!

    (for the Latin-disabled: “Oh, poor Rome! It is always within your walls that centurions have sought their fortunes. What is to be done? What can be done? Oh Rome, you poor thing!”)

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