"Gladiator" Tomb Discovered In Rome

The ruins of the tomb of a general who led ancient Rome's legions is seen in Rome, Thursday, Oct. 16, 2008. A city of the dead, built to resemble one used by the living, and the tomb of a nobleman who served as a general during the second century, are among new archaeological finds unveiled in the Italian capital. (AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia)
AP Photo/Gregorio Borgia
The tomb of a rich Roman general, believed to be the inspiration for the main character of the Oscar-winning movie "Gladiator," has been found on the outskirts of Rome.

Ongoing construction work along the northbound Via Flaminia uncovered the remains of a mausoleum that archaeologists believe to be at least fifteen yards long.

An inscription among the remains gives reason to believe that the tomb belongs to a patrician known as Marcus Nonius Macrinus, a proconsul who achieved major victories for Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161 AD until his death in 180 AD.

Macrinus, a favorite of the emperor, is thought to have been the inspiration for the writers of the 2000 Ridley Scott film when imagining the character played by Russell Crowe in the award-winning epic.

Senior archaeologist Daniela Rossi of Rome's Superintendency for Archaeology said inscriptions indicate the tomb belonged to Macrinus, a well-known figure from a family from Brescia in northern Italy. Rossi said Macrinus had a unique resume: "Police commissioner, magistrate, proconsul of Asia, and committees of the Emperor. He was very close to Marcus Aurelius who wanted him in the war against the Marcomanni," a Germanic tribe.

"The movie character played by Russell Crowe leaves for and participates in these wars and is an intimate friend of Marcus Aurelius," Rossi said. "Chronologically we are in the same period and the war is the same, but the movie character has a very sad story and comes to a terrible end, while ours becomes a rich and famous man."

Only parts of the tomb have been uncovered, but more remains are expected to come to light as excavations proceed.

Most of the remains have been preserved from medieval marble looters thanks to a centuries-ago flood which sealed the whole area under layers of mud.

"A huge flood which took place in the Middle Ages or in the early Renaissance stopped the work of medieval quarriers who were taking away marble blocks, and sealed everything, [including] luckily for us, all the decorative part of the funeral monument of this General, Marcus Nonius Macrinus," said archaeologist Cristiano Ranieri.

Other spectacular discoveries were also unveiled at the news conference at the Culture Ministry.

(Super. of Archaeology, Rome)
Archaeologists restoring the imperial residences on the Palatine Hill (left) in the heart of ancient Rome believe they have discovered the underground passageway in which the despotic Emperor Caligula was murdered by his own guards.

The hill, which his honeycombed with ruins of palaces and villas, has also yielded frescoes and black-and-white mosaics in the first century B.C. home of a patrician, the ministry said in a statement.

Separately, experts working in Castel di Guido on the outskirts of Rome have enlarged their dig at a previously known complex of country villas owned by Rome's rich and powerful, uncovering fountains, baths and a cistern, the statement said.

Workers renovating a rugby stadium have also uncovered a vast complex of tombs beneath Rome that mimic the houses, blocks and streets of a real city, according to officials, who have unveiled a series of new finds here.

Culture Ministry officials said Thursday that medieval pottery shards in the city of the dead, or necropolis, show the area may have been inhabited by the living during the Dark Ages after being used for centuries for burials during the Roman period.

(Super. of Archaeology, Rome)
It is not yet clear who was buried in the ancient cemetery, but archaeologists at the still partially excavated site believe at least some of the dead were freed slaves of Greek origin.

"It's a matter of a few weeks to discover what is down there," said archaeologist Marina Piranomonte. "But it's something big; it looks like a neighborhood."

Archaeologists will keep working at the digs to make them accessible to visitors.

Officials plan to build a museum next to Macrinus' tomb, which will also offer a virtual reconstruction of the site.

More information on the archaeological dig (in Italian) from the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities.