Gladiators uncovered: Rare panels are snatched back from grave

I got this in the mailbox :

ROME -- Italian police have unearthed the hidden cache of a group of grave robbers, recovering ancient Roman marble reliefs depicting stunningly lifelike gladiators locked in mortal combat.

The 12 panels were found buried in the garden of a private home near Fiano Romano, some 25 miles north of Rome. Their recovery was hailed Wednesday as a major archaeological discovery and a blow to the illegal antiquities market.

Archaeologists said the work offers a glimpse into early gladiator fights, before the rise of more extravagant forms of combat popularized in the modern era by Hollywood movies.

The reliefs date to the late first century B.C. and are believed to have decorated a tomb, yet to be located, in the Roman settlement of Lucus Feroniae, said Anna Maria Moretti, superintendent for antiquities in the area north of Rome.

The pieces, made of high-quality Carrara marble, are notable for their size and age, and are among the finest examples from their period depicting one of Rome's favorite blood sports, Moretti said.

"The attention to detail is incredible," she said at a presentation of the finds at Rome's Villa Giulia Museum.

The panels show bare-chested fighters, armed with swords and shields, engaged in duels while surrounded by trumpet and horn players who accompanied the phases of combat in the bloodied arena.

In one of the most dramatic scenes, a gladiator steps on the wrist of a downed opponent who raises a finger in a traditional plea for mercy.

The reliefs will undergo restoration before being shown to the public at Villa Giulia.

Archaeologists have unearthed many similar representations, but interest in the new discovery goes beyond its high-quality craftsmanship, Moretti said. The figures in the reliefs, equipped only with swords, shields and basic armor, offer a detailed image from the earlier days of gladiatorial combat. More common
representations dating to later imperial periods show gladiators sporting elaborate protections and wielding a vast array of weaponry, including nets, tridents and daggers, she said.

Prosecutor Paolo Ferri said a three-year investigation led art squad police to the cache 10 days ago. An unspecified number of people have been accused of archaeological theft but remain free pending legal proceedings.

Italy is aggressively campaigning to recover antiquities it says were illegally dug up and smuggled out of the country. The government has been securing deals for the return of artifacts from top U.S. museums.

Ferri said the gladiator reliefs were dug up illegally years ago but remained completely or largely untouched in the looters' cache, a sign that a "new awareness" has developed among collectors and museums.

"The (illegal) market is at a standstill. In the '90s such pieces would have been sold in a few months," he said. "But no one dared to buy these artifacts."

The finds would have been worth millions of dollars on the international market, he said.

In a pile of rubble found near the buried reliefs, police recovered the lower part of a marble statue of man in a toga, a piece of a column and a partial inscription, all believed to have come from the same tomb. Archaeologists believe the reliefs were a frieze decorating the midsection of a rectangular tomb, surmounted by a
colonnade that housed the statue, possibly a depiction of the man buried inside.

The identity of the tomb's owner is likely to remain a mystery at least until the burial site is found, Moretti said. The reliefs may indicate he was an organizer of public games or may depict bouts that were held in his honor, but images of gladiators were such a common theme in Roman art that they cannot be considered conclusive proof, she said.

11:30 Gepost door Lexman in Geschiedenis | Permalink | Commentaren (0) | Tags: ancient rome, gladiators |  Facebook |