Russell Crowe Rides to the Rescue of His “Gladiator” Character’s Real-Life Tomb

Austerity measures that have crippled conservation and excavation projects across Italy have begun to brush against the tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, the inspiration for Maximus Decimus Meridius, the character played by Russell Crowe in the film “Gladiator.” Experts working at the site along the Tiber River say that without better facilities, they may have to bury the white columns and marble tiles that risk greater deterioration at the surface than they would underground. The Australian actor is now calling on the state archaeological superintendent to save the tomb from reburial. “Of all the great nations of the world, Italy in particular must be a guide to promote the importance of exploring and conserving the ancient past,” Crowe told La Repubblica. “Members of the municipal administration must always encourage Italian citizens to be proud of the successes and glorious history of their country.”

To Mariarosaria Barbera, the city’s superintendent for archaeological goods, this may be a tall order. With funding for conservation and maintenance at Italy’s archaeological sites down by 20 percent since 2010, more and more experts in her field have decided to bury valuable artifacts rather than expose them to air pollution or the ravages of rainwater, ice, and snow. “Until now it has usually happened when remains are not that significant or monumental,” Barbera told the New Zealand Herald. “In this case they clearly are.”

The choice may be particularly hard to fathom given that the tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus was only discovered in 2008. Though his biography differs significantly from the character played by Crowe in “Gladiator” (he was never a gladiator and never fell out of favor with an emperor’s son), Macrinus was an accomplished general, preconsul in the Roman province of Asia, and trusted adviser to Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Macrinus was given the burial of a rich man, and his tomb is decorated with precious stone engravings that would be hard to part with.

— Reid Singer