Tourists at the Roman Colosseum. Image: jimmyharrid/Flickr/CC BY

Police in Rome arrested 20 men dressed as gladiators at the Colosseum on Thursday. The arrests were part of a sting operation investigating a violent racket operating around the landmark. The gladiators allegedly prey on tourists and violently defend their turf.

Gladiators are a common sight

Men dressed as gladiators are a common enough sight around the Roman Colosseum. They mingle with the tourists, pose for pictures and enthusiastically encourage them to take paid guided tours of the landmark. The gladiators receive a kickback from the tour guide companies for this service.

But there is more to their business than tourist fun and photo ops. Allegedly, the gladiator trade is a racket that rigidly controls its market and violently discourages competition.

Preying on tourists

Other complaints about the toga-clad pitchmen include taking money for non-existent tours and charging exorbitant fees for photo ops. Sometimes, police say, if tourists refuse their demands, the gladiators will hijack their camera until an outrageous fee is paid.

Undercover police move in

In a carefully organized sting operation, policeman dressed as gladiators moved in Thursday. They were soon approached by three men, also dressed in gladiator garb, who threatened them. The officers revealed their identity and proceeded to arrest the men.  A scuffle began, and other officers, dressed as garbage men, joined in.

20 arrested

By the end of the day, 20 gladiators were arrested. According to police, the men came from seven different families. They were working with the five tourist agencies that control the tour guide market. The companies had divided up  the landmarks, such as the Colosseum, the Piazza Venezia, and St. Peter’s Basilica and defended each territory with violence.

The sting began when five would-be competitors complained to the police about being chased away from the Colosseum by gladiators.


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