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"Gladiators" strike a pose outside the Colosseum in Rome. (Photo: Chris Cannucciari/My Shot)
TravelTraveler Magazine

Say Ciao to Rome’s “Gladiators”

By Nicole Glass, editorial intern at National Geographic Traveler magazine. Visit her website, to see her published work, or follow her on Twitter @NicoleSGlass.

The modern “gladiators” — with their traditional tunics, resplendent golden helmets, long red capes, and swords — you’ll find in Rome are impossible to miss.

Although the gladiator is a treasured symbol of ancient Rome, these costumed men have been known to hassle tourists, asking for several euros (one gladiator reportedly demanded $40) to pose for often-unwanted pictures with the city’s unsuspecting visitors. Until today.

A new law that took effect in Rome on March 30 makes it illegal for “gladiators” to loiter in front of the Colosseum or ask for money.

Carol Foster, a student who studied abroad in Rome, says that the faux gladiators do more harm than good in the city. “They’ll pose with you as you’re trying to take a picture of just you and the Colosseum and then they’ll hop in the picture and say that because they’re in costume, you owe them money,” she said. “Instead of wanting to pass the Colosseum to enjoy the history, it became something I avoided.”

Last August, 20 gladiators were arrested by undercover police (posing as gladiators, garbage men and tourists) responding to complaints from alleged victims of the armor-clad scams.

A group of tourists said they paid a gladiator to give them a museum tour… that never happened. The tourists were later threatened by the man when they asked for their money back. Other gladiators have offered to take photos of tourists then held their cameras for ransom until they agreed to pay an outrageous price.

Several undercover police officers disguised as fellow gladiators were attacked by the costumed men outside the Colosseum. Police in uniform were called in to rescue their colleagues.

City officials are determined to put a stop to the heckling, and have deployed a task force to stop the actors from harassing tourists at the Colosseum.

“I think ‘gladiators’ in Rome are part of the experience, but they’re definitely a tourist trap,” said Laura Olson, who lived in Rome for four months. “It’s one of those things that makes Rome, Rome.”

Fortunately for future tourists, there are other places to see men dressed in helmets and armor without being hassled. You can even become one yourself.

The Roman Gladiator School offers two-hour lessons (for $73) on how to fight like a champion using weapons patterned after those used in the arenas of ancient Rome. You can even participate in an optional gladiatorial tournament at the end of the session.

On a low budget? Come out to watch the new gladiators battle each other in the tournament, free of cost.

The best part? You won’t be charged for a picture.

Traveling to Rome? Look for the May 2012 issue of National Geographic Traveler magazine (on newsstands April 14) to read about exploring Rome with kids, or take a look at our Rome City Guide.

Photo: Chris Cannucciari/My Shot