Italian archaeologists have discovered the tomb of the ancient Roman hero believed to have inspired Russell Crowe's character in the hit movie "Gladiator," Rome's officials announced on Thursday at a press conference.
Marble beams and columns, carvings and friezes first emerged from the Roman soil during construction work to build a residential complex in Saxa Rubra, not far from the headquarters of Rai, Italy's state-run television station.
According to Cristiano Ranieri, an archaeologist who led the excavation at the site, the huge fragments belonged to a monumental marble tomb built on the banks of the Tiber River at the end of the second century A.D.
"This is the most important ancient Roman monument to come to light for 20 or 30 years," Daniela Rossi, an archaeologist for the city of Rome, told reporters.
Further excavation revealed a huge marble inscription that declares the tomb belonged to Marcus Nonius Macrinus, a general and consul who achieved major victories in military campaigns for Antoninus Pius, the Roman emperor from 138 to 161 A.D., and Marcus Aurelius, emperor from 161 to 180 A.D.
Born in Brescia in northern Italy in 138 A.D., Macrinus was one of the emperor's favorite men (his villa on the shores of Lake Garda is currently under excavation). He was consul in 154 A.D. and proconsul of Asia in 170 to 171 A.D (consuls were the highest civil and military magistrates in Ancient Rome).
The life of Marcus Nonius Macrinus is believed to have inspired the fictional character Maximus Decimus Meridius in Ridley Scott's film. In the movie, Meridus, also a general and a favorite of Marcus Aurelius, fell from grace after the emperor's death and ended up in exile in North Africa — to return as a gladiator and take revenge.
Although the tomb collapsed long ago, the large marble blocks are intact and perfectly preserved by the Tiber's mud. Reassembling them should not be a difficult task, Rossi said.
"We know that the area was subjected to frequent floods in ancient times. Just like Pompeii, a disaster helped preserve the monument. After a particularly strong flood, the mud from the river basically sealed the collapsed marble blocks," Rossi said.
While the construction work for the residential complex has been halted, Rome's officials plan to first reassemble the tomb in a 3-D model, and then fully reconstruct it as the centerpiece of a public archaeological display now underway in the area.
© 2012 Discovery Channel