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'Gladiator' tomb faces cash conundrum

ROME--The tomb of the Roman general who inspired the film “Gladiator” risks falling into oblivion despite a plea from Oscar-winning actor Russell Crowe to save it, as recession-hit Italy struggles to preserve its archaeological jewels.

“It's incredibly sad, this is an extraordinary site. Its fate has caught the eyes of the world,” said Daniela Rossi, head archaeologist on the dig that unearthed the tomb of Roman general Marcus Nonius Macrinus.

Rossi's team in 2008 uncovered fragments of the tomb under thick strata of mud and clay.

Their remarkable discovery of a stretch of ancient Roman road lined by tombs in an industrial wasteland outside Rome sparked four years of painstaking excavation and restoration projects, costing some 700,000 euros (US$929,000).

But Italy's battle to stave off the debt crisis has seen the government impose austerity cuts which have shaved 20 percent off the budget for maintenance of Italy's ancient sites — from the Colosseum to Pompeii — since 2010, and funds for the tomb dig have dried up.

With an estimated 2 million euros needed to finish cleaning up the site and protect it from air pollution and winter ice, the city said the only option was to rebury the tomb to preserve it.

The news sparked an online campaign by the American Institute for Roman Culture to keep it open, prompting Crowe — whose character in the 2000 film was based on the real-life Macrinus — to join the fight to save the tomb.

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In this Aug. 26, 2010 file photo, two tourists take part in gladiator training with the Gruppo Storico Romano (Roman Historical Group) near the ancient Via Appia in downtown Rome.

(AFP)

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