Pursuit of the Gladiators - Archaeology Magazine Archive

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Pursuit of the Gladiators August 15, 2007

The ongoing investigation of the looting of the Fiano Romano sculptures.

ARCHAEOLOGY contributing editor Marco Merola spoke with Silvana Rizzo, an archaeologist from Ministero dei Beni Culturali, about the history and recent developments in the investigation of the looting of the Fiano Romano gladiator sculptures.


Italian law enforcement personnel view the site where the looted Fiano Romano gladiator sculptures were recovered. (Courtesy Ministero dei Beni Culturali)

MM  Is it correct to say that the gladiator frieze panels first came to light 16 years ago?

SR  Yes, we know that the marble panels were found about 16 years ago and were immediately taken out of the ground and moved from the findspot. However, trials are already in the works and more interesting details could come to light.

MM  The really amazing thing is that the person who discovered the panels was being paid with public funds; he was a workman, right?

SR  Yes, he was a workman from the private company that was redoing the road surface. Evidently, in the course of his work, he must have realized what was beneath the street and decided to take it. Obviously, the work he was doing was paid for with public funds.

MM  Can you tell me the name of this person?

SR  Look, I don't even know his name. The magistrates wanted to maintain the strictest silence while waiting until the trials are finished.

MM  Could this person have done this by himself, as has been written in various articles? Could he have moved the panels alone, or would he have needed help?

SR  Can you imagine what it take to move 12 panels of various heavy weights by yourself? It is evident that this person was helped by accomplices, at least three to four other people. When they were found, the panels were first taken to a more secure place--probably the workman's property--not far from the place they were found. Then they were put together in such a way that they could have seemed to be objects without value, even to be materials that could have ended up being thrown away. After looking at them more closely, however, the panels were put one next to the other very carefully and then they were covered with only a bit of vegetation, ready to be packed up and sold. Other fragments, however, perhaps judged to be of less value, were piled up in a disorderly way and made a little hill that was then covered with earth.

MM  So is it true that the Guardia di Finanza just before the panels were sold? They were just waiting for the buyer?

SR  Yes, the panels were waiting to be taken away, but I do not agree that they were waiting to be sent to the buyers. It was too risky and there was no need. The panels had been photographed and the pictures were making their way around, thus the deal could already have been concluded.


Italian law enforcement personnel view the site where the looted Fiano Romano gladiator sculptures were recovered. (Courtesy Ministero dei Beni Culturali)

MM  The artifacts were ready to leave for Switzerland?

SR  We are not certain that they were destined for Switzerland. Obviously. Everyone thinks that this was the most natural route, but it is possible that they could have been sent by sea.

MM  Is it true that, as some people have hypothesized, the buyers to whom the panels were finally headed were Japanese?

SR  It hasn't come from the thieves that the clients would necessarily be Japanese. It is my understanding that the documents are still secret. But what if the buyers were Italians?

MM  How did the Guardia di Finanza discover this trafficking? Is it true that someone infiltrated the criminals?

SR  You could say that they were found out in this way, but they are not going to explain it to us precisely. What is certain is that eventually they were able to intervene and that they had already set up people in the area who were watching the suspects' movements.

MM  The supposed price tag of 5 million euros ($6.85 million) for buying these artifacts, do you think this is plausible?

SR  It is not easy to quantify. I can only say that the traffic in archaeological materials is often done at very high prices for things without value and low prices for things that have a much higher value on the market. Five million euros is not a very high price; the panels are worth much more, they are very beautiful and precious. It is possible that the buyers were set to purchase only some at this point, or maybe even only one panel.

MM  Is the person who was arrested collaborating with the authorities?

SR  He was taken under the condition that he would tell everything he knew. For the time being, we know that the investigators are continuing to work in the entire area of Capena, looking for other hidden remains in other places or for remains that have never been excavated before they can be stolen by criminals. The 12 panels of which we are now in possession represent, in fact, only a part of the decoration of a funerary monument. There are other precious parts that have not been found and which could still lie buried in the area.

MM  Have others been indicted at this time?

SR  No. Currently he is the only one.

Translation of this interview was by ARCHAEOLOGY Senior Editor Jarrett A. Lobell.

© 2007 by the Archaeological Institute of America