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Rome Just Banned Centurions

Officials stir up controversy by kicking impersonators out of the Colosseum

Centurions drink from a fountain near Rome's Coliseum during a heat wave in summer 2014. A recent announcement that centurion reenactors will be banned from the Coliseum during 2016 has led to protests and public outcry. (ANGELO CARCONI/epa/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

They're among Rome's most famous tourist attractions: Costumed centurion impersonators who photobomb tourists throughout the city. But soon, writes Reuters, the annoyingly assertive Roman warriors will truly be a thing of the past. In a move aimed at protecting tourists, Rome has banned centurions.

At first glance, modern-day centurions have little in common with their ancient forebears. They are most often spotted near historically significant sites throughout Rome, pulling rickshaws or posing with tourists. Today, anyone with a costume can become a Roman centurion, but it was harder to gain the title in ancient Rome. Known for their elaborate ranks and political power, ancient centurions were military officers who enforced discipline among the greater army. Discipline isn't the strong suit of contemporary centurions, however, who are known for harassing and even attacking tourists.

Officials claim that it's necessary to rid Rome of centurions to protect visitors from such aggressive sales tactics, writes Reuters. The move comes in anticipation of the Jubilee of Mercy, a year-long Catholic event that is expected to bring millions of pilgrims to Rome.

But the Eternal City's historical impersonators won't go down without a fight. Centurions, many of whom hail from poorer areas of Rome, argue that the ban will cast them into Italy's growing ranks of unemployed workers. Reuters reports that one centurion even scaled the walls of the Colosseum to protest the order—a move that also raised questions about city-wide safety. Writes Reuters, "The fact someone had evaded security at one of Italy's most-visited sites and police were powerless to intervene caused concern about whether the city is ready for the Jubilee."

Ready or not, Rome expects up to 33 million visitors for the Jubilee—a sum that dwarfs the usual average of around 13 million visitors per year. There's no telling if the decline and fall of the centurions' second wave will make its way into history books, but one thing's for sure: A Rome without centurions will be less annoying, but also potentially less fun.

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