Not single-handedly like he did with that Tigris guy, but his movie star prominence certainly garnered a great deal of media attention to the plight of the tomb of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, Roman general and one of the inspirations for the role Crowe played in Gladiator. After the news broke that the beautifully preserved remains of Macrinus’ imposing mausoleum were slated to be reburied due to lack of funds for proper conservation, the non-profit American Institute for Roman Culture (AIRC) launched a petition campaign to encourage the city to explore alternative options before resorting to burying the site.
American archaeologist and AIRC Executive Director Darius Arya, whose vivacious enthusiasm and matinée idol good looks you might recognize from a number of History Channel programs on ancient Rome, has blogged about their efforts to save Macrinus’ tomb from reburial. I love how he describes the mausoleum and its archaeological environs:
Over the past decade and a half of living and working in Rome, I have been fortunate to visit the site on numerous occasions, and I am constantly struck by the enormity of the site. It is beautiful — both historically and physically. I think anyone that comes to the site cannot help but have an immediate connection to the past. I am also in awe of the amount of mud that buried site thus preserving it (45 feet in height)- it gives you an idea of both what the archaeologists had to overcome but also how much lucky they were to even find it.
Arya has also used his Twitter account to publicize the petition. Russell Crowe retweeted the Save the Gladiator Tomb appeal to his 681,342 followers several times. Crowe then upped the ante by releasing a statement to the Italian newspaper La Repubblica (AIRC has a pdf English translation of the article here), a statement which singled out the municipal council of Rome for shirking their responsibility to the nation:
“Of all the great nations of the world, Italy in particular should be a leader in promoting the importance of exploring and conserving the ancient past. The members of Rome’s city administration should always encourage the citizens of Italy to be proud of the successes and glorious history of their country.”
The Save the Gladiator Tomb petition has collected 2,465 signatures thus far, just short of half its goal of 5,000 signatures, but te support of an A-list actor who won an Academy Award for portraying a character inspired by Marcus Nonius Macrinus has brought a whole new level of attention to the cause. Five days after the article quoting him was published, a new article in La Repubblica (AIRC pdf translation here) announced that the reburial plan was suspended. Instead, the site would be covered up with tarps to keep it safe from the depredations of winter.
All of the important and delicate areas of the site will be covered with a special geotextile that is usually used for open-air archaeological artifacts. The colossal marbles with their refined decoration, the brick funeral fencing, and everything that threatens the most ruinous collapse at the mercy of the weather.
This will take care of the acute issue, but the chronic problem remains: there’s no money to conserve the site permanently. The tarping gives everyone time to try to work out a long-term solution. The real estate developers who own the land where the mausoleum was found are willing to strike up some kind of a deal with the city authorities to mix new residential construction with an archaeological park. The ideal archaeological park as envisioned by state and regional archaeologists doesn’t have condos on it, however.
Darius Arya also hopes to enlist private sponsors to donate conservation funds. He wants Russell Crowe to come to Rome in person to bring direct attention to the tomb and possibly help lure potential big pocket donors. First, though, that petition needs to reach its goal of 5,000 signatures, so all y’all head on over and add your names to the list.
This CNN story covers the plight of the tomb as a result of EU austerity. It includes some nice footage of the mausoleum, several clips of Russell Crowe kicking ass in Gladiator, a reference to the petition and a brief comment from Darius Arya at the end.