Italian Undercover Cops Keep Arresting Aggressive Roman Centurion Panhandlers

While New York deals with a tide of very menacing topless ladies posing for photos in Times Square, Rome is handling its own, much funnier panhandling issue. The area around the Colosseum is reportedly clogged with aggressive dudes dressed like Roman centurions, hustling tourists for tips, yelling at them, and occasionally punching cops. La bella Italia!

CityLab reports that the centurions have become a “nuisance,” a shouty one congregating near the Colosseum, the Pantheon, and other historic sites:

They have occasionally been aggressive, a behavior their costumes only amplify. It can be pretty intimidating being roared at by a plumed, breast-plated man armed with a Gladius, even if the weapon turns out on closer inspection to be made of papier-mâché. Getting rid of them has proved tough. Uniformed police officers are no less visible than legionaries, and the centurions have always succeeded in making a tactical, if not especially courageous retreat, warned off by scouts via that essential bit of Ancient Roman kit, the cell phone.


This week, they add, undercover cops dove in to disperse a crowd of centurions, one of whom promptly punched an officer in the face. In-character, at least!

This is an ongoing issue: in summer 2011, undercover cops arrested a hive of centurions; the police reportedly dressed as centurions and sanitation workers to effect their arrests. Some of the cops dressed as centurions were, again, allegedly beaten a little bit about the face before backup arrived, and the panhandlers drew their wooden swords, according to the Guardian. The centurions were accused of charging exorbitant rates for a photo, or taking a tourist’s camera and refusing to give it back until payment was made.

Rival gangs of centurions are also said to brutally protect their turf, fighting one another when they’re not sucker-punching police. Again: is this really an unreasonable way for centurions to behave?


In November 2015, City Hall banned centurions altogether, in advance of this year’s Catholic Jubilee, which is expected to draw even more tourists than usual to the city. Have a magical visit, guys!


Centurions in Rome in 2013. All photos via Getty

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About the author

Anna Merlan

Anna Merlan was a Senior Reporter at G/O Media until September 2019. She's the author of Republic of Lies: American Conspiracy Theorists and Their Surprising Rise to Power.

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