Italian police have arrested 20 gladiator impersonators in an undercover sting aimed at ending a violent racket operating around Rome’s most famous tourist sites, Italian press reported on Thursday.
Police disguised as gladiators, dustbin men and members of the public raided the gang made up of seven families working with five tourist agencies.
The modern gladiators are accused of attacking and intimidating competitors for a lucrative business in which gladiators collect up to 10 euros ($14) for having their picture taken alongside tourists in front of attractions.
The police officers disguised as gladiators were beaten up by the alleged criminal gladiators before other undercover officers swooped in.
“Gladiators” are a feature of the Roman landscape for tourists, with men decked out in bright red capes, helmets with plumes of red feathers and sandals while carrying swords and round shields.
They can be found outside the Colosseum, Castel Sant’Angelo, Piazza Venezia and even in front of St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, preying on the millions of tourists who pass through Rome every year.
Criminal gangs had divided up these tourist sights and were defending their territory with violence, the police said.
Five competitors who had been chased away alerted police to the gang’s activities, leading to the sting operation.