Iulius the “provocatores”; a special gladiator

September 4, 2023
Iulius the “provocatores”; a special gladiator

Estimated reading time: 5min 23 sec

Do you want to know the story of Iulius the “provocatores”, a special gladiator? Read on if you want to know more about his story and how this legend has reached us. Come to Rome and take one of our tours. We’ll take you to the Colosseum, and tell you about the gladiators, but we can also share with you the less known stories; like the one of Iulius the “provocatores”, a special gladiator.

The site of the ruins – where the story of Iulius begins

In the district of Magliana, there is the ruin of an ancient Roman tomb five metres high. It is now reduced to a shapeless heap of stones and lime and is one of the many vestiges of ancient Rome. It stands near the bank of the Tiber. Certainly, in its time of use, around the 1st century BC, it was all covered with marble and contained tombstones and man artefacts. In the 12th century, the monument was owned by the Massimi family and was therefore called ‘Lo Trullo de’ Massimi‘. This is where the story of Iulius “the provocatores” begins.

Iulius the "provocatores"

Iulius the “provocatores”

The legend that discovered the story of Iulius “the provocatores”

The legend dates back to 1462. In that year, the ruin was visited by two raiders of ancient artefacts. They hoarded the tombstones and marbles that were still preserved inside. They decided to collect the loot on a boat on the nearby Tiber in order to bring it all back to the city and sell it. However, once the boat was loaded, considering the weight, it sailed just a few metres and then sank.

The sunken boat with its precious load, remained at the bottom of the river till 1951. A dredger, while cleaning the bottom of the river, hit something solid and discovered the marvel of marbles and tombstones lying at the bottom. A committed team of archaeologists worked for several years on all that was recovered.  One of the most amazing artefacts was a bas relief depicting a “provocatores”; a special class of gladiators.

Iulius the “provocatores”

The “provocatores” was a gladiator who, unlike others, was provided with light equipment, wore a helmet, a breastplate and also thigh plates and a rectangular shield, and then as a weapon he had a dagger called a “pugio”.

The bas relief depicting the “provocatores” has an inscription: “IULIUS VICIT V”, i.e, “Iulius won five”. The fact that a gladiator won five times in a row shows us that he was a true hero! After the fifth victorious bout, the gladiator had the right to leave with full honours and be remembered as an ‘INVICTUS’.

We do not know whether Iulius died on leave after the fifth bout or whether he was killed in the sixth bout. However, with it came a valuable testimony that revealed to us the harsh history of a “provocatores”; a special gladiator.