Found: Tomb of the general who inspired 'Gladiator'

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Natural disaster makes for great archaelogy. Pompeii and Herculaneum we owe to the fury of Vesuvius – and today Italy's Culture Ministry announced the dramatic discovery of the ruins of the tomb of the general who was the inspiration for the patrician-turned-vengeful gladiator played by Russell Crowe in the film Gladiator, fabulously well preserved thanks to a catastrophic flood.

The general in Gladiator, named Maximus Decimus Meridius by the film makers, was a favourite of the philosopher-emperor Marcus Aurelius in the late 2nd century AD and fought with him against the fearsome Germanic tribes who threatened to inundate Italy, beating them back and postponing the empire's decline and fall for another century or more.

All of this was also true of Marcus Nonius Macrinus, the man whose last resting place has now been identified. What is also true is that, while Marcus Aurelius is celebrated as a wise, prudent and benign emperor, his son and heir Commodus was a luxury-loving spendthrift who blew his father's careful legacy in a few years of riotous living and had a particular passion for gladiatorial shows.

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