Valiant but violent, gladiatorial combat saw its decline during the third century. Or did it? The Guardian reports there have been modern gladiator matches in Rome: undercover forces recently arrested 30 centurion impersonators that had been preying on unsuspecting tourists. Located around sites like the Colosseum and the Vatican, the group had been forcing visitors to hand over as much as 30 euros after being photographed. Seven families and five tourist agencies had previously divided up the city’s attractions among themselves, and the price gauging was in defense of their territories against new competing actors, whose alert to the police led up to the sting.
Putting aside the contradiction of real criminals carrying fake plastic swords, the incident piques curiosity about other unsuspected places where gangs may be operating. With origins in centuries-old organizations like the Japanese Yakuza or even the Freemasons, gangs are rooted in a common identity, established with markers like tattoos, hand signs, dances—even business cards in Chicago during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. This was the era in gang history when both narcotics and firearms became easier to purchase, enabling young delinquent crews to transform into the armed, money-driven syndicates they are known as today.
Despite being known mainly for criminal behavior, gangs on occasion can be noble as well, functioning like law enforcement and using violence to keep order. According to This American Life, the Gulf Cartel took over the small town Florencia de Benito Juarez in Mexico last month, promising and thus far delivering peace in the community. The drug cartel has even gone so far as to espouse family values, giving bottles of tequila to all fathers in the area on Father’s Day. “The truth is people feel protected,” a local woman said. “When the gang isn’t around—that’s when people are fearful.”
Image (cc) courtesy of Robin Danehav