A fabulous patinated bronze bust of a gladiator wearing a helmet adorned with fish, shells and a grotesque mask by the Italian sculptor Riccardo Aurili (1834-1914). This neoclassical tribute sits on a rectangular uneven spreading base which features a titled relief on the front “Ave Caesar Morituri Te Salutant” and is dated to about 1870.  The artist’s impressed signature can be found on the left shoulder.

Overall good condition with a minor chink in the helmet.

H.- 11 3/4 in., W.- 6 5/8 in., D.- 5 1/2 in.


About the Artist: Riccardo Aurili (1834-1914)

Originally from Tuscany in Italy, Riccardo Aurili is a student at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence where he is friend with Raffaello Romanelli (which will become one of the greatest sculptors of his generation). In the 1880s, Aurili travels to Brussels, where he worked for Carli Brothers. Then he moved to Paris around 1890 and regularly exhibits at the Salons. He also exhibits at the World’s Fair of 1900.

Around 1905, he returned in Florence where he became a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts and finds his friend Raffaello Romanelli who is also a professor. Aurili’s signature will now be preceded by ‘Prof.’ as it is the case for this planter so we can date it in a period from 1905 to 1915, when he moved to Nice in the south of France.


Useful background academic data concerning the appreciation of this work:

H. J. Leon of the University of Texas considered this salutation in the Transactions of the American Philological Association in 1939. He observed that the salute had become widely represented and embellished in “numerous works dealing with Roman antiquities, so that it has become one of the best known and most often cited of Roman customs”. It was recognized in lay and academic writings as a customary salute of gladiators to the emperor. And yet “there is no other ancient reference to a salute of the gladiators, and in this case it was uttered not by gladiators at all, but by naumachiarii.” A striking example of this pervasive belief even in academia can be found in historian Jérôme Carcopino’s 1940 book La vie Quotidienne à Rome à l’Apogée de l’Empire (Daily Life in Ancient Rome: The People and the City at the Height of the Empire). In this book the author, a member of the Académie française, professor at Le Havre and the Sorbonne, and Director of the French Academy in Rome, cites the phrase and writes in vivid and poetic detail of the gladiators’ “melancholy salutation” as they parade past the emperor prior to entering the Colosseum.

Following a review of the source material related to the AD 52 naumachia, Leon observes that the fighters were not gladiators but were convicted criminals sentenced to death. Their intended fate was occidioni (massacre, or slaughter). The lake had been surrounded with “rafts” to prevent a mass breakout and was surrounded by “the crack soldiers of the praetorian guard, both infantry and cavalry, who were protected by ramparts and equipped with catapults and ballistae, and further reinforced by ships bearing marines ready for action”. He concludes that this was not a formal salute, but in all likelihood an isolated incident of a mass plea for sympathy or mercy by desperate convicted men sentenced to death on a specific occasion, and that [c]ombining the three accounts, we can reasonably assume that, condemned as they were to die, these convicts invoked Claudius with their “Morituri te salutant”, which was not a regular and formal salute, but an appeal used only on that occasion in the hope of winning the Emperor’s sympathy. When he replied “Aut non”, they took his words as meaning “aut non morituri” [or not die] and indicating pardon – Suetonius says “quasi venia data” – and refused to fight, but finally yielded either to the entreaties of the Emperor or to force, and fought bravely until the survivors were excused from further slaughter.

My conclusion is, accordingly, that there is no evidence whatever for the much-quoted salute of the gladiators. The only two ancient references, those in Suetonius and in Dio, refer not to gladiators but to naumachiarii, men condemned to die, and even these references are to one specific episode, the circumstances of which indicate that the supposed salute was not even a regular salute of the naumachiarii.


Source material credit:,_morituri_te_salutant

Style Neoclassical, Victorian
Period Victorian
Medium Bronze
Material Bronze

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Patinated Metal Bust of a Gladiator, signed R. Aurili (Italian, 1834 – 1914)


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