Caligula's party boat mosaic returned home

Photo by Yana Paskova/New York Times

ROME - Ancient historians rejoice as part of Emperor Caligula’s ship deck has returned home to Italy, and will be settled in the Roman Navy Museum of Nemi.

 The colossal ships that Caligula parked on Lake Nemi were said to be like floating palaces, the ultimate party boats for an elite Imperial crowd. Contemporary accounts describe the festivities on the ships as lasting for days, and archaeological finds from the two recovered vessels are no less impressive. Bertucci, the mayor of the town of Nemi, has described the ships as “floating villas,” complete with detailed columns, hot water, gold and intricate mosaics. This isn’t the only elaborate request Caligula had made, it is said that he once ordered hundreds of Roman ships to create a 2-mile floating bridge, just so he could ride back and forth across it for fun.

 A four-by-four piece of the mosaic floor of one of his vessels has been recovered from one of the sunken vessels, only to end up in the apartment of an antique dealer in New York. In an interview, the antique dealer has said that the piece ended up in her hands in good faith, sold to her in the late 1960s from a member of an aristocratic family.

 The mosaic flooring features a detailed pattern of green and red porphyry, serpentine and moulded glass, and dates back to Caligula’s reign in AD 37-41. Last month, Italian prosecutors claimed to have evidence that the ornate piece was stolen from the Nemi museum during the Second World War.

 The Carabinieri of Cultural Property has been working to return treasures to Italy that have been stolen, either through illegal archaeological digs or through robberies. American authorities have agreed to return the mosaic as well as “two vases with red figures of the 5-4th centuries BC, coins, ancient books and manuscripts,” according to Franceschini, the Minister of Culture.