The Nave of one of the salvaged Nemi Ships, Milan Museum of Science and Technology

The Search Is On For Caligula’s Orgy Boats Where His Twisted Fantasies May Have Been Played Out

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Caligula ruled as Roman Emperor for just four years from 37 to 41 AD, but tales of the cruelties issuing from his diseased mind have made him one of the most famous ancient Romans. Some of the mad emperor’s atrocities may have played out on barges on a placid volcanic lake in the Alban Hills, 20 miles southeast of Rome.

Now some Italian researchers are interested in trying to salvage rumored remnants of one of Caligula’s famous orgy vessels, possibly sunk in Lake Nemi. If it’s found, it would be a huge discovery.

Caligula’s Boats

Italian dictator Benito Mussolini ordered two other of Caligula’s floating party boats, called Nemi boats after the name of the lake, to be salvaged in the 1920s by draining the lake. But they were later destroyed in a World War II fire of unknown origin. Nevertheless, a museum has some fascinating artifacts from the salvage operations and apparently from fishermen’s nets.

Some of the decorations from the Nemi ships: A bronze railing

Some of the decorations from the Nemi ships: A bronze railing ( CC BY SA 2.0 ), a face (Miguel Hermoso Cuesta/ CC BY SA 3.0 ), and brass rings recovered in 1895. These were fitted to the ends of cantilevered beams that supported each rowing position on the seconda nave . ( CC BY SA 3.0 )

Italian authorities from several agencies are collaborating on a search for the one giant vessel that may remain submerged, by rumor 400 feet (122 meters) long, says Seeker.com . The other two were about 230 (70 meters) feet and 250 feet (76 meters) long. They were built to replicate the pleasure barges of ancient Egypt. The boats had running water, mosaics, bronzes and inlaid ivory, says Atlas Obscura .

The researchers, including Luigi Dattola of the Environmental Protection Agency of Calabria, are using high-technology scanners to examine Lake Nemi’s bottom, which is under 100 feet (30.5 meters) of water.

An Italian researcher surveys the bottom of Lake Nemi to find a floating pleasure palace of Caligula.

An Italian researcher surveys the bottom of Lake Nemi to find a floating pleasure palace of Caligula. (Photo Credit: Luigi Dattola )

Historians think the ancient Romans scuttled the boats in an attempt to erase Caligula from memory. Caligula, formally named Gaius Caesar Germanicus, was so sick and violent that members of the Roman Senate and his own Praetorian guard assassinated him in the year 41 AD.

Caligula, Not Your Average Emperor

What did this man do that gained him a reputation of being even sicker than his unhinged nephew, Emperor Nero?

Some of his escapades seem just capricious, if wasteful. For example, in the year 40 he mounted a military campaign to the English Channel, where he directed his troops to “plunder the sea” by collecting seashells and placing them in their helmets.

Other acts of his could be benign, such as when he ordered aqueducts, harbors, theaters and temples to be constructed.

Others still were simply oddball, like his intention to appoint his horse to the Roman Senate. He was assassinated before he could do so.

Caligula and his horse.

Caligula and his horse. ( Yo amo la Historia )

But he also did great evil and was alleged to have slept with all three of his sisters, cut out people’s tongues, killed whomever he wanted, and made senators run for long distances in front of his chariot. He had sexual affairs with wives of allies, a practice contrary to furthering the interests of diplomacy.

History.com gives an account of some of his other strange practices:

“Caligula was tall, pale and so hairy that he made it a capital offense to mention a goat in his presence. He worked to accentuate his natural ugliness by practicing terrifying facial expressions in a mirror. But he literally wallowed in luxury, allegedly rolling around in piles of money and drinking precious pearls dissolved in vinegar. He continued his childhood games of dress-up, donning strange clothing, women’s shoes and lavish accessories and wigs—eager, according to his biographer Cassius Dio, “to appear to be anything rather than a human being and an emperor.”

His biographer, Suetonius, reported Caligula often told people: “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.” He also said, “Let them hate me, so long as they fear me.”

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