Caligula Palace, Gardens And Private Zoo Discovered In Central Rome
Rome is one of the richest sources of new archaeological finds and some, like this one, are really amazing. Recently, archaeologists unearthed a Caligula palace along with gardens and a private wildlife park in the center of Rome. The Caligula palace remains are offering new insights into the life of one of the most terrible tyrants in Roman history, if not all history.
Italian archaeologists, working under the supervision of Rome’s cultural heritage authority (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma), discovered the palace of Caligula and the gardens under an office building owned by a doctor’s pension institute. The archaeologists have been working on the site for the past three years, which is on the Esquiline Hill, one of Rome’s historic Seven Hills. The Daily Mail reports that they have uncovered a “complex archaeological stratification” under the office complex.
An artist’s rendition of what the Caligula palace gardens might have looked like. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
The Caligula Palace: Lavish Home With Gardens And A Zoo
While working on the site, archaeologists unearthed traces and remains of a lavish private house from almost 2000 years ago. The rooms had rich frescoes and “complex polychrome marble decorations,” according to The Times. A great deal of pottery and tiles were also uncovered from what was once a palace. They also found a brooch that once belonged to a member of the imperial bodyguard, coins, and some jewels. However, it was the discoveries that were made in the Caligula palace’s gardens and exteriors that amazed the archaeologists.
What they found was an amazing complex of gardens and pavilions. It appears that a number of gardens at different levels were linked by a marble staircase. Dr Mirella Serlorenzi of the Italian Ministry of Culture is quoted by the Daily Mail as saying that “We can imagine Emperor Caligula walking over this monumental stairway to enjoy the spectacle of a palace.” Also found were seeds that were imported from outside Italy and this probably indicates that the garden contained many exotic plants. They also found some evidence of notable engraved water features.
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An Italian archaeologist in central Rome reassembling the frescoes found in the Caligula palace. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
Emperor Caligula’s Private Zoo: Lions, Bears And Deer
Dr Serlorenzi told The Times that “We have found bones from the foot of a lion, the tooth of a bear, and bones of ostriches and deer.” It appears that the lavish Caligula gardens also contained a private wildlife park or menagerie. Wanted in Rome quotes Dr Serlorenzi as saying that “We can imagine animals running free in this enchanted landscape, but also wild animals that were used for the private circus games of the emperor.”
The lavish dwelling, called “Caligula’s house of infamy” by The Australian, was originally owned by a wealthy senator who left the property to Emperor Caligula in his will. Caligula (lived 12-41 AD) was the son of the great Germanicus, who was renowned for his campaigns against the Germans after the disastrous Roman defeat at the Teutoburg Forest (9 AD). The future emperor’s mother was Agrippina the Elder. The Daily Mail reports that “He was given the nickname Caligula, or 'little boot', in reference to the tiny uniform his parents would dress him in.”
White marble staircase that links different levels of the garden. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
Caligula’s Reign Of Terror Got Worse As His Health Declined
The reigning Emperor Tiberius is suspected of having Caligula’s father poisoned and his mother and brothers were imprisoned on his orders and they later died in prison. However, Tiberius later made Caligula his heir and some sources suspect that Caligula played a role in the death of the Tiberius. At first, Caligula was popular and allowed competent men to rule the Roman Empire. But he became ill and his character changed, turning him into a murderous tyrant.
Caligula had an incestuous relationship with his sister and indulged in all kinds of decadent and lavish pleasures. He would regularly abuse and even execute members of the Roman Senate. On one occasion he had his horse raised to the status of a senator. Caligula may even have believed that he was a god. He demanded that his image be placed in the Temple in Jerusalem, which nearly led to a Jewish Revolt. The Daily Mail claims that he liked to say that “Remember that I have the right to do anything to anybody.”
The pipe with Emperor Claudius’s name on it found in the gardens of the Caligula palace in central Rome. (Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma)
Death Of A Tyrant And The Next Owner Of Caligula’s Palace
Caligula’s conduct became so erratic that everyone feared him. His was assassinated after a reign of less than four years. The Praetorian Guard soon after made his uncle Claudius ruler of the Roman world. And it appears that Claudius took over the Caligula palace and gardens. A pipe bearing his name was found in the gardens.
In the 16th century, a treasure trove of Roman artifacts was uncovered at the site of the Caligula palace and gardens. Many of these priceless artifacts are now part of the Capitoline Museums. Excavations are ongoing at the site and eventually, it is hoped that a museum will be built at the location.
Top image: An Italian archaeologist working with the countless ceramic artifacts found in the Caligula palace site in central Rome. Source: Soprintendenza Speciale di Roma
By Ed Whelan