Caligula's Nemi Ships: The History of the Roman Emperor's Mysterious Luxury Boats

ISBN: 9781523478439
*Includes pictures
*Describes the purpose of the ships, their sizes, and some of the technologically advanced objects found on board
*Includes online resources and a bibliography for further reading
*Includes a table of contents

For several centuries, fishermen on Lake Nemi in Italy could see ship wreckage on the floor of the lake, and in 1928, under the patronage of Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, one of the most extraordinary archaeological recovery processes was begun to raise from the floor of Lake Nemi, a small volcanic lake in the Alban Hills, some 30 miles south of Rome, two sunken barges that had lain half buried in the silt since the reign of the Roman Emperor Caligula. The recovery of these two vessels was a massive archaeological operation, unique in scope and scale, but also not atypical of the local and international prestige projects which Mussolini used to embellish his popularity, and for which he had become known. Through undertaking projects of this nature, Mussolini sought not only to highlight the splendor of Italian imperial history but also to recreate it, and to guide the Kingdom of Italy, and his own fascist dictatorship, along the road towards recapturing the glory days of the great Roman Empire.

The recovery of the Nemi Ships was one such enterprise. It presented Mussolini with the opportunity to reveal to the world once again the superiority of ancient Roman culture and technology, while at the same time illustrating the advances in modern Italian technology that allowed for such a daring and groundbreaking salvage operation to take place. As the waters of Lake Nemi subsided, and as the carcasses of the first ship came into view, the shores of the lake were crowded with archaeologists, researchers, journalists and politicians bearing witness to one of the greatest moments in archaeological history.

As it turned out, the two ships dated back to Caligula, with the smaller boat serving as a floating temple and the bigger one serving as a floating palace for Caligula himself. The bigger boat was one of the largest ships ever constructed during antiquity, and it had used technology that would not again be available until the 19th century. For example, in addition to their size, the ships on Lake Nemi used advanced water pumps and anchors, as well as the first evidence of the Romans’ use of ball bearings, used to create a platform for a rotating statue.
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