Arts & Entertainment

Caligula’s lost mosaic returned to Roman lake where it first disappeared

Mercedes Ortuño Lizarán

Nemi, Italy, Mar 11 (efe-epa).- In the sixties, Italy lost one of the mosaics that embellished the great ships of the emperor Caligula in the sacred lake of Nemi, near Rome. The piece was found decades later in New York, being used as a tea table, and has now been recovered thanks to a series of fortunate coincidences.

The relic was presented Thursday at the Museum of the Ships of Nemi, bringing an end to an odyssey that began when it was lost in the 1960s.

The lost mosaic of Caligula dates back to the first century A.D., the period in which the controversial emperor lived, who was assassinated in the year 41 by his own praetorian guards on Palatine Hill, after less than four years in power that have been  remembered throughout history.

The piece was part of the decoration of the two large ships that he had built on Lake Nemi, a volcanic crater near Rome and that at the time housed a shrine to the goddess Diana, Massimo Osanna, director general of Museums of Italy, said at the presentation on Thursday.

The ships, which Osanna calls authentic “floating palaces”, were the definitive symbol of the controversial third emperor of Rome, the son of the mythical Germanicus, and demonstrate “the greatness of Roman naval engineering”, the expert added.

The ships ended up sinking to the bottom of the lake and it took 2,000 years, until the 1930s, for them to be retrieved from the quagmire. Then, displayed in a museum, they succumbed to the flames of World War II.

Among the remains that were saved was this very well preserved mosaic of green, white and red tesserae, and which, as often happens in history, was eventually lost.

Years later, the story of this sought-after vestige was located in New York City. Antiquarian Helen Fioratti, a nonagenarian of Italian origins, was browsing through a 2013 book written by Roman architect Dario Del Bufalo when she recognized a very familiar object.

The precious mosaic she used as a tea table looked very much like the archaeological remains shown on that page, De Bufalo explains to Efe.

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