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Caligula's Floating Palaces Volume 55 Number 3, May/June 2002
by Deborah N. Carlson

Archaeologists and shipwrights resurrect one of the emperor's sumptuous pleasure boats.

Caligula was a man of many passions, and he indulged nearly all of them, including his passions for chariot racing, theatrical performances, gladiatorial games, and ships. During his brief rule from A.D. 37 to 41, he had two enormous ships--a sailing ship and an oared galley--built and anchored on Lake Nemi as pleasure craft. Pillaged and deliberately sunk later in the first century, they were recovered in a feat of engineering sponsored by Benito Mussolini in the 1930s, but destroyed during a German retreat in 1944.

In 1999 Rosario D'Agata, former public relations director of an Italian petroleum company, established the Association Dianae Lacus to replicate Caligula's huge sailing ship. Rosario expects that the replica, one day moored on the lake, will foster interest in this historically and culturally rich area. The association is seeking out sponsors to finance one or more of the 18 outlined construction phases, at a total cost of nearly $10 million. The undertaking, which will last at least two years, promises to be as monumental as the replica itself: the oak needed to construct the ship's 230-foot-long central keel, stem, and stern came with a price tag of almost $50,000.

For further information on the Association Dianae Lacus' activities, visit its website at

Deborah N. Carlson is a doctoral student in classical archaeology at the University of Texas at Austin. She served as the assistant director of the Institute of Nautical Archaeology's recently completed classical Greek shipwreck excavation at Tektas Burnu, Turkey. Thanks to John Purtell and Rosario D'Agata, whose guidance has been instrumental to the article and the reconstruction project itself.

© 2002 by the Archaeological Institute of America