Weird History

The Remains Of Caligula's Secret 'Pleasure Boat' Were Found In New York City

It's good to be the king - or the emperor. Pleasure, power, and extreme wealth often come with the job. The exploits of Caligula are legendary, and he even took those activities to the water when he built two luxurious party ships and parked them on Lake Nemi near Rome.

The Lake Nemi ships were intentionally sunk during the second half of the first century and were finally recovered during the 1930s. Artifacts from the ships went to a museum in Italy but many items were destroyed in World War II. Recently, a mosaic from one of the ships turned up in New York City, proving all is not lost for Caligula's sex ships, but it does raise interesting questions as to how it got there.

  • Caligula Was The Unpredictable And Outrageous Roman Emperor From 37-41 AD
    Photo: Manel / flickr / CC-BY-ND 2.0

    Caligula Was The Unpredictable And Outrageous Roman Emperor From 37-41 AD

    Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus, better known as Caligula, was born in 12 AD. He earned the nickname from his father's soldiers. His family fell out of favor after his father perished in 17 AD. Caligula managed to escape the chaos that took his mother's and brothers' lives, ending up in the good graces of Emperor Tiberius.

    Tiberius adopted Caligula as his son. When Tiberius passed away in 37 AD, Caligula became the next Roman emperor.

  • Caligula Spent A Lot Of Money And Time On Whims And Pleasure

    Caligula promised stability and reform but soon showed himself to be more interested in spending money and having a good time. He dressed up in women's clothing, slept with the wives of Roman officials, engaged in incest with his sisters, and eventually declared himself to be a god. He drained the Roman treasury by funding projects like a bridge from his palace to the Temple of Jupiter as well as the Floating Bridge of Baiae across the Bay of Baiae. The bridge was made of pontoons and sand and put into place simply so Caligula could ride his chariot across it for two days, according to Roman historian Suetonius:

    Over this bridge he rode back and forth for two successive days, the first day on a caparisoned horse, himself resplendent in a crown of oak leaves, a buckler, a sword, and a cloak of cloth of gold; on the second, in the dress of a charioteer in a car drawn by a pair of famous horses...

    His excess demonstrated itself further with the two ships he had built, now known as Prima Nave and Seconda Nave.

  • The 2 Ships Were Different But Both Lavish And Licentious

    Prima Nave, or First Ship, was 230 feet long, while Secunda Nave, or Second Ship, was a bit larger, measuring 240 feet long. Both ships were built more like barges and were never meant to be seaworthy, which is why they were anchored at Lake Nemi. The larger ship appears to have been propelled by oars with a possible sail while the smaller ship may have been dragged along by the first.

    One of the ships may have been a floating temple to Diana, the Roman goddess of the hunt, or used to worship the Cult of Isis. Roman historian Suetonius described the ships as having "ten banks of oars, with sterns set with gems, particolored sails, huge spacious baths, colonnades, and banquet-halls, and even a great variety of vines and fruit trees."

  • After Caligula His Passing, The Ships Were Sunk And Forgotten For Centuries

    Caligula was felled by a group of guards after a sporting event in 41 AD. His body was thrown into a shallow grave, and his wife and daughter were executed as well. In an effort to remove all signs of Caligula's rule and debauchery, his statues were destroyed and, according to some scholars, the ships at Nemi were sunk.

    There is also speculation that the ships simply stayed on the lake until they decayed, leaked, and plunged to the lake's floor. Either way, the ships sat at the bottom of Lake Nemi for centuries.