Tuesday, January 18, 2011

An imperial tomb, and a tomb-robber (UPDATED: or not?)

The lost tomb of Caligula has been found, according to Italian police, after the arrest of a man trying to smuggle abroad a statue of the notorious Roman emperor recovered from the site. * * *

Officers from the archaeological squad of Italy's tax police had a break last week after arresting a man near Lake Nemi, south of Rome, as he loaded part of a 2.5 metre statue into a lorry. The emperor had a villa there, as well as a floating temple and a floating palace; their hulks were recovered in Mussolini's time but destroyed in the war.
Thus the Guardian. Italy has an archaelogical police squad? Sounds like a premise for yet another NCIS spinoff.

Lake Nemi

is of course the site of the mysterious cult that inspired, and provided a name for, Frazer's Golden Bough. Caligula was aware of the cult's most famous figure, the King of Nemi: Suetonius records that because the poor fellow had held his post for some years, Caligula "procured a stronger man to supplant him." No hint of any connection to the tomb site.

... Non-police archaeologists are skeptical:
Caligula did build a luxurious villa at Lake Nemi, along with ships that are thought to have served as floating shrines. But archaeologists say there's no evidence that a tomb was ever built there. In an online commentary for the Times Literary Supplement, classical scholar Mary Beard wonders exactly why the authorities think the statue shows Caligula, and what it is that made them think that the statue marks his tomb. * * *

[Archaeologist Darius] Arya is skeptical as well. "Seeing's believing," he told me in a follow-up call. "Let's see the statue."
In comments, NMC joins him in this reasonable request.