Caligula Tomb Silliness

Caligula 02

Image via Wikipedia

Hot on the heels of Adrian Murdoch’s podcast on the nutty emperor, and just a few weeks before we mark the anniversary of the nutty emperor’s assassination,  comes nutty news from the Guardian (tip o’ the pileus to Tim Parkin, who first ‘broke’ the story on Facebook last night):

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.

After reportedly sleeping with his sisters, killing for pleasure and seeking to appoint his horse a consul during his rule from AD37 to 41, Caligula was described by contemporaries as insane.

With many of Caligula’s monuments destroyed after he was killed by his Praetorian guard at 28, archaeologists are eager to excavate for his remains.

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.

The police said the statue was shod with a pair of the “caligae” military boots favoured by the emperor – real name Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus; as a boy, Gaius accompanied his father on campaigns in Germany; the soldiers were amused he wore a miniature uniform, and gave him his nickname Caligula, or “little boot”.

The statue is estimated to be worth €1m. Its rare Greek marble, throne and god’s robes convinced the police it came from the emperor’s tomb. Under questioning, the tomb raider led them to the site, where excavations will start today.

The first thing we might advise the Guardian about is to not take the word of the police when it comes to matters historical/archaeological — Romans generally didn’t entomb folks on country estates is one obvious thing to point out. Another thing worth pointing out is the passage in Suetonius, which relates what happened to Caligula’s perforated corpse (ch. 59 via Lacus Curtius)

His body was conveyed secretly to the gardens of the Lamian family, where it was partly consumed on a hastily erected pyre and buried beneath a light covering of turf; later his sisters on their return from exile dug it up, cremated it, and consigned it to the tomb. Before this was done, it is well known that the caretakers of the gardens were disturbed by ghosts, and that in the house where he was slain not a night passed without some fearsome apparition, until at last the house itself was destroyed by fire.

Just to be legit, here’s the Latin (via the Latin Library):

Cadaver eius clam in hortos Lamianos asportatum et tumultuario rogo semiambustum levi caespite obrutum est, postea per sorores ab exilio reversas erutum et crematum sepultumque. Satis constat, prius quam id fieret, hortorum custodes umbris inquietatos; in ea quoque domo, in qua occubuerit, nullam noctem sine aliquo terrore transactam, donec ipsa domus incendio consumpta sit.

It is sometimes assumed (as in the Wikipedia article, which has already added the ‘discovery of the tomb’ story) that Caligula’s ‘reburial’ was in the Mausoleum of Augustus. This is not attested in any ancient source and as Anthony Barrett suggests in his biography of the guy (p. 167), it is “unlikely, but not impossible” that he was so interred. Knowing Roman burial practices, however, it is pretty much unlikely and impossible that Caligula would have been interred at the villa at Nemi, especially with all the haunting he supposedly did in the Lamian Gardens …

For the record, Mary Beard is also expressing her doots: This isn’t Caligula’s tomb | Times

UPDATE (later the same day): Rosella Lorenzi’s excellent coverage(Caligula Statue Hints at Lavish Villa) links to an item in the Corriere della Sera (Il tombarolo con la statua dell’ imperatore La villa di Caligola svelata da un furto) which is possibly the source of the Guardian piece and includes speculation about a ‘mausoleum’ and the possibility his remains might be there:

Proprio in quel paesino a due passi da Roma si era sempre immaginata l’ esistenza di una dimora fatta costruire dallo stravagante nipote di Tiberio, magari con un mausoleo. Ma non se ne erano mai trovate le tracce. Tanto meno decisive come una statua dello stesso imperatore: ragion per cui gli esperti sono quasi certi che villa fosse lì, affacciata sul piccolo lago vulcanico, in un punto spettacolare, da cui si vede il mare fino ad Anzio, dove Caligola era nato. Anzi, potrebbero essere lì anche i suoi resti.

… There are also details about the statue, including that it was headless and made of Parian marble. It depicted the emperor (presumably) as Zeus and had been broken in two pieces, apparently in antiquity.

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