Oh, please…

Small bust of Caligula (Palazzo Massimo alle terme, Roma)

Caligula’s tomb found” is the headline of an article, today, in The Guardian. It may be true, but it may also be another exaggerated claim made by an archaeologist angling for funds. The author of the article mentions several arguments that a recently discovered monument near Lake Nemi is indeed the final resting place of Rome’s third emperor:

  • Caligula owned a villa near Lake Nemi;
  • a splendid statue has been found over there;
  • a tomb raider has shown a previously unknown archaeological site.

There are no photos of the statue, and I get the impression that it is only identified as a statue of Caligula because it wore military boots (caligae). I would have liked to see the statue’s head.

The final sentence is “the tomb raider led them [the police] to the site, where excavations will start today”. In other words, research still has to start. It may as well be a large but common tomb, where a normal villa owner was buried, with some statues as decoration. Even if the statue represents Caligula (again, a photo would come in handy), the simple hypothesis that the tomb dates back to his reign or the final years of Tiberius, explains all. There is no need to make bold claims.

There are now two possibilities: either the tomb is Caligula’s, or it isn’t. If it isn’t, an archaeologist has desinformed us and journalists have contributed to it. If it is, excavation will be more difficult because many people will visit Lake Nemi. In both cases, scholarship suffers. Everybody would have been a lot happier if there had been no report before certainty had been reached.

3 Responses to Oh, please…

  1. d-d says:


    I am a reader of your nice blog.

    In Corriere de la Sera there is more than in the Guardian. The link is here.

  2. Bill Thayer says:

    Thanks for the link; the Corriere della Sera is one of Italy’s better newspapers, and it’s nice that this article, sure enough, is rather careful not to say that the tomb of Caligula had been found, merely stating that hey maybe Caligula’s remains are somewhere in the area, which is a fair possibility, yes.

    I wonder if the “tomb” business wasn’t just created by careless readers of the original report (the Italian word tombarolo doing its share to help).

    What disturbs me about the article is that the (headless) statue in its van was on its way to . . . Ostia for packing and shipping. Sure, Ostia (Lido di Ostia) is a nearby spot on the sea; but Ostia Antica is full of people who have practice in packing antiquities, and where one more large stone might well pass unspotted. It sets me to wondering whether someone actually working in the excavations of Ostia has something to do with this well-organized pathway for stolen finds. I hope not.

  3. judithweingarten says:

    The new History Carnival is up and this post is on it: Bravo Carnivalesque 71

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