The Emperor’s Floating Marvels: The Lake Nemi Ships


Roman emperors, not surprisingly, were known for their lavish lifestyles and none more so than any other than Caligula, an excessive and by many accounts crazed leader.  Despite his eccentric rule, the emperor was known to have ordered the construction of some very elaborate things over his reign.  Such projects included the theatre of Pompey, the temple of Augustus, and the improvement of Roman harbors throughout the empire.  One of the most elaborate things constructed during Caligula’s reign were the Lake Nemi ships, large, floating vessels that served as floating palaces for the Emperor and without a doubt architectural marvels during the great age of Rome.  The ships were constructed sometime between 37 and 41 A.D.

Recovering the Ships

While much still remained a mystery about the role of the ships, much was learned over the years as locals learned more and more about them by using the lake.  By the late 19th century it was discovered that the lake contained not only 1 ship but 2.  Although the confirmed existence had been known for nearly 500 years prior, the Lake Nemi Ships didn’t see the light of day until Italian dictator Mussolini ordered the lake to be drained in 1927.  Once drained, the ships were moved to a museum where they remained the next 16 years until the museum was burned down by the germans in WWII.  The result was tragic, the lake  Nemi ships were mostly reduced to ashes.

One of the ship's recovered hulls. Notice the person standing infront of the hull.

Technological Marvels

Not only could archaeologists and scholars marvel at the size of the ships, which were both 230 feet long with individual respective beam heights of 66 and 79 feet a piece, they could also marvel at the technology found on the ships.  Such technology included plumbing systems which supplied the ships with hot and cold running water.  The ships also contained ball bearings, helping the ship operate, which were previously thought to have been invented by Da Vinci.

Although the ships may now be gone, their legacy as a technological marvel continues to stand and amaze scholars.

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