Caligula's Ship Ends Up as Coffee Table in NYC Apartment

Thus ever to tyrants: first, you get assassinated, then your stuff winds up in some fellow's city pad:

The Roman Emperor Caligula is renowned for his sadistic, debauched rule of ancient Rome that led to his assassination after just four years in power. Now Italian and American authorities are wondering how a piece of his decadent lifestyle — an elaborate inlaid marble mosaic from one of his ceremonial ships — wound up as a coffee table on Manhattan's Upper East Side.

To antiques dealer Helen Fioratti it's quite simple: She and her husband Nereo, an Italian journalist, bought the antiquity more than 45 years ago from an Italian aristocratic family, who lived on the shores of Lake Nemi. “It was found in the waters of the lake in the 19th century,” Fioratti said in a phone interview, although she said she didn't know who originally discovered it.

By the time the couple came to purchase the object in the 1960s she said they had no reason to question the ownership. “They thought they owned it. We thought they owned it. Everyone thought they owned it."

But the Italian military police's Art Recovery Unit, which is responsible for recovering looted artifacts, says the antiquity made of porphyry cobbles configured in a colorful geometric pattern dates back to Caligula's reign, 37- 41 A.D., and is believed to have been part of the flooring of one of the notorious emperor's two pleasure ships. Described as “floating palaces” by the Museum of Roman Ships, which houses the remnants of the vessels, they were famous for their opulence and are believed to have been the site of wild parties that lasted for days.

Well, there are certainly plenty of wild stories about Little Boots and his, um, excesses. (You can see a picture of one of his pleasure ships's hulls here and watch the trailer for the Bob Guccione-produced film -- released in both an X and a hard R version -- here). Caligula, the third of the five emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty, set the gold standard for dissolution, topped only by Nero, whose death by suicide ended the line of Caesar. And now he's down to his last coffee table: sic transit gloria mundi.