THE search is underway for a third and possibly even a fourth fabled Barque of Caligula in the waters of Lake Nemi outside Rome.
Marine archaeologists will be diving 33 meters to the bottom of Lake Nemi, 35 kilometers from Rome, for the "Third and Fourth Floating Palaces" of Caligula in mid-July.
Two pleasure vessels were found in the 19th Century and there has always been speculation about a third ship ... and now there are intriguing clues to a fourth ship.
The emperor was dedicated to the goddess Diana, whose temple was on the bank of the lake.
At his death, the Roman Senate decided to sink them as part of the effort to erase the memory of the tyrant Caligula.
But for centuries intriguing clues were "fished" from the bottom of the lake: mosaics, pieces of columns, iron and bronze nails, objects of terra-cotta and a beautiful bronze lion's head.
They were proof of the presence of sunken ships.
It was Benito Mussolini who, with dramatic solemnity, announced in April 1927 the decision to recover the submerged ships.
Under orders of Mussolini the lake was drained and the vessels, in March 1929, the world was amazed when two ships were indeed found and were painstakingly retrieved and lovingly restored in a specially built museum.
Alas, the museum and its wooden ships were destroyed in a fire which engulfed the museum in 1944 attributed to retreating German occupation forces.
Now only a few charred timbers at the Nemi Antiquarium recall the lavish splendor of the vessels.
Caligula, who reigned from 37 to 41 AD, has gone down in history as a crazed and power-hungry sex maniac who proclaimed he was a god — or goddess on days when he dressed in drag as Venus.
Caligula once set sail for Britannia on a war of conquest, then suddenly turned back and ordered his troops to collect seashells which he paraded before the citizens of Rome as booty from his victory over Poseidon.
He demanded that his horse, Incitatus, be given a marble feeding trough, robes of imperial purple and be addressed as "Consul of Rome" during state banquets to which the horse was invited.
At a gladiator show, the number of condemned men slain by beasts was insufficient to his liking, so he ordered a number of spectators to be thrown to the man-eating animals.
Once when Caligula fell ill, a Patrician prayed to the Gods, offering his own life that the emperor might live. When Caligula recovered, he reminded the man of his pledge, saying his fellow Gods would consider it a sacrilege if both of them remained alive.
So the man was compelled to commit suicide.
In early 41, Caligula was assassinated as the result of a conspiracy involving officers of the Praetorian Guard, as well as members of the Roman Senate and of the Imperial court.
The conspirators' attempt to use the opportunity to restore the Roman Republic was thwarted when the Praetorian Guard discovered Caligula's lame and stuttering old uncle Claudius cowering and twitching behind a curtain and, almost as a joke, proclaimed him emperor on the spot.