Monday, August 22, 2005

Caligula's Floating Palaces

The History Channel"Lurking beneath the blue waters of Lake Nemi lay the titans of Roman naval engineering--the Nemi Ships. These titanic luxury liners of the ancient world held inventions lost for thousands of years. But why were they built? Were they Caligula's notorious floating pleasure palaces--rife with excess and debauchery? Flagships of a giant sea force? It took the obsession of Mussolini with all things Roman to finally prise the two huge wrecks from the depths of Lake Nemi near Rome. Using an ancient Roman waterway, he drained the lake and rescued the ships, an accomplishment captured on film that we access to illustrate this astounding story. Sophisticated ancient technology was discovered in the boats that transformed the understanding of Roman engineering overnight--the Nemi ships were a breathtaking find. Yet by 1944, the adventure had turned sour and the retreating German Army torched the boats. We reveal the mysteries of the Nemi Ships and the ancient technology that made them possible."

I watched this program last night and found it fascinating. I was particularly impressed with the water management systems aboard these huge vessels. The program discussed a massive chain-drive bilge pump system and an intricate piston-driven pumping system that used gravity to distribute running water throughout the vessels. I also found it interesting that archaeologists found that the Romans used ball bearings, originally thought to be "invented" in the 14th century. Of course, as a lover of ancient sculpture, I found the bronze figures used for mooring ropes breathtaking as well.

I also was interested in the discussion of Caligula's probable conversion to the Isis cult. The narrator mentioned that the cult would have appealed to Caligula because of the brother/sister relationship between Osirus and Isis. The narrator said that cult worhsippers engaged in ritual sex and human sacrifice, both activities that would appeal to Caligula and make him rationalize some of his actions as religious practices. I found this comment a little surprising since I was unaware of human sacrifice being a part of Isis worship, especially considering the Roman aversion to ritual human sacrifice except in the most dire of circumstances - to the point of official prohibition of it by senatorial decree in 97 BCE under the consulship of P. Licinius Crassus.

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