Speaking of megalomania, I believe the Roman emperors of the first century AD excel in that domain with Caligula and Nero in prominent places.
The opulence that was common good to them goes beyond our most daring imagination and one such example is the two ceremonial ships which Caligula built for his eccentric pleasure on Lake Nemi, some
30 kilometers south of . These ships were not meant for
sailing as they were simply too big to maneuver for the size of the lake. But
then, the lake was sacred to the Romans as confirmed by the presence of the goddess
Diana Nemorensis and the god Virbius which were venerated in the towns on the surrounding
It is known that Romans could make ball bearings out of lead and the story goes that this invention was used on the Nemi ships to move the windlasses and even to rotate the statues of the gods! Top notch technology was implemented like several hand operated bilge pumps that worked very much like modern bucket dredges. Piston pumps, in turn, supplied the hot water for the baths and the cold water for fountains and drinking water. It is hard to believe that this knowledge of piston pumps was lost in time until it finally was “rediscovered” in the Middle Ages.
Caligula’s pleasure vessels were short lived as he was assassinated about a year after they were launched and opposition parties soon stripped them of their precious content and intentionally sunk them. They remained at the bottom of
for almost 2,000 years during which time fishermen and treasure hunters regularly
retrieved small treasures from the wrecks. Lake Nemi
This is probably the origin of a square piece of inlaid marble which features a geometric pattern using green and purple porphyry, serpentine and molded glass that recently made headlines on the antique markets. The owners who acquired the piece in the early 1970s framed it and turned it into a small coffee table. The details of that story can be found in the New York Times of 19 October 2017.
The life of the two Nemi ships did, however, not end at the bottom of the lake. In 1927, Benito Mussolini (another megalomaniac) ordered to drain the lake in order to expose and retrieve the ships. The first ship was recovered in 1931 and the second one in 1932, and in 1936 he built a museum to host both vessels. Unfortunately, in 1944 fire destroyed the museum and its precious contents after several bombings. To this day, it is not clear whether the Germans started the fire or the allies caused it by their intense bombing. Today, a new museum can be visited on the site sheltering scale models of the ships and those rare artifacts that have survived. Let us hope that this “coffee table” will soon be visible at that museum also.