Ahead of tonight’s programme about Caligula (BBC Two 21:00) presented by Mary Beard, here is a picture of a bronze fitting head of Medusa that decorated one of the Nemi Ships. The vessels were built on the orders of emperor Caligula around AD 37-41.
The bronze fittings are the most important set of objects found during work to rescue the Nemi ships. The objects form a decorative apparatus of exceptional richness: the ships were clearly ostentatious luxury vessels used as an expression of power. The larger ship was essentially an elaborate floating palace, which contained quantities of marble, mosaic floors and even baths.
Some of the photographs taken during the recovery of the Nemi ships can be seen here. Sadly they were later destroyed by a fire in 1944 during WWII. Only the bronzes, a few charred timbers and some material stored in Rome survived the fire. Scale models of the ships were built and are exhibited at the Museo delle Navi Romane di Nemi among other remaining artefacts.
The bronze fitting head of Medusa was placed high up, as if to watch over the ship with her gaze. The other bronze fittings are in the form of animal heads. Three lions and a panther adorned the ends of the beams running across the ship. Photos of these animal heads can be viewed from my image collection on Flickr.
The bronze fittings are now on display in the National Roman Museum – Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, Rome.