Italian police say they have found the lost tomb of the emperor Caligula, the famously insane ruler of ancient Rome who was said to have romanced his sisters and appointed his horse a consul. But classics experts aren't so sure their discovery is real. Here, an instant guide to the mystery:
How did police discover the tomb?
Italy's archaeological police caught a man loading an 8-foot-tall marble statue into the back of a truck at Lake Nemi, near Rome. Archaeologists were able to identify it as a statue of the infamous emperor by its god-like robes and boots — caligae military boots said to be Caligula's favorite. The tomb raider led police to where he had discovered the statue, and archaeologists are now attempting to find out if Caligula's body is buried there.
How was his tomb lost in the first place?
The emperor was assassinated by a team of his own guards in A.D. 41 at the age of 28. A figure of disgrace, Caligula was not given his own mausoleum or monument, and the exact location of his final resting place was lost in the sands of time... until, possibly, now.
Is it definitely his tomb?
No, says classics professor Mary Beard in The Times (U.K.). In fact, "all the evidence we have from the ancient world suggests that this cannot be so." Caligula was killed in Rome, and there is no suggestion anywhere in accounts of the time that his remains were then taken to Nemi. The only reason we're even talking about this is because "it makes a good story that gets a load of press coverage" for these policemen.
Is tomb raiding a serious crime in Italy?
Yes. The Italian police formed a special unit in 1969 to identify and recover stolen artifacts, and it has been responsible for returning more than 350,000 antiquities to their rightful owners. Illicit statues don't just turn up on the black market — the curator of the Getty Museum in Malibu, Calif., was convicted in 2005 for knowingly purchasing stolen artifacts from Italy for the museum's collection.
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